Friday, September 22, 2017

Guilt and the Christian Life

"Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him" (Zechariah 3:1).

One of the main ways Satan and his legions have of paralyzing the believer is through accusation. One way is for the Devil to get us to commit some public sin or indiscretion, and then accuse us and destroy us. But beyond this, Satan works with our guilty consciences to make us feel despair. Every Christian sins every day, and thus the problem of sin and guilt continues to be a roadblock to Christian holiness and health.

We see a picture of this in Zechariah 3. This chapter is part of the “night visions” of Zechariah, and in one of these visions, the prophet sees the current high priest, Joshua, standing before the Lord. It was the task of the high priest to minister before the Lord on behalf of the people.

Zechariah saw Satan standing next to Joshua to accuse him. Of what was Satan accusing Joshua? We can see it in verse 3: “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel [of the Lord].”

Normally the high priest wore “garments of glory and beauty,” which symbolized his position as God’s anointed and glorified leader. Now, however, Joshua was dressed in degrading garb. His filthy garments represented the defilement of his life and of his office. Satan was pointing these out to the Lord, and Joshua was standing ashamed. But then “the Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!’ ” (v. 2). The Lord refused to hear Satan’s accusations, and instead stripped Joshua of his filthy garments and reinvested him with beautiful clothes (v. 4). This is how God deals with us as well. God refuses to hear Satan’s accusations because He deals with us only through His Son.

This story in Zechariah 3 shows us what happens when we bring our sins and ourselves before the Lord. We shouldn’t allow Satan to burden us with them. Rather, we are told to confess our sins, confident that God will forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Has Satan been weighing you down with guilt over some sin? Confess it and forsake it, and then arise in the confidence that you are now once again robed in Christ’s glory.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Satan and the Christian

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8).

While many modern people will readily admit that they believe in God, very few will admit to believing in the Devil. It is true, of course, that for most people, the “God” they believe in is a figment of their imagination, and not the Holy Creator and Judge. All the same, it is noteworthy that despite the presence of so much horror and wickedness in the world, most people reject the idea of a powerful personal spirit being called Satan.

This is not the perspective of the Bible and of the Christian faith. The Bible tells us that there is indeed a realm of fallen angels, and that their chief is Satan, the Devil. The first thing the Bible shows us about the Devil is that he is clever. He is able to present himself as an “angel of light” and to deceive us (2 Corinthians 11:14). It was as a clever deceiver that he approached Adam and Eve in the garden and persuaded them to sin.

Secondly, the Bible presents Satan as formidable. For the most part it is Christ who is compared to a mighty lion in the Bible, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. In 1 Peter 5:8, however, Satan is also compared to a powerful lion. He is not as powerful as Christ, but he is a lot stronger than you and I are.

Paul states that we are called to make war on the Devil. If we are “strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” then we can take our stand “against the Devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10–11). He tells us that though we must contend against the world and the flesh, our battle goes beyond “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

The fact that we face unseen enemies who attempt to seduce us to sin forces us to realize that this is a struggle we cannot fight in our own power. How do you fight against a demon? By prayer we can wage this war, as we ask God to send His Spirit to protect us and to set His angelic hosts around us. Today ask Him to make you more aware of the reality of this struggle and to prepare you for the temptations, defeats, and victories of the Christian life. Satan tempts from without, and the flesh lusts from within. Being surrounded as we are, many refuse to join the battle and simply surrender. May it not be so with you!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Flesh and the Spirit

"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 5:17 NKJV).

The fierce struggle between the flesh and the spirit in the Bible is not to be understood as some kind of war between the body and the soul. Rather, what the New Testament means in speaking of this struggle is the war between the power of sin in our natural, fallen humanity against the influence of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The struggle of sanctification lies in the fact that the flesh is not totally annihilated at conversion. The flesh does receive a death blow, and its power is broken, but it is still very much alive and struggling as long as we live in this life.

As we noted, this “flesh” is not the same as the physical side of our nature. Paul in Galatians 5:19–21 gives a list of sins of the flesh. This list includes such things as adultery and drunkenness, which obviously are indeed connected with physical desires and lusts. But the list also includes lying, envy, and hatred, which are not physical actions but attitudes and dispositions of the heart.

In Romans 8:9, Paul states that Christians are not controlled by their flesh but by the Spirit of God. Every Christian is spiritual in this sense, but at the same time, every Christian commits sins and is still carnal or fleshly. This same Paul writes in Romans 7:14, “I am carnal, sold under sin.”

When we are converted we are translated essentially from flesh to Spirit, but the struggle against the flesh still goes on. We deceive ourselves if we think we don’t have to worry about the inclinations of our old fallen nature coming along and inclining us to evil. The Bible tells us to be aware of this fact, so that we endeavor to feed the spiritual side of ourselves, and starve the flesh.

Have you ever noticed how graphic the biblical language is? The verbs in particular evidence a zeal and a vitality, a strength and urgency. Lusts is not a passive term; war suggests casualties and death. Do you “war” against the flesh? Have you “crucified” the old nature? Paul and Jesus wrote with an intensity regarding sanctification. Do you live out the biblical verbs?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The World Versus Christianity

"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world." (John 17:14)

The Christian has three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil. Today we need to think about the first of these. In the New Testament, the word 'world' is used sometimes simply to refer to the earth as opposed to heaven. In this sense, there is nothing bad about the world. The New Testament also, however, uses 'world' in a moral sense. We see this in John 17:14, where Jesus tells the Father that the “world” hates believers. The world is that sphere, or group of people, that has no affection for the things of God. The world, in this sense, exists in tension against the kingdom of God.

Jesus goes on to say, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the Evil One” (John 17:15). It is most important to realize that Jesus does not call us to segregate ourselves from the present evil age. This has been a continuing problem in the history of the church, as some Christians have made it a policy to separate themselves from anything that in the least smacks of worldliness.

One of the doctrines that emerged among the Pharisees was the doctrine of salvation by segregation. For this reason, the Pharisees were incensed when Jesus “defiled” Himself by spending time with publicans and sinners. They failed to realize that the world is the arena in which God is working to save sinners. Christians must be involved with the people of the world in order to reach them.

How do we do this? By being in the world but not of it. Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The Christian is to work in the world, but without sin.

What does the term “keep your distance” mean with reference to the Christian and the world? Have you found that line which marks the boundary of how “near” you ought to come to the world, and yet is not so far away as to become separatists? As we mature in Christ we should be able more and more to invade the world with the transforming Good News of the kingdom. “Frontline ministry” should be the ultimate goal of each believer.

Monday, September 18, 2017

What God Most Wants From Us

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).

The chief goal of the Christian life is righteousness. Righteousness is what God wants from us more than anything else. We see this in Matthew 6:33. In this verse, the word first is the Greek word protos. This word not only means first in sequence or chronological order, but it also carries the idea of “foremost in importance.”

One of the most frightening statements in the New Testament is found in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Some of the commentators take this verse to be referring to justification. According to this view, Jesus is saying that we must possess perfect righteousness in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. How can we sinners have this perfect righteousness? Only in Christ Jesus. Jesus alone truly fulfilled the terms of this verse, and thanks be to God, His righteousness is credited to my account.

I think it may be possible that this verse does ultimately refer to justification, but I think we need also to consider its relevance for sanctification. The fact is that Christians, being justified by faith, are to live as righteous (just) people thereafter. Christians must be people with a passion for holiness and righteousness.

So what is this verse saying? It says that unless our lives begin to manifest a quality of righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is strong evidence that the faith we profess is not genuine. The true Christian is a person who grows in authentic righteousness.

Bible scholars have a category entitled “The Hard Sayings of Jesus.” Matthew 5:20 is one of them. Don’t yield to the temptation of diluting, defusing or dismissing such passages and the implications. If you have become complacent in your faith, pray that the Holy Spirit would properly “disturb” you with this and other similar passages.