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No Condemnation

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“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

The Bible is filled with unbelievably powerful verses that offer strength and encouragement to the believer. I come to this verse today and I’m in awe of the implications of these words as I ponder the realities of the Christian life and most of all the beauty of God’s grace.

The reality of the Christian life is that we all struggle. We struggle with past failures, past sin, and oftentimes the messes that we have made of our lives. Whether it be damaged relationships, financial ruin, or other lingering physical reminders of past sin, we often mourn our past and the mistakes we’ve made.

We also struggle in the present. Even though we know God has saved us from our sin through Christ and given us a relationship with Him, we continue to deal with sin and its consequences. We want to live lives that honor God, but we find ourselves coming up short so often. We live lives of perpetual guilt as a result.

This struggle in the present also leads to a fear of the future. Even though we might say with our lips that we understand our sin has been taken away, we still fear the judgement of God because of our current failures. How will we be able to stand before a Holy God with all of this sin remaining in our lives? Will God somehow punish me later for what I did yesterday?

This is where Romans 8:1 is so very powerful. The Apostle Paul tells us that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. If you are in Christ Jesus, if you belong to Him, if you have put your faith and trust in Him, then you have no need to fear. You are not condemned for past failures. God is not going to condemn you for what you do today. Your standing before God is secure regardless of what mistakes you may or may not make in the future.

Those who belong to Christ are forgiven of all their sins – past, present, and future. When Jesus went to the cross he took on himself the punishment for all of your sins. Every sin you have ever committed or will commit was put upon Him. This is why “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Jesus was condemned to die to pay the penalty for your sin.

Now, some would say, “Does this mean it doesn’t matter what we do?” No, this isn’t what it means. As you read the remainder of Romans 8 you will see that the Apostle Paul speaks about life in the Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit lives inside us and gives us life. Because of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to overcome sin in our lives. We are given the desire and the ability to live lives of increasing holiness as a result of the work of the Spirit that indwells the believer. Each of us who are Christians have the Spirit of God Himself living within us – the very Spirit of God who raised Christ Jesus from the grave. (Romans 8:11) What more could we ask for?

We are often tempted to dwell on past sin, or even current sin in our life. We feel defeated and see so little progress in our Christian walk. Our struggles with sin often lead us to draw back from God. If we’ve failed in the past, then surely we won’t do much better in the future.

But the beauty of God’s grace is that not only have we been forgiven of our past sin, but God is powerfully working within us to make us more like Jesus. (Romans 8:29) He is using all things, even our sins and struggles to make this happen. (Romans 8:28) So, instead of our fears and failures causing us to run away from God, we ought to see them as opportunities to run to God free from condemnation. We run to Him for not only forgiveness of our sin, but also strength to overcome our struggles and sin.

How wonderful is that? As the Apostle Paul says, “…nothing in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

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Being Transparent-Can you see me now?

A few weeks ago I posted a message based on a sermon I delivered about submission. The message was basically about how Christians are to live differently from the rest of the world and they are to live their lives in submission to God. I’m not sure what people thought when they heard, or read the message. Hopefully they heard or read some truths from God’s word that made them want seek God more, and bring their lives more into submission to Him.

I couldn’t help but wonder though, what did my non-Christian friends think of the message. For the people that really know me, how did they view the message? And what about the folks that don’t know me all that well, what did they think?

No doubt, some of my friends who read the part of the message where I said that it wasn’t ok to go out and drink on weekends thought, “Wow, what a hypocrite! I’ve seen him drink and get drunk before.” This is true. I wish I could say that since I’ve been a Christian I haven’t gone out and drank too much. I can’t. There have been times when I’ve been with my friends, and in wanting to just have a good time, I’ve drank, and gotten tipsy. But does this make it ok? Not at all! My failures in my Christian walk do not negate the word of God.

Now we must differentiate the difference between “drinking” and “getting drunk”. In my personal opinion, it is ok to have the occasional glass of wine, but it is not ok to get drunk. The Bible says to not get drunk with wine, but in several instances it speaks of people drinking wine, with no indication that it is wrong. Even the Apostle Paul exhorts his young Pastor friend Timothy to “drink a little wine for his stomach”. The Bible speaks against being a drunkard, but not drinking altogether. I know many people have differing opinions on this, but this is how I see it.

This isn’t the point I’m trying to make though. The point I want to make is, that yes sometimes I fail too. I spoke against sexual immorality in my message. Well several times in my Christian walk, I have failed in this. No doubt some people who read the message said, “I know Chris has done this, or done that. Who is he to tell me what I’m doing or have done is wrong.” They’d be right. I’ve messed up a lot in the past. But again, because I’ve failed doesn’t make God’s word any less true. As the Apostle Paul says, “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar…(Romans 3:3-4)

The point I’m trying to make is this. When I preach, or when I write, I’m preaching just as much to myself as anyone else. Generally the things I preach on are things that God has laid on my heart that I need to work on, and I need to change. He reveals to me my weaknesses or my unfaithfulness, and shows me that I need to be seeking Him and His Spirit, His power more. I know that the things I have struggled with or am struggling with, others struggle with also. When I preach or write, it isn’t meant to be in a condescending or judgmental way. I’ve been there, or I am there. Sometimes I can see a sin or an area in my life that I was struggling with at one time or another, but God has delivered me from that sin. Perhaps God can use my testimony to help others see that God is faithful, and can and will provide a way of victory over that sin.

I don’t know exactly how God is going to use me. I don’t even know why He would want to use a miserable, fallen sinner such as myself for His glory. But I believe that is what He is going to do. I believe He is doing that even now. In the past year God has been revealing more and more to me. He is revealing to me how far I myself am, and how far the Church is from being what He desires it to be. That is why I preached and wrote on submission. Because I believe that is what is missing. I must bring my life into submission to God and His will. The church must also. We all must begin to live our lives like we are the people of God. For those that aren’t Christians, well they too must submit to God. If you don’t here on this earth, you will at the judgment seat of God, “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; as it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”(Romans 14:11)

So to sum it up, yes I am a sinner. Yes I have drank too much, yes I have been sexually immoral, yes I have used language that I shouldn’t, yes I have told jokes I shouldn’t, yes in general, I just suck! But that doesn’t take away from who God is. That doesn’t take away from the truth of His word. I am seeking Him more, I repent of those sinful ways, and I am now seeking to live my life completely for Him. How about you? I believe it all starts with confessing our sins. Why don’t we do that today? “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”(1 John 1:8-10) “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”(James 5:16)

Submission: Who are you living for?

Ephesians 4:17-5:21

 

 

            I’ve become more and more convinced in recent months that Christians and The Church as a whole is really missing the mark in their Christian walks. We call ourselves Christians, yet when you look at our lives it tells a far different story. I’m not talking about going to church on Sundays, or putting money in the offering plate or basket, whatever it may be. I’m not even talking about those “Christians” or even “Pastors” who are involved in the church programs and the ministries of the church in a major way. Many times people spend a few hours a week doing things in the name of Christ and think they are doing the Lord a service, feel really good about themselves, and then live out the rest of their week doing whatever they want, or living like the rest of the world. But that’s not what God desires of us, that’s not what Christ demanded of us, and that isn’t what the text we read today is going to say either.

            A few weeks ago in speaking about the Corinthian church my pastor said that they were, “seeing how many of the world’s ways they could fit into their lives and still be Christians”. I think that is really the state of the Church today, especially here in America. And we seem to think its ok. Why is that? I think mainly because we are measuring ourselves by the wrong standard. We are looking at ourselves compared to other Christians as opposed to looking at our lives in comparison to how Christ told us we ought to live and according to how the Word of God tells us.

            How many of us who call ourselves Christians, who show up to church on Sundays do our “worship” thing, then go home and don’t think about God the rest of the day. How many of us go to work on Mondays or hang out with friends on the weekends and talk just like they do, think just like they do, and in general live like they do. How many of us watch things on television we shouldn’t, look at things online we shouldn’t, speak down to our spouses, and fail to show patience and grace with our children? I would be willing to say a majority of “Christians” fall into at least one of these categories, if not several or even all of them. But is this the way it ought to be? Well let’s look at the text and see what the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit tells us. When many people are making resolutions this New Year, perhaps we should pray to God to pour out His Spirit upon us and to help us to live lives that truly honor and glorify Him. To live lives completely submitted to Him. After all, that is what He commands us to do.

           

            The first thing Paul tells his audience is that they are no longer to “walk as the Gentiles do”. We all know the difference between a physical Jew and a physical Gentile. The way we use this term today, a Jew is a physical descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Or one who practices the religion of Judaism. These things make a Jew a Jew. Everyone else is a Gentile. This was pretty much the case in the days of Paul as well, but when you read Paul’s writings, and learn about his theology, I don’t believe that is what he believed and I don’t believe that is what he is saying here. If you read Paul’s writings, especially Romans 2:28-29, and even here in Ephesians 2, you will see that Paul thought of a Jew as anyone who pleased God, one who was one of the covenant people of God, or one of the chosen people of God. I believe in a since this has always been the true definition of a Jew. So according to Paul’s definition, anyone who is a Christian, or a partaker of the “New Covenant”, one who is a believer in Jesus Christ and one who has put their faith in Him, is really a Jew. Remember also that Paul’s audience isn’t made up exclusively of physical Jews. Again we can see this by reading Ephesians 2.

            Notice what Paul says. That they are no longer to walk as the Gentiles or as those who are not God’s people. He says basically that they are ignorant of the things of God, because of their hard heartedness. (Verse 18 ) He tells his audience that they are not.(verse 20) And that they are to put off their old self. (Verse 22)We as Christians likewise are not to walk as the world walks. Those of the world are ignorant to the ways of God, but we are not. If we have professed to be Christians then at some point we have heard the Gospel, and we have heard the truth that is in Christ. I know all of us here have heard the truth of Christ preached, and have read the Word of God, so none of us are ignorant of God and His ways, or how he desires us to live our lives. So we too as Christians must put off our old self, and walk as a people who are called out. We are to walk as the people of God are to walk. 1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us that, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people..”

            I think that is a big problem. We don’t have an understanding of who we are as God’s people. We forget what it is to be a Christian. Being a Christian isn’t about joining a religion or living a good clean life. Sure that is part of it, but that isn’t what it is. The fact is if you are a Christian, you have been called of God to live your life for Him. You have been called out of darkness so that you can proclaim who Christ is, so that you can glorify Him. I believe a proper understanding of this fact will go a long way in helping us to live out our lives and our callings in the right way.

            Like I said though, living a good clean life is part of it. If you aren’t living your life in a way that is God honoring, and different from the rest of the world then you cannot proclaim Christ and you cannot glorify Him. We as Christians cannot just proclaim him with our words alone, we must also proclaim Him with our lives. So obviously if we understand this, then there are some things that we must avoid, and some things that Paul tells us we must do.

            First Paul tells us that we must avoid sensuality, and every type of impurity. (Verse 19) I don’t believe I need to expound on what this is. He tells us that if we are angry, not to sin.(Verse 26) I really believe it is impossible as a human to not get angry. Sometimes it’s okay to be angry. But it is not ok to stay angry. I believe what  Paul is talking about in verse 26, is that we must be forgiving. Notice he says to “not let the sun go down on your anger.” Paul says that we are not to steal(Verse 28). He also says in that same verse that we are to work, and not just so that we can provide for ourselves, but so that we can share with those that are in need. This is definitely a lesson that Christians need to learn. He tells us that we must have no “corrupting talk”  This could be gossiping, insulting others, or even cussing.. In chapter 5, verse 4 Paul tells us not to have any filthiness or foolish talk. How many of us at work or around our friends have told the occasional off color joke, or have even laughed at one. This doesn’t honor God. Our speech ought to build others up, and give grace to all those who hear our words. (Verse 29) Paul tells us to put away all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander and malice. (Verse 31) Chapter 5 verse 18, Paul tells us to not get drunk. I can’t tell you how many Christians I know who think its okay to go out on the weekends and party and drink. This is clearly not the case. Again, as Christians we are to live our lives differently from the rest of the world.

            Paul tells us in 4:32, and 5:1-2 how we are to live. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

            How can we imitate God you might ask. Well it tells us in that same passage, to walk in love, to give ourselves up for others, and to be a pleasing sacrifice to God. Romans 12:1 says, “…to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” This means that our bodies are to be used for God’s glory, and we do that by not only making sacrifices for others, and helping others, but also living lives of purity. I know when you use the term “purity” it has a sexual connotation. This is surely part of it, but it has a much broader meaning. Verses 3-5 has a very strong statement, and one that I think ought to frighten many people within the church. It tells us that those who are sexually immoral, who are impure, and covetous should not be found within the church. Read what it says in verse 5. “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Read what it says in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, 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.” Is that not a frightening statement? It ought to be. How many of those things do we see amongst those who call themselves Christians today? From my personal experience quite a lot. In Ephesians 5:6 it tells us that those who practice these things will experience the wrath of God. In verse 7 it tells us to not associate with people who do these things, because those are our old ways. So we must be very careful who we associate with. Paul tells us in verse 8 that now we are children of light, so we ought to walk as children of light.

            2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” So if you have put your faith in Christ, if you are a Christian, then you must no longer walk according to your old ways. You must no longer walk according to the ways of the world, or practice the things that those who are not Christians do. You have been made into a new creation. You have been called out to live a separate life, a life called out. Look back to what it says in verse 2 of Chapter 5, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” Why did Christ give himself up for us? Look back to 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” What does that mean? The love of Christ ought to control us. He died for us, so we should die also. That is what Paul means when he tells us to put off our old self in Ephesians 4:22. He died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but we are to live for him who died for our sake, Jesus Christ.

            Ephesians 5:10 tells us to try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Well how can we know what pleases God? First of all, read the Word of God. It is amazing to me how many people who claim to be Christians don’t read their Bibles. How are you going to partake of the promises of God, or live in a way that is pleasing to God if you don’t know what He has said. You learn that by reading the Bible. Not only that, we have to pray. It uses the word discern, and I think that is a very important word. A huge part of discernment, probably the most important part is prayer and seeking the Holy Spirit. I don’t believe you can truly understand the Bible, and understand the ways of God unless He Himself reveals it to you. He does this by the power of the Holy Spirit, and drawing us closer to Him through prayer. Again, I am amazed at how many Christians don’t pray.

            When we read the Word of God, and when we pray and learn what pleases God, we are to live our lives accordingly. And not in unfruitful ways, according to the ways of darkness, or according to the ways of the world. This being said many Christians do and have gone astray. Many Christians have stopped walking with God, and are asleep. I believe this is what Paul means in Ephesians 5:14 that we are to expose evil, and wake up those Christians who have gone astray. “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” There are also many folks who aren’t Christians yet, that will come into our lives, or who are already in our lives. We must also do our best to wake them up from their sleep.            

            Verse 15 tells us to, “walk, not as unwise but as wise.” What is true wisdom? Psalm 111:10 says that, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” So it all starts by knowing who God is, and living accordingly. Again verse 17 tells us to , “understand what the will of the Lord is. Again that comes from praying, seeking the Holy Spirit, and reading the Word of God. I believe a big problem we have within the church, and within our own Christian lives is we don’t take the words of Jesus literally. We think of everything as hyperbole or as a metaphor. He can’t possibly expect us to live our lives that way. Well what if He does? Are we still willing to follow Him? Are we willing to really put Him first in our lives? Are we willing to actually forsake all of our possessions if that is what He calls us to do? Are we really willing to love our neighbor and to forgive those who have wronged us? Are we truly willing to die to ourselves so that we can live for Him? We better be, because those are all things that Jesus has told us we must do.

            So as a Church, and as The Church how are we to live together, and treat each other? Paul sums it up for us in Verses 19-21. We must come together and worship with our hearts, not just our mouths. (Verse 19) We are to give thanks always, remember that we deserve nothing that God has given us. (Verse 20) Therefore we all should be working together, be unified, and build each other up knowing that none of us deserve what He has blessed us with. All that we have received, meaning His love and His grace. The right to be called His children is all because of what Jesus Christ did for us. That ought to cause us to take our focus off or ourselves and on Jesus Christ and building up His church. Focus on self and personal desires will always divide a church.

            And lastly we are to submit to one another. (Verse 21) Remember the example that Christ gave us when He washed the feet of His disciples. More importantly remember the example he gave us all by dying on the cross in order that we might be forgiven for our sins, and be reconciled to the Father. Remember that it is only because of that, that we can have eternal life, and be called Christians.

           

            We just finished celebrating Christmas. Christmas ought to be a time of celebrating the birth of our Savior. It seems though that is no longer the case in our world. Instead Christmas has become a day to celebrate our greed and desire for things. But that shouldn’t be the way it is for Christians. As Christians we must celebrate the coming of our Lord every day. We do this by living our lives for Him and to His glory. Remember the true miracle of Christmas isn’t just that God took on human flesh and was born, and placed in a manger. That isn’t why he came to earth. He came to earth so that He could die for our sins, and ultimately he could be born in our hearts. We marvel that God would humble Himself to be born in the filth of a barn or a cave. But that filth is nothing compared to the filth that is in each of our hearts. If God was willing to do that for us, is it really too much to ask that we should submit our lives to Him. It isn’t easy. Actually it is impossible to do it on our own. We must have Him, and His Holy Spirit, and we must be obedient to follow Him. Let’s begin today, and resolve for the New Year to seek Him and to live our lives for His glory.