Archive for the ‘Methodist’ Category

The Rise of Radicalism

 

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Matthew 25:31–46 (NLT) The Final Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man* comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations* will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,* you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.* 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

As I write this, I have just heard the news that the UK has voted to leave the EU.  This morning, we awoke to this news with the markets in disarray.  David Cameron, the British PM has resigned.  It seems the Brexit campaign won mostly through a campaign of fear, much those in the American presidential campaign, by preying on the fears of others:  the stranger, the immigrant, and the Muslim.  In the US, we have seen it in verbal attacks on particular groups:  first the fear of Mexicans and other immigrants, then after the recent  terrorist attacks, the fear of Muslims.

But Christians have not been given “a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  (2 Tim. 1:7)  Throughout the Bible there is a concern for those on the margins of our society:  the poor, widows and orphans, the stranger, the homeless, and the immigrant.  In fact, in many of the OT wisdom writings, “the poor” are synonymous with “the righteous.”  In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus makes it clear that we will be judged, not on the basis of whether we said a sinner’s prayer or any such modern contrivance of what salvation means, but on how we treat the other:  the poor, the immigrant, the stranger, etc.  Jesus calls them “the least of these my brothers and sisters.”  The Son’s words of damnation to those who treated others poorly are: “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.  For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me.  I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink.  I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home.  I was naked and you didn’t give me clothing.  I was sick and in prison and you didn’t visit me.”  (Matt. 25:41-43)

Karen, my wife, and I have been reading a devotional called A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Each day has a selection from some of Bonhoeffer’s writings.  The reading for June 23 was entitled “The Rise of Radicalism.”  Bonhoeffer is writing, of course, in Germany during the period of the Nazi regime, probably one of the most reactionary governments that has ever existed.  Hitler rose to power by playing into the fear of the other, in particular, he focused his vitriol on the Jews, and so we had the Holocaust.

Bonhoeffer wrote, “Radicalism always arises form a conscious or unconscious hatred of what exists.  Christian radicalism, whether it would flee the world or improve it, comes from the hatred of creation.  The radical cannot forgive God for having created what is… When evil becomes powerful in the world, it simultaneously injects the Christian with the poison of radicalism.  Reconciliation with the world as it is, which is given to the Christian by Christ, is then called betrayal and denial of Christ.  In its place come bitterness, suspicion, and contempt for human beings and the world.  Love that believes all things, bears all things, and hopes all things, love that loves the world in its very wickedness with the love of God (John 3:16), becomes – by limiting love to the closed circle of the pious – a pharisaical refusal of love for the wicked.  The open church of Jesus Christ, which serves the world to the end, becomes kind of supposed ur-Christian ideal church-community that in turn mistakenly confuses the realization of a Christian idea with the reality of a living Jesus Christ.  Thus a world that has become evil succeeds in making Christians evil also.”  (Ethics, 155-156)

In order to remain the church of Jesus Christ, we must resist those in our society who prey upon our fears.  We have not been given “a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  In order to remain the church of Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to love the other among us, as Jesus has commanded us and as Jesus demonstrated to us through his life, and especially through his death upon the cross.  “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)  Everyone means everyone.  To remain the church of Jesus Christ, we have no choice but to love the other:  no matter whether they are different from us, whether they are Christians or not, whether they speak our language or not.  John Wesley called this perfect love:  “Love for God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and “Love for one’s neighbor as we love ourselves.”

And in the end, we will not be judged in the court of public opinion, but in the court of the Lord on the day of judgment.  I hope that he will say to me, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.”

 

 

 

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith

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1 Timothy 6:11–16 (NLT) But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 15 For, At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 16 He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Before Paul closes his letter, he gives Timothy a charge to live a life beyond approach.  Paul calls Timothy “a man of God.” Oftentimes, we think of this book as a book for all who are in full-time ministry.  Certainly, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have this application, as Timothy is serving as the pastor over the church in Ephesus at this time.

Yesterday was Father’s Day (Sunday, June 19, 2016), there can be no greater title for a human man, than that of father.  But with fatherhood comes great responsibility.  Earlier, Paul admonished fathers as to how to treat your children, “Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.”  (Col. 3:21)  In the Roman Empire, fathers and male heads of households had supreme authority over their household even to the point of holding life and death over those under their authority:  their wives, children, and slaves.

Its not so in our culture today, yet, fathers remain an important part of the lives of children.  While the role of father has been somewhat diminished in our society, yet sociologists have demonstrated that when it comes to raising children, children need both father and mother to thrive.  W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia, wrote, “But the view that men are superfluous in today’s families is dead wrong.  While it is certainly true that some children raised without fathers turn out just fine (I did), on average, girls and boys are much more likely to thrive when they have the benefit of a father’s time, attention, discipline and especially affection.  Boys are more likely to steer clear of trouble with the law when they grow up with their fathers in the home…Another study foudn that girls whose fathers disappeared before the girls turned six were about five times more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers than were their peers raised with fathers in the home.  And we know that kids – especially boys – are more likely to excel in school, and to steer clear of the principal’s office, when they are raised in a home with a father who takes their homework and school conduct seriously.”  (“Children Are Better Off With a Father Than Without One”, NYT, Dec 16, 2013)  Christian parents have an obligation to raise their children in the faith.  How much more should Christian fathers be men of God.

So, as men of God, we should flee from all the things of this world.  (1 Tim. 6:11)  Oftentimes in our culture, it seems that we live our lives as if we are playing a game in which the one who accumulates the most stuff wins.  Many things are permitted, but not everything is beneficial.  (1 Cor. 10:23)  Neil Postman, an educator, wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he says that the contemporary world is reflected by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement.  Although the book was written in 1984, Postman’s premise has become even more true in our society with the rise of the internet.  We should flee from the things of this world as if we were fleeing from a snake.

Instead, we should “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”  Righteousness and godliness describe the right attitude toward God.  Righteousness is the essence of a person who is righteous.  Righteousness fulfills God’s claims of righteousness.  A person who is righteous adopts God’s law for oneself.  Godliness is devotion or piety toward God.  The godly person fulfills their obligations to God.

Faith and love are the fundamental principles of the Christian life.  Rowland has said, “Righteousness is the offspring of faith, and godliness is the offspring of love.”  Patience and meekness express the principles required of those who will successfully resist the temptations and trials of this world.

The Christian church has severely misrepresented the life of faith.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, wrote about what he calls “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (p.46).  “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (p.47).  We have sold people a bill of goods, as if the life of faith were not costly.  We only have to walk down an aisle and say a prayer, and we are in…a heavenly insurance policy.  But as Bonhoeffer states, discipleship is a following after Christ, which means taking up one’s cross daily and following Jesus.  The way of the cross is the way of suffering and denial.  This is why the church in the United States is so weak.

There is no crown without a cross and no victory without a fight.  So Paul suggests with the admonition, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Muhammed Ali just passed away, probably the greatest fighter of all time.  We think he was just super talented. But the article about his career in Sports Illustrated shows that he began his career as a youth practicing in the gym daily with disciplined struggle.  At the start of his career, he did not demonstrate any particular genius as a fighter.  It was only by learning literally in the school of hard knocks that he became a great fighter.

So we believers must learn to fight the good fight of the faith, like Paul did.  We should not yield at any point.  And so we will win the prize.  We don’t fight for a belt, like Ali did, or any earthly prize, but the prize that we fight for is “the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.”  Paul is asking Timothy to recall his testimony that he shared with the church.

Each of us has a testimony of how we came to the Lord.  In our church, we are learning how to be a witness by answering three questions:  Why God?  Why church?  Why this church?  The goal is to be able to answer those three questions in about 3 min., an elevator speech, so to speak.  One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the Gospel is your testimony.  Many people can resist clever and intelligent arguments about the truth of the Gospel, but no one can deny the truth of one’s own experience with the risen Lord.  So we should live into our baptism on a daily basis.

Father, God, help me to live into the covenant of my baptism.  Help me to live into the witness of the eternal life I professed before many witnesses.  Strengthen me to fight the good fight of the faith day by day.  “That being  born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  (UMH 42) Amen.

 

 

The Church, the Bride of Christ

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Ephesians 5:21–33 (NLT) And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.* 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”* 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

This passage is about marriage (Eph. 5:21-33).  It comes in a larger passage that is about relationships in Christ (Eph. 5:21-6:9).  It’s part of what is called Paul’s household code.  Household codes were a common form in the Greek and Roman world.  In a household code, authors would express how one should behave in a family in the light of Greco-Roman moral values of family or kinship, honor and shame, patronage and reciprocity, and purity.  The Christian church had values that were shaped by the Scriptures (in Paul’s case, the Old Testament).  So Paul sets out to express how Christians should live within their homes in the light of the framework of faith he has set out in the preceding chapters.   Paul has a similar household code in Col. 3:18-4:1 and there is one in 1 Peter 2:18-3:7.  In this household code, Paul is concerned that Christians should live lives that glorify God.  So he has instructions for wives and husbands (5:21-33), children and parents (6:1-4), and slaves and masters (6:5-9).

But Paul makes an analogy which helps us not only to understand the nature of marriage, but to also understand the relationship between Christ and the church.  In vv. 21-24, Paul focuses on the role of the wife.  “For a husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.  He is the Savior of his body, the church.  As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.”  (vv. 23, 24)  Much of the emphasis in teaching this passage in hte past has bee on the role of women and submission.  There is a mutual submission that is taught here.  The wife is to respect the husband, and the husband is to love the wife sacrificially.

Yet, how does this relate to the church?  Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.  If Christ is the head of the church, which is his body, then we should act that way.  We should seek the will of Christ in our planning and execution.  It seems to me that we go about our business doing all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the mission of the church:  Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  (Matt. 28:19-20)

I just got back from the North Texas Annual Conference, and we had to close a church.  The discussion over whether to close the church centered on if there were any signs of life in the church:  baptisms, professions of faith, new members, outreach to the community, etc.  It’s always sad to close a church.  But in this case, it was clear (at least to the overwhelming majority of members there) that this was a church that had ceased to be vital.  In other words, it was dead.  Even though there were a few members left alive, keeping the doors open so that they can have their funerals in the church is not a good enough reason to do so.  The church is not a funeral home, nor a wedding chapel.  Funerals and weddings are ministries of the church, but not the purpose.  Our purpose is to make new disciples of Jesus Christ.  When a church ceases to do that, then it needs to be closed.  Maybe it’s reached the natural end of its life cycle:  Perhaps the neighborhood has changed, the community has changed, or the neighborhood has died.

The local church body might die, but the Church, the body of Christ will go on.  New expressions of the body will grow up, that are better able to meet the needs of those around them.  Our job, then, as leaders of the body of Christ is to remember our mission.  How can we reach the people in our neighborhoods?  How can we find new ways to get outside the 4 walls of the church on Monday through Saturday to minister to those around us who do not know Jesus Christ?  When we understand the cultural context of the community in which we live, and reach them, then the local church in that place will continue to thrive and not just survive.  There will be new people coming to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  People in the community will come to know the love of Christ through the many ways in which the church is loving them.  And that is a beautiful thing.

Lord, help us as the church and leaders in the church to do your will.  Help us to love those around us who do not know you as Lord and Savior, so that we will accomplish our mission:  making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Amen.

 

To Know the Love of Christ

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Ephesians 3:14–21 (NRSV) Prayer for the Readers

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Paul concludes his prayer of thanksgiving for God’s amazing grace that began in Eph. 1:3 (Eph. 1:3-3:21).  This passage is a prayer for the reader (so a prayer for us).  Paul begins this large section with a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the spiritual blessings in Christ (1:3-14).  Now he prays for spiritual growth and empowerment for his readers.  (3:14-21)

In v. 14, Paul refers back to everything he has said in the preceding verses (1:3-3:13) concerning the richness of God’s grace.  Thinking of all the spiritual blessings in Christ, he falls to his knees in praise to God the Father.  (v. 15)  (vv. 14-19 is one sentence in the Greek)

1.  Empowerment through the Holy Spirit.  He prays that God will empower us with inner strength through his Spirit.  (v. 16).  God the Father is source of glorious, unlimited resources that the Father gives to all God’s children.  The result of this is “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  (v. 17a)  Having Christ in our hearts is the source of spiritual power for life and ministry.  The transition to the next verse is “that you, being rooted and grounded in love.”  (v. 17b)

2.  To know the love of Christ.  (vv. 18-19)  Christ’s love is great in every dimension.  The whole Christian life is based on the experience and personal knowledge of “the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.”  (v. 19a)   Christ’s love is greater than ordinary human knowledge.  It surpasses any human wisdom, science and philosophy.  (Rom. 5:6-8)

Love is incapable of being understood apart from the knowledge of the person who bestows it.  Just as a person cannot understand even human love without experiencing it.  The knowledge of God’s love can only be understood from the position of one who has experienced it.

If you have never experienced the love of a mother, for example, you cannot understand it.  And babies who have been deprived of the love of a mother do not grow up and mature emotionally in the way that they should.  The love of a mother and the closeness that they feel with her, the simple act of holding the baby and giving it the comfort of human skin to skin contact is necessary for healthy development.  So people who have never experienced the deep, deep love of God are somehow emotionally and spiritually stunted.  They can never be all that God intends for them to be apart from the love of God.

The believer is “filled up to the fullness of God” (v. 19:b) through the experience of Christ’s love.  We are conformed to the image of Christ and our life then reflects God’s life through out love for God and for one another.  (Eph. 4:14)  This is what Wesley means by Christian perfection or perfect love.

Paul’s prayer for us is also my prayer for you, the reader.  May you be empowered through the Holy Spirit, so that you have the power to understand, to know the love of Christ and so become the mature people of God, which is God’s ultimate destiny for us, re-made in the image of Christ.  Amen.

Salvation by Grace through Faith

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Ephesians 2:1–10 (NRSV) You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

In this passage, Paul describes what became the essential doctrine of the Reformation:  salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ.  The three solas of Luther were:  sola scripture (only by Scripture), sola fide (only by faith), and sola gratia (only by grace).

Grace is God’s unmerited favor.  God is love (1 John 4:8), and grace is an expression of the love of God.  In this case, Paul is speaking of God’s justifying grace, the grace of God that the Holy Spirit works in a person to justify them with God.  To be justified is to be “made right.”  In the work of justification, being made right with God means that we are freed from the guilt and punishment of our sins and receive new life (regeneration).  Only the presence and power of God can free us from the guilt and punishment of sin.

Before we believed in Christ, we were dead through our many sins.  This is true for every human being.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Rom. 3:23)  We once lived following the passionate desires of our sinful nature, and in fact, obeying the devil.  The devil is the “commander of the powers of the unseen world.  He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.”

I had another preacher ask me, “You mean to say that my little granddaughter is a sinner?”  I answered, “Yes.  She is.”  Although God does not hold her accountable until she is old enough to give account.  She is born a sinner.  “All” means “all.”  One of the first words that a child learns to say is, “No!”  Where does that come from?  It is the sin nature raising it’s ugly head leading a child to disobedience, which is sin.

But by God’s mercy, kindness and love, we who are joined to Jesus Christ are saved from the consequences of sin (Eph. 2:4, 5), which is death.  (Rom. 6:23)  Paul says literally, that God “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in heaven in Christ Jesus.”  (Eph. 2:5, 6)  Since we are joined with Christ, we will share his resurrection.

When does the resurrected life begin for the believer?  Paul suggests that in some way, we have already begun living the resurrection life.  Although our physical bodies will still die, yet our soul will continue to live in heaven and we will also share in the kingdom of God with Christ.  All these blessings are a result of our union with Christ:  resurrection, eternal life, the Kingdom of God, and all the other blessings of the Kingdom.  They are as sure as if everything has already taken place.  Christ’s resurrection is the evidence that it is all true.  The Spirit of Christ living in us is the guarantee that we have a share in these blessings.  So we should endeavor to live into our resurrection, live into our eternal life, and to not live as those who have no hope.  (1 Thes. 4:13)

Ephesian 2:8, 9 are probably two of the most important verses in the Bible, in that, they concisely describe how a person is saved.  “God saved you by his grace when you believed.  And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.”  (v. 9)This is how Protestants have understood the process of salvation since the Reformation.  People are made righteous through faith in Jesus Christ, not through our own goodness nor through good works nor through any of our own merit.  Only by grace through faith are we saved.  (Rom. 3:21-4:8; Gal. 3:2-10; 5:1-6)  This is the great theme that runs through all of Paul’s letters.

Lord, help me to live in the light of eternity.  Help me to live into my resurrection life.  Help me to live each day as a citizen and ambassador of the Kingdom of God, and to help others know you and the glory of the blessings in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

The Spirit of Adoption

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Romans 8:14–17 (NLT)  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.* Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”* 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

In the preceding passage (Rom. 8:1-13), Paul begins his discussion about the Spirit filled life by talking about the freedom that we have in the Holy Spirit as a result of the new life in Christ.  Paul transitions from the preceding passage with a verse with a claim:  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”  (Rom. 8:14)  Children of God is a phrase from the Old Testament that refers to the nation of Israel.  Paul uses it to remind believers that God has given us an intimate, family relationship with God, and so we will share many of the promises and blessings of given to Israel.  We are no longer babies or slaves, but children with full rights (Gal. 4:1-7).

So John Wesley focused on Rom. 8:15, when he preached a sermon entitled, “The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption.”  (Sermon 9) In that sermon, Wesley made three points:  1.  The state of the natural person is that they are in a state of sleep spiritually.  2.  The spirit that makes you fearful slaves:  The state of the one who is under the law is that he has a spirit of bondage and fear, because they realize that they are under the condemnation of God for sin.  3.  The Spirit of adoption, by which we can call God, “Abba, Father.”  The state of the one who has found grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

1.The state of the natural person Paul covers in Rom. 7.  The state and standing of the person before Christ is the same.  Before salvation, we are confirmed sinners.  We might think ourselves good, as many sinners do.  But the fact is that spiritually we are dead.  We cannot discern whether our behavior is good or evil in the eyes of God, because all the avenues of spiritual knowledge are shut up.  In fact, we are ignorant of the state of our own souls.  So we think ourselves secure, while we are in fact under the judgment of god.

Wesley says that this is no ignorance so glaring as the ignorance of those who consider themselves wise or learned.  There were many of these wise fools in Wesley’s day as there are today.  The god of this world has given them a double blindness.

I was listening yesterday to the radio and heard an interview with John Lawrence Hill on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show.  He is a lawyer and was an atheist.  He felt, as many atheists do, that he was a good man, and a moral man.  But as he considered the philosophical underpinnings of his morality, he came to understand that atheism offers no rationale for a moral life.  All true atheists must be materialists.  That means that there can be no soul, no spirit, but only the physical, the material.  If all we are is meat puppets, then the only law are those natural laws that govern evolution.  The governing principle of human behavior is the law of the jungle.  There cannot be either right or wrong.  IN fact, this was the same argument offered at Nuremburg by the Nazis.  They claimed that everything they did was legal under German law.  Therefore, there was no legal claim by which they could be prosecuted.  The crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis was a natural outcome of their philosophy of atheistic humanism, led by the rejection of God in Nietzsche.  As Hill came to realize that there is no moral foundation for atheism, he began to seek a Lawyer who has created a universal law that governs the universe – God.  So he became a Christian.  His new book outlining this is After the Natural Law:  How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Views.  

2.The state of the person who is under the law:  the spirit of bondage and fear.  By God’s prevenient grace (the grace that calls us to salvation), God touches the heart of the person who is spiritually asleep and awakens us to an awareness of our danger.  We suddenly awake to understand that we are under the judgment of God.  So Jonathon Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  For as the Scripture says, “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Heb. 10:31)  It is as if we have been laid “naked and open to the eyes of God” and God sees us “stripped of all the fig-leaves which he had sewed together, of all his poor pretenses to religion or virtue, and his wretched excuses for sinning against God… His heart is bare, and he sees it is all sin, deceitful above all things, desperately wicked.”  (Wesley, quoting from Heb. 4:13 and Jer. 17:9)

Sometimes this awareness is gradual, sometimes it comes like a bolt of lightning.  I knew a man who was a notorious drunkard.  He had grown up in the church with a Christian mother, but a father who was an alcoholic.  His mother never ceased to pray for him.  One night his wife left him, and he lay alone on his bed drinking.  As he lay there, it was as if he could feel the flames of hell licking at his skin and he knew that his eternal destiny should he die at that moment was to enter into eternal damnation.  In his fear of death, he cracked open a Bible his mother had given to him, and saw that she had underlined the verse, “Look and live.”  (Num. 21:8)  He cried out to Jesus in some remembered prayer, repenting of his sin and seeking God in Jesus Christ.  He began to live the Spirit-filled life and turned completely from drink and sin.  In fact, he became a preacher of the Gospel and an evangelist leading many to Christ.

When our spiritual senses are awake, we recognize sin’s control over us.  We become aware that we are sinners who stand under the judgment of a holy God.  So we beomce of aware of our bondage to sin and in fear of death.  (v. 15)

3.In those who are no longer under the law, but under grace or the power of the Holy Spirit reigning in our hearts.  We have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we are enabled to cry, “Abba, Father!” (v. 15)  Like the man in the illustration above, we cried out in our distress, and God delivered us out of our danger.  In fact, we are not only delivered from the threat of judgment, but we are adopted into the family of the judge.  We are delivered from both the guilt and the power of sin.  So we can say, “I am crucified with Christ.  It is not longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”  (Gal. 2:20)

“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  (2 Cor. 3:17)  So we are free from the guilt and power of sin, but also from the bondage of sin.  Before we could do nothing but sin, but now we have the possibility of living a holy life through the power of the Holy Spirit – that is, living a life that is pleasing to God.

Wesley concludes his sermon by asking us to consider where we are?  There are many sincere people who believe themselves to be safe and secure, while they are under the judgment of God.  Just because you were born in the church that does not make you a Christian.  We must each stand on our own before God, God will judge our hearts on the basis not of religion, but of relationship.

Are you part of the family of God?  Have you the Spirit of adoption, through which you can call God, “Abba, Father,” that is, “Daddy” or “Papa.”  The relationship to which we are called by God is not that of the condemned before the Judge, but that of a child before their parent.

 

 

 

The Spirit-filled Life (Part 2)

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Romans 8:5–11 (NLT)

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life* because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

The freedom from sin accomplished by the saving work of Jesus Christ results in a new way of living.  Paul contrasts those who live according to the sinful nature with those who live according to the Spirit.

Those who live a life dominated by the sinful nature (flesh) means essentially everyone apart from Christ.  Paul has already spelled this out, but here he rehashes what he already said.  Those who are controlled by the sinful nature live a life that leads to death.  Their whole orientation is hostile to God.

There is no such thing as being indifferent to God.  You are either oriented toward God, or you are hostile toward God.  So letting the Spirit control one’s life leads to eternal life and peace.  The peace to which Paul refers is first and foremost peace with God, as if we were at war with God.  So Paul said in v. 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been made right by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” For that reason, “those who are under the control of the sinful nature can never please God.”  (v. 8:8)

In contrast, those who have the Holy Spirit living in them are not controlled by their sinful nature.  Instead, we are controlled by the Spirit.  (v. 9)  The Holy Spirit directs the lives of believers.  This doesn’t mean that we do not sin.  We are still sinners saved by grace.  However, it does mean that the orientation of the believers life is now toward God, when it previously was toward sin and death.  That is what the word repentance implies, a turning away from sin and toward God, a reorientation of life from what the sinful nature desires to what God desires and wills for us instead.  We turn from death toward life in Jesus Christ.

This reorientation of the will is accomplished by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is part of what it means to say we have new life in Christ.  We are regenerated.  And because we are regenerated, we have the Spirit of Christ as a sign and seal of that regeneration.

Some folks have gotten the idea that we do not have the Holy Spirit in us after baptism, that it awaits some second event that will make us super saints.  But Paul disabuses that notion.  He says (parenthetically), “And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.”  (v. 9)  So in the United Methodist Church, after you are baptized, the pastor lays hands on you and prays for the Holy Spirit to “work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  There is an understanding that this life of following Christ is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.  So Paul says that this same Spirit consistently opposes sin and death in our lives.

Paul is aware that not all the blessings of the Kingdom of God have been realized.  We still are subject to death until Christ returns.  (v. 10)  But the Spirit is the agent of eternal life.  The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the first sign that we have eternal life through Jesus Christ.  And the presence of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the Spirit will resurrect us from the dead, “just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

In some mysterious way, we are already living eternal life since the day of our salvation.  Since that day, the sanctifying grace of God has been at work in our lives transforming us into the image of Christ.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us reason to think that the life of glory has already begun in our lives.  Although we still live in this body of clay, in our spirits we have already begun to break away from this present age into the Kingdom of God.  So Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of God is already among you.”  For wherever the King is, there is the Kingdom.”

The sinful nature is dead in us as a result of the work of Jesus Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit.  But Martin Luther said something to the effect that the old man who is drowned in baptism, but the old man is a good swimmer.

Lord, help me to live each day into my baptism.  Help me to walk day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.