Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Overview of Galatians Part 1

These are my notes from a recent message I taught at Calvary Chapel Cherry Creek for a men's prayer breakfast. If you want to listen click here.

I love Galatians because it draws a clear distinction between trying to be good for God and just accepting that you're not good and that He has done everything necessary to make us right with Him. I think that a vast majority of Christians in practice are living trying to be good Christians and spending all this effort figuring out what the right things to do are that they miss out on the real power that comes with completely surrendering and accepting that you can never be good.

My style for covering the book was to just hit a few key areas because I believe that Galatians is exceptionally directed at teaching the same message throughout. I'm not saying that it isn't essential to study everything in there (God doesn't waste words), but it makes it an attainable goal to try and convey the overall message of the book by digging into a few passages. I hope this message is encouraging, and maybe even helps you understand some important things a little better.  

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
Galatians 1:6-9

Whenever something sounds a little confusing, to me it means that there's something very valuable under the surface. Here it sounds confusing when Paul says " a different gospel, which is not another." If you do a quick study of the Greek you find that the word for "different" is heteros, which translated means "another" or "separate". This can be verified by looking up some of the other places it is used in the NT. It is used to designate a completely separate or mutually exclusive path. The word in verse 7 for "another" is the Greek word allos which means "additional". The idea is that the people of Galatia were being taught by who Paul called "the Judaizers" who were teaching that in addition to a profession of faith, they had to be circumcised and follow other Jewish traditions in order to be saved. What Paul is saying is that what the Galatian believers thought was simply additional actions within the same Gospel was actually not the gospel but something completely separate. The idea that we need to do things in addition to what Christ has already done is not only inaccurate, it's a completely different and mutually exclusive way to approach God than the one true Gospel.
(Note that in the recorded teaching I reversed the Greek root words)

In verse 8 and 9, it repeats the same Greek phrase twice which is translated "preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached" and "preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received" which is euaggelizō para euaggelizō. This literally means gospel beside/next to gospel in a geospatial kind of way. They're not in line, not pointed the same direction. 
One thing that may jump out as strange is that Paul specifically warns of an angel of light bringing a different gospel. Satan is our accuser and condemner who is known as angel of light and has continually pushed a different but similar gospel from the very beginning. See Isaiah 14:12-15 and Gen 3:1-5. Also interesting is that Joseph Smith who founded Mormanism received a vision from the angel Moroni. The islamic prophet Muhammed received a vision from the angel Gabriel. Mary Baker Eddy who founded Scientology heard an angelic voice calling her name. All of these profess to worship the one true God and all profess to have begun from a special revelation from and angel in addition to what the Bible teaches, but none of them have additional information about the truth. They are completely separate from anything that Biblical Christianity teaches. It's important to know that these lies are continuing to be told and that people have and will continue bringing forward "new revelations" in addition to the Bible, but we have been warned they are coming. The only truth is what we already have because God never changes (Heb 13:8) and His Word never changes (Mat 24:35). 

The original lie and subsequent lies including what Paul was warning the Galatians of was a false gospel of condemnation, trying to put the burden of sin and deciding what was right and wrong on people. Many people may have a wrong understanding of God, that He has set forth all these rules and regulations for us to follow, and if we don't He's ready to condemn us for messing up. 
Here's the truth.

For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son. John 5:22   

God defers judgment to Jesus.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
John 3:17

In addition to these, we see in John 8 an example of God's grace and the true Gospel in Jesus Christ colliding with the gospel of men.
If God defers judgment to Jesus, and Jesus doesn't condemn, who does that leave to do the condemning? Us.
We chose back in Genesis 3 that we wanted to be the judges of what was right and wrong. What we have really done is judged God's grace and the sacrifice of Jesus not to be enough. Jesus says in John 5:45 that the accuser is Moses, not that Moses was an accuser, but the people chose to make their relationship with God about how well they followed the law, and I'll explain later how everybody from both the OT and NT and now are made right with God not by any works or laws but by belief alone. Jesus lays out a choice in Matthew 7:1,2 between condemnation and grace.
Paul finishes this thought in Galatians 1:10 by saying that he doesn't care about pleasing people. Even good people usually require some sort of action or reciprocation of friendship and love, but only God's love is truly unconditional and free of condemnation.

Monday, January 9, 2012

2 Timothy 2:20-21: Vessels for Honor and Dishonor

2 Timothy 2:20,21 But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor.
Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 

My friend Cody recently led a men's Bible study covering these verses and the men attending were expected to study ahead and be prepared to share. This was one of those verses that at first glance seems a little strange. In my recent experience those have been more loaded with meaning than the more straightforward verses; not necessarily because there's more to be found there, but the harder to understand verses make me ask a lot more questions.
I started by looking up the word for "vessel" in the original Greek on which is "skeuos". It literally means a tool or container. The Greeks also used it allegorically to refer to the human body, as they believed the body is a vehicle for the human soul. It was also used in Romans 9 in the exact same way comparing what I think are believers to either being vessels of honor or dishonor, except that Romans 9 goes as far as saying the vessels of dishonor were meant for wrath. Really reading all of Romans is what's needed to put this in more of a proper context, but the gist is that Paul is telling the Roman Church that even though all Jews were born of Isaac, not everyone born of Isaac was a true Jew. The descendants of Esau were rejected (9:13) and became the Edomites. Paul poses the question, "Is there unrighteousness with God?" Was it fair of God to "play favorites"? Personally, I think it's a joke whenever people, in our abysmally small understanding of the big picture, point a finger at God to doubt the only One who's never failed or been unfaithful. Unless you're willing to ask the question and get to other side of it though, I don't think you can really come to a complete trust in God. So Paul indulges those who would think that God is unjust. In the verses following, Paul basically says that none of us deserve anything good from God. Those of us who have received His mercy are fortunate because His mercy to us is completely unmerited. Paul goes back to the example of Pharaoh and points to the fact that God hardened his heart. He says that people point to that and say, "How can God find fault with Pharaoh is He's the one who hardened his heart?"(9:19) Ultimately we always have the choice. We judge ourselves and we judge God by saying that we are the masters of the law and that His way is not good enough. We've been saying it since Genesis 3:5. God allows us to make our own choice: His way, or our way. When we choose our way, God will still use us to glorify His name. That should not be encouraging though. Verse 22 says that for people who choose their own way, God will glorify Himself by showing patience and enduring their rejection of Him until they finally expend their entire lives in a pattern of rejecting Him, at which point their own judgment of themselves brings them to eternal destruction. The good side of that is that those of us on whom God has extended His mercy stand out as the ones who will share in God's glory. Again, not by our own merit, but purely by His grace.
Verse 30 ends this thought by summing up the fact that God saved the gentiles, who were not originally His chosen people, because in faith they trusted in God's righteousness instead of their own; the Jews however, continued to pursue their own righteousness by works of the law in the flesh.

Romans 9:33 Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.

Jesus was an offense because He said the righteousness of the Jews could never be good enough. The best person in the history of the world could never reach the perfection required to approach the absolutely 100% pure holiness of God. They wanted to hold on to their righteousness. They were in control of their righteousness, and it let them be their own masters instead of submitting and forfeiting their pride.

Now I believe that Timothy would have been familiar with the Romans 9 teaching, and that's why Paul only spends 2 verses on the idea. Timothy knew the broader context and what Paul was implying.

I understood more what Paul meant in 2 Timothy after this Romans 9 cross-reference, but still didn't feel like I really understood why he used vessels in a house as an analogy, so I went to another place "skeuos" was used.

Hebrews 9:21 Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the VESSELS of the ministry.

Jackpot! One thing to note is that when looking up words in the original language, just because the English word is the same in the Old and New Testament doesn't mean the original language had the same meaning in Greek (New Testament) and Hebrew (Old Testament). Here Paul (who I personally believe wrote Hebrews) gives us a definite link between the Hebrew and Greek word for vessel because he's referencing the items that were used to serve God in the Tabernacle. Their construction is outlined in Exodus 25-35 and their use is outlined in Leviticus 1-17.
In Leviticus 1:5 and 3:8, Moses is outlining God's instruction to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the vessels of the Tabernacle (namely the altar) to purify it and sanctify it for service. Interesting considered we as vessels are purified by the blood of Jesus who was the ultimate sacrifice.
There was another type of vessel in use in the Tabernacle. Common vessels were used by the priests after sacrifices were made in order to prepare and eat the meat that was allotted to them by God's law for their sustenance. Note that these vessels were made of clay and they could not be used to serve God, only man. If these vessels came into contact with anything holy, even the meat from the sacrifice which the priests were allowed to eat, it had to be broken immediately after use. If metal vessels were used, they had to be scoured, but clay vessels had to be destroyed. (Romans 9:22 "vessels prepared for destruction").
This really points to the interpretation that vessels of clay and wood are the works of man. They look godly and are in God's house, but are for people.
I began a search on how the words wood and stone were used in the original Hebrew, and it really backed up this understanding. Those words are used together 16 times, 9 of which refer to false gods, which are the lifeless works of man's hands. Ezekiel 20:32, Deuteronomy 28:36, and Deuteronomy 28:64 all demonstrate what happens when we try to replace God with man: we end up serving false gods of wood and stone.
Isaiah 37:19 and 2 Kings 19:17,18 tell us that these false gods of wood and stone are meant for destruction (another reference to Romans 9:22).

2 Peter 3:10 "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up."

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation [with] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on [it] endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which [temple] you are. Let no one deceive himself, if anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness"; and again, "The LORD knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come--all are yours. And you [are] Christ's, and Christ [is] God's.

In Exodus 7 God through Moses turns water to blood. Interestingly enough, the Egyptians carried their water in vessels of wood and stone, which the Holy Spirit goes through the trouble of making special mention of in 7:19. This water was used for 2 purposes: sustenance and cleansing. Reading through the rest of the chapter, what God does is take their sustenance and their purity and shows it for what it is: death.
In Revelation 3:14-18, Jesus Himself is addressing the Church in Laodicea. Laodicea was a city known for several things: an eye salve that was exported throughout the ancient world, a special kind of black wool that was used in expensive clothing, immense wealth because it lay on a main trade route, and the worship of 3 particular Greek gods which are Zeus (god of thunder and characteristically erotic), Apollo (god of light), and Æsculapius (god of healing). Jesus has a stern rebuke for the Church in this city.

Revelation 3:17,18 Because you say, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing"-- and do not know that you are wretched (vs mighty like Zeus), miserable(vs healed and enlightened like Æsculapius and Apollo), poor (vs their material wealth), blind (vs their eye salve), and naked (vs their luxurious wool)--. I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, [that] the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.

Jesus shows the church of Laodicea that where they think they are the strongest in their flesh, they are actually their weakest. A study of the first 3 chapters of Revelation shows Laodicea to represent the modern day Church, but that's for a different study, though it is extremely appropriate for this study.

So What?

Our works of flesh, especially when done in the house of God, are nothing more than death (Exodus 7). Most if not all of us start off like that, thinking that God wants our works and thinking that we have to be good enough, but we miss the point. The work of Jesus Christ makes us good enough. The things we do that are driven by love for Him are the only things are acceptable to God and the only things that have any eternal value once all things are judged. The vessels in the Tabernacle were purified by the blood of sacrifices just like we are purified by the blood of Christ. If you take an honest look at yourself and your actions and find that you are attempting to please God with works of your flesh, there is hope.

2 Timothy 2:21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 

Now we may try to cover our fleshly works in false holiness.

Habbakuk 2:19 Woe to him who says to wood, "Awake!" To silent stone, "Arise! It shall teach!" Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, yet in it there is no breath at all.

But only God can cover us, who ourselves are just clay (Gen 3:19). 
The vessels in the Tabernacle were not solid gold, but wood covered in gold (Exodus 25-27).We are sinful and unholy, but we are covered by the works of Jesus Christ, the same foundation Paul spoke of in 1 Corinthians 3. This foundation (the work of Christ, not our works) and what we build on that foundation are the only things that will last.
In Revelation Jesus counsels the Laodiceans to buy from Him "gold refined in the fire". How do we buy it? We trade our worthless works of the flesh for the perfect work of Christ.
We accept that we are not good enough and we stop trying to be good enough to please God. In humility we say, "Lord, I am poor and wretched and naked and blind," and we rest on the completed work of Christ.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Romans 8:10

And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness.

The original language is very straightforward here. Pretty much, the English words used represent how the original Greek is used throughout the rest of the New Testament. A couple things to note however, are that the word for body (sōma) is used for a living body as well as a dead corpse (see Matthew 27:52,58,59) and that the word for death (nekros) is used both for people who are already dead, but also for people who are not yet dead (Matthew 8:22, 23:27, Luke 15:24). We get so tied up in the current condition of our bodies, which are in a way already dead. In Genesis 2:17 God tells Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because in the DAY they eat of it they will surely die. We are told that they ate the fruit, but they live for years and years. Obviously death means something else. Look at the name of the tree: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The law. There is no evil if there are no rules. The initiation of the law was our choice as humanity. It's just like in 1 Samuel where the Israelites wanted to transition from a Theocracy where God was king to a Monarchy where a man was in leadership. 1 Samuel 8:11-18 is a great outline for the same choice we tend to make of choosing legalism and our own strength over pure love for God. Since the very beginning we have chosen to be subject to the law which only condemns us rather than subjecting ourselves to law of love (the commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength).
...the body is dead because of sin...
It's important to remember that the body is not dead because of Christ. We chose death ourselves a long time ago. He is just giving us a way to be saved from what we already chose.
...but the spirit is life because of righteousness.
Not our own righteousness. Not at all, because any righteousness we would have would be from the flesh, according to the law, which is what makes us dead in the first place. The righteousness is only OF Jesus Christ and accessible to us BY the Holy Spirit.

So What?

Just like the original language in this particular verse is very literal and its meaning is face-value, our choice is a simple, face-value choice. Are we going to keep trying to be good enough in our flesh according to the law that condemns, or are we going to devote ourselves to understanding and applying the new commandment of love? Yes it can be difficult sometimes to know ourselves well enough to see when we're trying to live by the old law, but once we see it, it's a simple choice. We can never be good enough. We just have to grasp that. It's a 2-part process though because we have to let go of our own inadequate righteousness but also grab hold of Christ's perfect righteousness. This isn't just us saying, "Ok yeah, I'll do that. Jesus, be righteous for me." Our receiving of Christ's sacrifice means our receiving of Christ as Lord. As our Lord, we are obligated to obedience, but He makes that simple because His commandment is simply to love Him and love each other. Doing this fulfills every requirement of us.
Keep in mind that loving God is not an abstract idea based on feeling. When you sit down and figure out the time you spend on different things, would that indicate that you love God like you love your family or a significant other that you spend a lot of time with? When you look at finances, what does God get back vs what you spend on yourself for pleasure? When you talk, how often are you talking about your relationship with Christ vs games or movies or possessions? Those are tangible, measurable indicators that could fairly easily show you if you're on track to following the new commandment or not.
Don't just think about it, do something about it. Know where you're at and correct it when you see that you fall short of making Jesus Lord.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

1 Corinthians 13

Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. Though I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all mysteries and knowledge but have not love, and though I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind. Love does not envy, love does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Love never fails, but whether there are prophecies they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For now we know in part and we prophecy in part, but when that which is perfect has come, that which is in part will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, and I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. For now I know in part, but then I will know just as I also am known. 
And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
~1 Corinthians 13

It's been really really good for me working hard to memorize scripture lately. I've been responsible for memorizing Romans 8, but on Thursday I really felt prompted to memorize this chapter, so I did it. It's been a long long time since I've sat there and memorized a whole chapter in a day, and it was a struggle from the beginning. I was only a few verses into it on the bus, then right next to me this lady started talking on her cell phone (inappropriately loudly I might add) to one of her girl friends about how it's good to try and work at a marriage, but if it doesn't work out, you need to make sure you do all these things in advance to protect yourself and set up secret finances and get living arrangements figured out just in case something happens and you don't feel like it's good for you to be in the relationship anymore. I wonder how many people have that mindset toward their marriage. "It's great when it's good, but if it gets to the point where it's not making me happy anymore, it's time to just cut my losses and leave." It's no wonder marriages don't last anymore. We set up prenuptual agreements and set up a legal framework against the other person before the marriage even starts. To me, that seems like the best way to make sure it fails.
I think people are so confused about what love is. Almost everyone has felt that heart-pounding passionate infatuation that makes you unable to think about anything else other than the person you love. There are no fights because nothing else matters and the most significant event in your life becomes a kiss or a touch form that person. I've been there and felt that. It's amazing. It's like for a little while your heart and head and hormones are all in agreement and nothing is strong enough to come against the way you feel.
Is that love though?
What about this picture of love from the Bible? Suffering? Enduring? Giving my body to be burned? Dim mirrors? Do these really belong in a chapter devoted to describing the attributes of love?

I'll tell you what's really convicting and inconvenient about this chapter. "When I became a man, I put away childish things." When you really start thinking about the place this has in the chapter, you might start looking at the way you love and it makes you uncomfortable. That's what it did for me.
Kids are very uncomplicated. Everything is about them. I will share MY toy if you share YOUR toy that I want to play with more anyway. I will listen to you only because you have the ability to inflict pain on me because you're an adult. I will scream if you don't give me what I want exactly when I want it. I like you because you give me things. I refuse to walk because when you carry me it's much easier.
Basically if you take that verse in the context of the chapter, Paul is saying there is an understanding of love that is immature like a child's way of thinking.
I'll be really honest. I want my love to be reciprocated. When I perform an action out of love for someone, I want something back. Generally if I extend love and it is not reciprocated, I withdraw it and my energy is spent on someone who I know will love me back. In some situations that's not possible. Family, marriages, etc.
Love suffers long. Love does not seek its own. Love endures all things. 

I've come to understand some things about suffering love. I think that a love that suffers has to be one of the most painful things you can endure. Sometimes you pour out more and more until you feel like there is nothing left to pour out. You're trying to get a reaction that shows that your worth and efforts are validated by the person you're pouring into, but there is nothing. You wonder if your love isn't good enough, if you're just not doing the right things, if YOU'RE not good enough. At that point you have to make a decision.
Why do you love?
A love that exists to get reciprocation, in other words, a love that's only there as long as love is returned, is childlike and immature. I don't think very many people understand that and they're always stuck in a place where love isn't self-sacrificial, not really. Does your love suffer long, or is it willing to be inconvenienced for a while as long as it is made up for later? I have to say that that's really convicting for me. What 1 Corinthians 13 implies is something that I want to plug my ears to. I can't say that on my own free will that I'm willing to suffer long or endure without some kind of compensation soon. It hurts a lot to really love someone and by their actions, you're not sure if they even love you back. It hurts for a day much less months or years, and I think a lot of people experience that. How long would you last? What choice would you make?

I think the first level of application we look to this chapter for is our interpersonal relationships. We think about being kind and patient with each other, not being selfish in our love for each other. What about God? When I was memorizing it, that thought popped into my head when I was almost done. "Yeah, I understand a lot of ways that this applies to how I love my wife and family, but I love God right? This would probably apply to that too right?"
The answer is yes in two ways. The first way is that without a genuine love for God, all of our faith and gifts and sacrifice are nothing. All the way through the New Testament, we're told by Jesus and Paul and others that the greatest and really only commandment in humanity's post-law relationship with God is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Are your gifts to the poor for your own ego or are they originated with a pure love for God? Do you have faith and exercise your gifts through a genuine love for God and to see Him glorified, or yourself glorified? Would you suffer long for Jesus, are your words and thoughts kind toward Him? are you seeking your own when you pray? Are you easily provoked to anger against God when things happen that you don't understand? Do you rejoice in the Truth we have about who God is in the Bible?
The second way this chapter applies to our walk with God, and probably the more profound of the two, is that this models directly how Jesus loved and still loves. He suffered long when we as humanity rejected Him. Really, we still reject Him. If we're honest, how many times do we who profess to be Christians reject Him? Jesus never sought His own, He sought us. He wasn't provoked, not even when He was tortured before going to the cross because His love was such that He would endure even that, with no repayment on our part, just for the sake of giving us a chance to just have a relationship with Him.
If you find yourself in a relationship where you feel like your love is not reciprocated either short term or long term, think about how long Jesus needs to wait for you to reciprocate His love. Do you ever? If you were in a marriage, how long would you be happy if your spouse talked to you once or twice a week, and then only to ask you to do something for them? What if once a week your spouse sang you the words to a great love song, and then you tried to talk to them about how much you love them and your plans for the future and they started nodding off because they were bored and just not really into it? Would the songs mean much? What if that's the only time you saw your spouse and you were trying all week to call them and did all kinds of things to show them that you loved them? What if you always provided for them and gave them really meaningful, thought-out gifts and they took the gifts and ignored you for days? Isn't that how we treat God?
There isn't a difference between our love for each other and our love for God, except that God is the only one who loves perfectly. In fact, there are a lot of references in both the Old and New Testaments describing how our relationship with Jesus is like a marriage. That's on purpose, and it's a deep analogy.

So What?

I think we are allowed pain in our relationships to teach us what real love is. If your love is tested by you not getting something back, does it fail? That's not love. If your love can't endure when your emotions aren't there to make it feel good, is it really worth anything? Does it have any real strength? Is it childish and always wanting to be indulged? If so, that's not real love, but a counterfeit emotion. Emotions are constantly coming and going and swaying back and forth with circumstances and hormones and the weather. Can anything based on that be trustworthy and strong? I would say no. It's a great, great thing when our emotions back up what we know is right, but man those times seem to be so few and far between.
I'm not trying to be hard on people who give up or be flippant about what people can go through. I KNOW that pain. I KNOW the temptation of giving up the hard love that doesn't feel good a lot of the time, especially when there are more places you could go where the acceptance and good feelings come at a lower cost. You have to be strong and use your head in spite of your feelings though. What is fought hard for is worth much more, if for no other reason than it makes you stronger and better and it makes your love more true.
If you struggle with pain caused by love, remember the love Jesus has for you and try to identify in His pain caused by His love for you. He always wants us and unlike us to other people, is always 100% available to give His attention to us. Be happy when love comes with pain, because it's a chance not only to refine your own ability to love, but also to identify with Jesus, who will always have a more real love than we are capable of.     

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Romans 8:9

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.

Indeed, implying the question, "is it really true?" How do you know if INDEED the Spirit of God dwells in you? "To Dwell" in the original language of this passage is oikeō. It means to dwell in or with, not in the sense of a roomate, but in the sense of a husband and wife, where there is a practical effect of the relationship on the lives of the people in the relationship. It is used in 1 Corinthians 7:12,13 like this and then in 1 Timothy 6:16 when Paul is describing the majesty of God as He "dwells in inapproachable light." That's interesting. We are told in Revelation 21:23 that "The city (heaven) had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light." And then in Revelation 22:5, "There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light." God and the light do not coexist as separate entities. The light is literally part of God and radiating from God who is its source. I'm not saying that we can take the way oikeō is used in 1 Timothy 6:16 and just plop it in to every other place it is used to mean exactly the same thing. As someone who is not independently fluent in Ancient Greek the best I can do is look at the different ways the language is used and gain better understanding of the idea in general by cross-referencing the context of the word in all of Scripture. The implication is that this dwelling is not two separate people living together, but one relationship created by the merging or marriage of two formerly separate things. "If indeed the Spirit of God oikeō you."
Now contrast that idea to the next half of the verse where it states, "Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." Have (echō in the Greek) is a very general term used over 700 times in the New Testament to describe possessions, having different emotions, or being clothed with something. I wonder if there are varying degrees of having the Holy Spirit. I know this is a huge subject and I can only scratch the surface at the moment, but we know we can have the Holy Spirit, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and have the Holy Spirit come upon us and overwhelm us for a specific task. I wonder if this verse can be read to mean, "If the Holy Spirit is merged to who you are so that your entire life is affected, you cannot be in the flesh. But if you don't even have any kind of  ownership by the Holy Sprit, you don't even belong to God." If this is an accurate understanding (dependent on more research on the topic of the Holy Spirit), then that could mean that you can belong to God, but still be in the flesh. In verse 1 it states, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not WALK according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Your walk will show who's in control. If the Spirit is in control, there is no condemnation for you because it is impossible for you to be in the flesh if the Spirit truly permates who you are. Jesus took our condemnation on Himself. Period. I wonder though if there can be times where we choose to walk away from that covering and give our lives back to our flesh. I'm not talking about the loss of salvation, just wondering if we can walk out from the protective and faithfully secure covering of the blood of Jesus.
Why else would Paul say in verse 13, "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live," if they didn't need a reminder to continually put the flesh to death?
The more I read it, the less I think that being in the Spirit is being saved and being in the flesh is being unsaved.
The choice seems to be ours. Will we own the Holy Spirit in a way that we can put it on the shelf and walk away when we want to flesh out, or will we be joined to the Holy Spirit so that everywhere we go and in everything we do, the Spirit is part of it?

So what?

How do we think of the Holy Spirit, or God in general for that matter? Do we go to church hoping to get close to God? Do we segregate our lives into different areas like "work" and "family" and "church" where there is little or no mixture between them? Is the Holy Spirit someone we bring with us sometimes in kind of a fuzzy, generalized echō kind of way, or does the Holy Spirit oikeō us? If we received Christ and claimed His righteousness as our own, He has ownership of us. We can still walk in flesh, but after we are saved we become disobedient servants instead of enemies. A disobedient servant is almost worse because they claim to serve their master, but their actions betray him. An enemy can be trusted to be an enemy, but a servant who isn't dedicated to their master is good for nothing and can be trusted for nothing.
If we're going to choose, we need to choose. John 3:16 tells us about the circumstances by which we are able to become servants, but the "other" 3:16 warns us about being disobedient servants once we're in. "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth." Revelation 3:16.

Romans 8:1-8

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.  

The “Therefore” is referring to the previous chapter, where Paul talks about the law being unable to justify, and that the righteousness of Jesus has made us free from the law, similar to a woman whose husband dies and she is now free to marry again. The law is dead and we have been joined with Christ, where the “law” now becomes our voluntary love for God instead of our obligatory requirement. Chapter 7 ends with Paul being thankful that Christ has freed us from the struggle of our warring members so that while we are still at war with our flesh, we no longer bear the consequences of it.
Therefore, because we are “widowed” from the law and our new marriage is based only on the devotion of our hearts rather than our actions, we cannot be condemned because Christ cannot be condemned. Our old husband was there for the sole purpose of condemnation, but our new husband is there for justification. The sign of our being “in Christ” is if we follow the new law, which is simply loving God. John 14:21 says, “He who has my commandments and obeys them, it is he who loves me.” What commandments? In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus states that all the law and the prophets hang on first love for God, and secondly love for people. To prove love for God, you need to follow His commandment, which is loving Him with all your heart, soul and mind. It is very simple, but not as cut and dried as the law.
Even though it is much less openly apparent if someone is following the new law instead of the old law, there are several “heart checks” you can do. Matthew 6:21 says that, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” One practical way to see if you love God is to see where your “treasure” is. What do you value? Where does your time go? Where does your money go? What things do you guard as the most sacred with both possessions and time? If an honest evaluation shows that you guard your time with the LORD and that you demonstrate through giving that your finances are available for God’s use, then you can be pretty sure that you do love God in the way that Jesus was talking about.
Understanding what it means to walk according to the Spirit instead of the flesh is an extremely important concept to get a grasp on, but it is also difficult due to its subjective nature.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin.

There was nothing really wrong with the concept of the original law. It could theoretically lead to salvation because if perfectly kept, one would be perfectly righteous before God. The one thing that makes the law weak is that we in our fleshly wickedness and weakness are utterly unable to follow it. The intent of the original law was not to make us righteous, but to prove our unrighteousness. Jesus came as a man to atone us because we were unable to do so for ourselves. Had Jesus committed even a single sin, He would have been disqualified from being our atonement because He would have suffered the wrath of God for His own unrighteousness. Because He was absolutely perfect and blameless according to the law of God (keeping in mind the ridiculous extra rules the Pharisees created are NOT the law of God), he did not have to suffer the wrath of God; however, the option was open to Him to suffer the wrath of God on our behalf. Not the wrath of a hateful God against a creation that He was no longer happy with, but the wrath of a righteous and holy God against the sin which had caused our eternal separation from the creation He loved. Sin cannot come into the presence of a holy God any more than darkness can creep into a well-lit room. Once the light is turned on, the darkness is banished out of the room and cannot enter the room unless the light goes away. It’s the same with our sin. Because our NATURE is sinful, we are bound to it like yeast in a loaf of bread. It cannot be extracted piece by piece leaving the loaf intact as it was before. For us to really enter God’s presence, we would be destroyed along with the darkness inside us. That’s why it is impossible for us to go to heaven on our own power.

He condemned sin in the flesh that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Greek word for “in” is en, which just like in English is a preposition representing a position. It is not an action we perform. It is not fulfilled because of us or through us, but inside of us by the work Christ did replacing our righteousness with His. The Greek for “walk” is peripateō which basically means to make your way or navigate. It doesn’t mean our works are spiritual and holy, but rather that the decisions we make are guided by our spirit instead of our flesh. We “walk according to the Spirit” by using the Spirit as our compass instead of the law or any other fleshly thing we would normally use as an indicator of what direction we should take.

For those who walk according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who walk according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.

The mindset we are in when the Spirit is our compass instead of earthly things is that in every situation we evaluate how our actions relate to our walk with Christ and we evaluate His approval/disapproval. We are always concerned with the eternal implications and not concerned with fulfilling our flesh or the impact of our actions on earthly things such as popularity, position, and comfort.

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

When we take the burden on ourselves, the best we can do is fail with good intentions. Death. We cannot reach the requirement. If we devote ourselves to fulfilling our popularity, position, and comfort, we give our precious time to things that will not endure past death, if they even make it that far. To be spiritually minded, we place our hope beyond this world, so nothing that goes wrong in this world can shake our eternal perspective. There is nothing bad that can happen here that will endure through eternity besides our decision to deny the gift of salvation our entire lives.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God and is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be,

The law of God is love for God. The text seems to imply that we are carnally minded even if we are trying to follow the law and please God if we are doing so in our own righteousness, not motivated by love for God but by a desire for self-righteous salvation.   

So what?

We have to have a change in our thinking when it comes to pleasing God. The law was not created so that if we follow it good enough, God would be happy with us. There is no "good enough" There is perfect and there is failure, and if you're old enough to know how to read what I'm typing, then you've had plenty of time to prove to yourself that you are completely unable to be perfect. We can say that we are saved by grace all day long but when we really understand that concept, a significant change occurs in the way we go about our lives. 
Jesus did not do away with this old law, but fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). Nothing changed in the requirement. That is still perfection. 
As Christians we still try to do good enough, even though we should understand that we either pass or fail, and we have already failed. 
As I went over before, there is a new commandment, one that is one a higher level than the old law, because if the new commandment is followed, the resulting righteousness will be greater than the righteousness of someone who was excellent at following the old law. See Matthew 5:20 where Jesus says that unless someone is MORE righteous than the Sribes and Pharisees, he will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Scribes and Pharisees literally made a career of legalism and understanding the law and creating ways to ensure that they follow it by making extra rules. The implication (their righteousness must be EXCEEDED) is that even this was not good enough.
The new and greater commandment that is sufficient for pleasing God is the commandment to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is not a little thing. For one, this is the one thing we need to get because it is the key to how we are to conduct ourselves for the rest of this life. We have to get it. The alternative is failure.
The second reason this idea is so big is because it is so much more difficult than it is often made to sound. Do you REALLY love God with all your heart? Where is the evidence? What are your motivations? Do you hunger and thirst for God? Are you willing to give up the things you want most in the world if God has other plans? When there is a quiet spot in your day are you meditating on God?
I know when I was dating Heather that when I wasn't with her, I was thinking about her because no matter what I was doing, I didn't want to be doing it as much as I wanted to be with her. My mind, my heart, my efforts, all of it was tied to trying to be with her again.
That's the idea, though the application is a lot more difficult. We can never depend on hormones or feelings to propel us toward God. More often than not our chemistry and circumstances are pulling our hearts AWAY. We must master that as it says in 2 Corinthians 10:5. We must come to the place where we subject our feelings to do what we know in our heads is right. Our minds are the rudder and our emotions are the sails. Sails with no rudder will bring you places you don't want to go and a rudder with no sails will leave you stranded.
You must set your mind and will to turn your heart to God, and then only by sumitting your will to the Spirit will you be able to carry out subjecting your emotions toward loving God with everything you are. 
That is what I believe the key is to "not walking according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit".

So What?

This is what my mentor asked me after I was assigned to write out some thoughts on Romans 8, which I am currently studying. I wrote a thoughtful, pretty solid paper on the first few verses, but at the end he asked me, "So what?" What does that mean? What is the application? Why should it matter to me?
He encouraged me to write it in a way that I was teaching it to other people. There's an idea with a few of the good teachers I have the privilege of learning from that nobody learns as much as the one doing the teaching.
I'm in a place in my life right now where I have to work very hard to keep from sliding into complacency. I have a chance to grow more now than I ever have, but there is an equal temptation to do the easier thing and stay where I am. There is a lot of pain in my circumstances, and a lot of temptation to deal with the pain by numbing myself with entertainment like we are quick to do in our culture. This is profitable for nothing.

This is a way not only to remind myself to prepare it like I would teach it when I study, but also to keep me accountable in the consistency of my study. It's easier and more organized to have a place online to organize my thoughts. Who knows? Maybe a thought or two might even be useful to someone.