Dangerous Words

January 26, 2013

It was a decisive moment in my life. I was a teenager. It was Sunday morning, and my Mom had just called me to get up. I lay in the bed and said to myself, “I just don’t feel like it.” I had stayed up too late the night before, and the bed was oh so warm and comfortable. “If I lie here long enough,” I thought, “she would either be late herself or she would leave without me. After all, my Dad was always home on Sunday morning. I could stay with him.”

As I hatched my plan to sleep in, another thought occurred to me. What about next Sunday? Would I really want to get up any more on that Sunday than this? And the honest answer was “no.” I’ve always been a bit groggy in the morning. Then I asked myself one more question, “Do I want to walk away from God?” And the answer was “no.” I suddenly realized that if I gave into this feeling, I could be starting a habit that took me away from God. I got up and went to church.

And so it has gone with my life. I have to admit the things that I have “forced” myself to do have blessed my life. Some decisions shouldn’t be made on emotions alone, but with reason and reflection. Emotions have their place, but sometimes, we have to put emotions in their place and use our will.

Certainly there are areas of life where it is proper to say “I just don’t feel like it.” Some choices in life really don’t matter. But all of us realize that sometimes we have to overcome our feelings. I just can’t say “I don’t feel like it” to taking out the trash, balancing my checkbook, paying the bills, and a long list of other necessary things.

The same is true in the spiritual realm. Satan may use our feelings to weaken our resolve and start us down the wrong path. Emotions go up and down. They vacillate with mood and circumstance, but the important things in life need commitment and constancy. In those weak moments, our emotions need to be overruled by our will. Sometimes “I just don’t feel like it” are dangerous words.

The Boast

January 18, 2013

Paul turned boasting on its head. Paul had learned from the prophet Jeremiah to boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31 quotes Jeremiah 9:24). Paul’s opponents were boasting in circumcision and outward expressions of Judaism. Instead, Paul offered this humble boast:

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14, ESV

Jesus did something for us on the cross. He became the once for all sin offering. His death brings life. His death grants forgiveness of sins to those united to Him. Sin and death are defeated in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. So, Paul boasts… he boasts “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The humble boast was a scandalous boast. Cicero said that the very mention of the word “cross” should be far from the person of a Roman citizen. The cross was “the most cruel and disgusting penalty.” For the Jew, the scandal was death upon a cross was to be “cursed” (Deuteronomy 21:23).

For the first century world, the cross evoked the emotions that a hangman’s noose would in ours. Clarence Jordan used “lynching” in his Cotton Patch Series for the cross. In explaining his dramatic retelling of the gospel story set against the racial tensions of the South, he wrote:

Our crosses are so shined, so polished, so respectable that to be impaled on one of them would seem to be a blessed experience. We have thus emptied the term ‘crucifixion’ of its original content of terrific emotion, of violence, of indignity and stigma, of defeat.

To the first century world, it was a scandalous boast.

The boast is also transforming. For Paul, the cross is not merely something outside of him. He pictures us all united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6). The cross becomes a paradigm… a journey… a daily walk. Paul pictures himself as crucified to the world and the world crucified to him. We are to die on our cross to the lusts and desires of a sinful world because of Jesus. The cross has power to transform.

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er his body on the tree;
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
–Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, verse 4

Why Be Baptized?

January 11, 2013

Why be baptized? The question only makes sense if someone believes in Jesus. If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, was buried, and raised from the dead, then it is legitimate to ask: why be baptized?

Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22). If I’m going to follow Jesus, I can’t hesitate to do what Jesus did especially when he commands it. Jesus didn’t need baptism for forgiveness of sins unlike you and me, since Jesus is sinless. But Jesus persuaded John to baptize him “to fulfill all righteousness.” It was appropriate to fulfill God’s will.

Jesus commanded baptism (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:16). The followers of Jesus are to go into all the world and make disciples. A disciple, in this case, is a follower of Jesus. A disciple is someone who learns and follows Jesus’ instructions. But the making of a disciple is incomplete if we don’t follow all of Jesus’ instructions. We are also to baptize this person in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are also to teach them to keep all the things commanded by Jesus.

Jesus promised certain things in baptism through his teaching and his apostles’s teaching.

  • The entrance into the Kingdom of God, John 3:5
  • Forgiveness of sin, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, 1 Cor. 6:11.
  • Reception of the Spirit, Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 12:13, and therefore the new life in the Spirit, i.e. regeneration, Titus. 3:5, John 3:5.
  • Union with Christ. Gal. 3:27, and particularly union with Him in his death and resurrection. Rom. 6:3ff, Col. 2:11f, with all that implies of release from sin’s power, as well as guilt, and the sharing of the risen life of the Redeemer, Rom. 6:1-11.
  • Salvation. Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21

Now I’m not suggesting that immersion in water by itself does all these things. These passages assume that we come to baptism in faith with repentant hearts. The power is in the work of Christ — his death, burial and resurrection. Baptism is an expression of our trust in Jesus and in God. But on the other hand, the New Testament never pictures the unbaptized as possessing these blessings. Baptism is the place where we meet God in faith to receive the spiritual blessings he has promised because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

Why be baptized? Jesus was baptized. Jesus commanded baptism. Jesus has promised spiritual blessings in baptism. I can’t take Jesus seriously and claim to follow him without also submitting to baptism.

Overcoming Evil

January 4, 2013

Evil abounds. The modern world’s 24 hour news cycle covers it live by satellite. We see the victims of evil and violence, and we often hear the sordid tales that perpetrators were once themselves victims. Clearly evil does not overcome evil. It only brings ever widening ripples like a stone dropped in a lake. Evil after evil only keeps the painful cycle unbroken.

How do we overcome evil? We must first accept the cure for our own lives provided by the death of Christ. He died to set us free from sin and death. Having died to sin we must live for God – we must live a transformed life. Paul provides some specifics.

  • Bless instead of curse. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14, ESV). We do not pay back hurtful words, with hurtful words. Don’t let evil grow.
  • Don’t repay evil for evil. “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17, ESV). Someone’s sin against us does not give us permission to sin against them.
  • Seek peace. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18, ESV). Jesus calls peacemakers blessed (Matthew 5:9). Not everyone wants peace, but we should have the attitude that seeks peace.
  • Leave vengeance to God. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19, ESV). God is better qualified for vengeance. God is without sin. God is completely just, yet merciful.
  • Do good to all people. “To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’” (Romans 12:20, ESV). Paul is quoting Proverbs 25:21-22. “Heap burning coals” should be seen as good deeds pricking the conscience of the enemy and bringing them to repentance.
  • Overcome evil with good. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21, ESV). How does Satan do battle? His lies and deception lead to evil. How will Satan win battles (for he cannot win the war)? By getting us to stoop to his level, to play his game by his rules, by tricking us to do evil.

Overcoming evil with good is not always easy. The inclinations of the flesh must be put to death with the Spirit’s help. But in Christ there is healing for the brokenness inside. In Christ the cycle of evil can be broken. Only goodness overcomes, for Christ has won the victory.