Friday, February 26, 2010

I Thought I Was Past That Sin

I have heard often from friends and those I've discipled these words uttered in deep disappointment--"I thought I was past that sin." After being told this time and time again, and even after me saying this to myself and to God, I've come to realize that no matter how mature I've grown in Christ I'm never too far from the most disgusting and most "basic" of sins. John Bunyan would agree, as he has been credited with saying "There is enough evil in my best prayer to damn the whole world."

Regardless of how mature or sanctified I may become, the sins I committed as a child in the faith are still a threat to me. I cannot think of any place in Scripture where it says something to the effect of "you are beyond that particular sin." With a sinful nature present in this flesh any sin is possible at any time. Yes, we are exhorted to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called (Eph. 4:1). Elsewhere Paul writes similarly saying we are "to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord" (Col 1:10).

But these texts and others that call for Christian maturity are written, in one sense, because there's always the potential not to walk in that manner. Furthermore, if there is anything to the idea of walking in the light of Christ, moving closer toward him as I mature, I just become even more aware of how deeply corrupted I truly am. One of the greatest lessons I have learned from those much older than me in the faith is this very truth. So one mark of Christian maturity is how sensitive we are to our sinful nature and potential to sin. Mature Christians recognize that dependence on Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the strongest temptations are of utmost necessity. Mature Christians never say, "I am past that sin." Mature Christians say, "Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for me." Thus I can know clearly that
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. -1 Cor. 10:13
As I read the passage, the verse before this confirms what is meant by never being "past a sin."
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
The point is clear here as Paul writes of the Israelites drinking from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and Rock was Christ (v. 4). Yet even in the wilderness, after God had rescued them from Egypt, witnessing all the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea, they desired evil (v. 6). They were idolaters and engaged in sexual immorality (vv. 7-8). Judgment came--23,000 fell in a single day (v. 8). God had done so much for them in their rescue, yet they were not beyond any kind of sin. In some way they drank of Christ, but still engaged in all types of horrific sin! They were beyond nothing. These words, written for our instruction (v. 11) remind me that I too am beyond nothing. The command is clear:
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. -1 Cor. 10:14
It is all idolatry--the gluttony, the sloth, the lust, the pride--all idolatry, maybe of other gods, but certainly of self. We idolize humanity. We have sought to redefine all aspects of life ever since the Fall when we were overcome by temptation and redefined God's only command. Since then nothing is off limits--entertainment, money, eating, sex, love, hate, etc--all to exalt us to the level of deity. All to say, "I am past that sin."

We must ask ourselves how we are walking each day. Are we seeking to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called, the calling that knows the depth of depravity, yet also the grace of God? Or are we walking in a manner worthy of puffed pride saying "I am past that sin" only soon to be defeated by it, where in our defeat we are left devastated and perplexed, saying "I thought I was past that sin?"

By His Grace.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Without Love, You're Nothing

We're approaching Valentine's Day quickly. Gents, I hope you have everything planned out and are ready to pull the trigger when Sunday runs up on you like a desperate car salesman. With the holiday's approach one word is being tossed around a lot more than normally--love.

I was reading 1 Corinthians 13 yesterday, a passage quoted so often in weddings, even for people who don't believe in Jesus. The part that gets quoted isn't necessarily the whole chapter, just particularly vv. 4-8, the so-called "romantic" section that offers up truly one of the best definitions of love we know. yet the first three verses are so important for context because there in them Paul writes about what happens in the absence of love.

In 13:1 Paul says that if we can speak known languages ("tongues of men") or even unknown, mysterious languages ("tongues of angels"), but are without love, we are in essence a loud gong, a clanging cymbal. We are a bunch of noise with no substance.

For 13:2 Paul moves to prophetic power, immense knowledge, and great faith. These are very desirable for many, but without love, as Paul says we are nothing.

Finally in 13:3, Paul mentions sacrifice, first of possessions ("give away all I have") and then of self ("give my body to be burned"). Again, for the third time, Paul says that even in these, without love, we gain nothing.

All are challenging in their own right, but the third "list" gets to me the most because we live in a time where social action is so praised. For this generation, humanitarian aid and self-sacrifice are considered virtuous not only within the church, but by our culture at-large. Non-profits continue to grow, being eco-friendly is cool, doing benefit concerts are import to get the money from regular ol' folk to help support disaster relieve in Haiti. We are now expected in some sense to "give away all I have." The Onion, "America's Finest News Source," highlights this well in their article "Massive Earthquake Reveals Entire Island Civilization Called 'Haiti'." The title itself gets the point across well.

The question is: Do we do these things out of some sort of pressure, whether from the media, society, or even the church or are they done out of love? Are they done out of the love we know comes from God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19)? Without love, even our greatest sacrifices of time, talents, treasures and even self are like dust.

John Piper in Let the Nations Be Glad provides great perspective on a definition of love that expands whatever notion we have in that love is "helping people toward God."

I have to ask this question as we plant a church in Chicago. Do I love the people of Chicago? Do I love the faces that stare off into oblivion as I walk down the street? Do I love the man who doesn't wish to say anything else to me except, "Can I get some money?" Do I love the Amanda and Roberto who live in my apartment building? Those in my neighborhood association? Do I love any of them in a way that is helping them toward God.

Are your thoughts, words, and deeds done in love? We must ask this continually as God's people. Paul sums it up well for us and I pray we take it to heart on this day, on Valentine's Day, and every day we walk with Jesus on this earth:
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love -1 Cor. 16:13-14