If growing closer in our relationship with God is the goal, then repenting and combating our sin nature is our highest priority, because it was sin that originally separated us from God, and it is sin that still stands in obstruction to our growth in God, even after salvation. Sin is a powerful persuasion, and it has a powerful promoter in Satan himself. If repentance is important, and it certainly is, then learning to repel Satan, and defying his power in our life is crucial.
But why does Satan pursue?
For the true follower of Christ, Satan’s goal is to separate us from a real intimacy with God through a vital and growing relationship. He’s already lost the battle for our eternal soul, so he can now focus his efforts on our daily walk with Christ, attempting to render it distracted, distant, and worthless. If Satan can keep us out relevant time spent in God’s Word, off our knees in real communication and prayer, and busy with life, then he’s winning the fight.
I believe that Satan loves religion, because the bells and whistles of religion are steeped in habitual tradition, often devoid of meaningful spiritual depth. Too often, Christians plan their spiritual life and work around a church calendar, instead of around the individual call that God has placed on their life. Sermons and podcasts become a substitution for Bible study, and intimacy with God is replaced with the simple practice of organized religion. Again, for the Christian, if Satan can get us wrapped-up in the activities of modern day religion, then he may be able to convince us that we’re “doing just fine” in our walk with God.
Religion versus Relationship
Satan would love to see us doubt God. He would love to see us renounce our Christian walk and thoroughly and completely embrace a life of constant sin and consistent rebellion. However, Satan may not be successful to that end. Consequently, we should be aware that all Satan really has to do in order to accomplish his goal is create a chasm in our walk with the Lord…a separation in our personal intimacy with God. He knows that the chasm doesn’t necessarily have to be deep, it just needs to exist. The chasm can form and never really affect our church calendar activities. It can form as we relish our perfect attendance in Sunday School and worship, and no one may ever know, because our “religion” is still intact…while our “relationship” with God suffers. It can become increasingly distant and meaningless. Frankly, it can die altogether.
Satan pursues us relentlessly. He touts the attractiveness of sin and the “good times” of our “old self"…compelling us to constantly revisit our sin nature. His quest is to lead us away from a repentant life. Satan wants to feed our sin nature and fuel the flames of our flesh until God is unrecognizable to us from the inside, because the small chasm he initiated in our relationship with God in the beginning has now grown much larger. If he can fill our mind and heart with sin, there will be no compulsion for growth toward the glorious things of God. And, where there is no growth, death quickly comes. This is not necessarily a physical death, but instead, it’s a death of our passion for Christ, a death of our close walk with Him, and a death of us walking out God’s will in our life. Satan wants us to lead a life consisting of the deliberate embrace of sin, a life devoid of repentance. And, his resources to do this are immense…
Next: Defy Satan Power in the Journey– Part 1: The Resources of His Pursuit
I made the case in my last blog that we may be embracing sin, because we think we can control our sin nature. This is an idea not lost on Satan, our adversary, whose primary goal is keeping us separated from a real and life-transforming relationship with Almighty God. Today, I want to address some of the instruction of Scripture regarding repentance, words from the very heart of a loving God who loves us but despises our sin.
When we accept Christ as the Lord of our life, Scripture tells us that there is a change in our life, that we have been made new. However, Scripture doesn't promise the "removal" of our sin nature...nor the charming nature it possesses that so easily lures us to refocus our attention away from God's commands. God’s Word gives us some pretty clear instruction on how to keep the momentum of our new life in Christ surging forward towards the "new self" or the "new creation" that our Lord desires.
It all has to do with the focus of our heart…
“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things… Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” – Colossians 3:1,2 and 5-10 (NIV)
This is pretty succinct direction from a God who pulls no punches in addressing the things that He knows will trip us up in our walk towards Him and with Him. The idea of “setting our heart on things above” is the very first step toward a repentant life. We’re probably not willing to walk away from the sinful things that we think make this life so “enjoyable” until we realize just how remarkable our God really is! We give up nothing of value when we surrender our life of sin to the perfect will of God; however, we give up much when we unrepentantly embrace sin over righteousness. When thoroughly examined, the trade-off should be an easy one.
Isaiah 61:3 gives us a brief hint as to what God offers those who seek Him. It says, “…he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.”
Our instruction is to fully concentrate on the beauty found in living a life holy and set apart for God’s use…a life of determined repentance of the sin that contaminates our life and destroys everything it touches. Notice that we are not told to revisit sin on occasion; instead, we are instructed to “put to death” the things that belong to our sinful nature, and some of them are named: immorality, lust, greed, idolatry, anger, malice, slander, lies…basically, the very things that we see prevailing in today’s society...the very things that mark the condition of the world before the return of Christ.
The passage in Colossians tells us that “we must rid ourselves of all such things.” We certainly don’t rid ourselves of any sin by the revisitation of it, nor do we rid ourselves of sin by “asking forgiveness for it.” Feeling convicted about sin, crying tears, or confessing sin doesn’t rid us of the problem either. It is only through true repentance, a changing of our mind and a redirection of our course, that sin can truly be addressed and cast away from the equation of our life.
Next: Repentance: Defying Satan Power in the Journey
We’ve discussed the definition of repentance, repentance in culture, and repentance as portrayed in cultural christianity. Today, let’s look at how we personally see our sin. Do we view it as dangerous, or do we diminish its effect on our life? Maybe we think we can control our desire to participate in sin...or stop our pursuit of it once that sin has been "tasted?" Our view will ultimately define our idea regarding the importance of repentance.
Clinging to Salvation While Retaining Our Affinity for Sin
I would say that many among us, if not all of us taking the time to read a Christian blog, would admit that we desperately cling to salvation. Salvation is the foundation of our eternal hope. However, in the interim, between here and our eternal home, are we also clinging to sin...on purpose?
Let’s admit that we find many sins attractive. It’s something we often desire to do, because our flesh nature seems to always be starving. Our sin nature is frequently more hungry than our thirst for righteousness is thirsty, and it's screaming to be fed. And then there's Satan…well, we know that he’s the best salesman for convincing us that “one taste” of sin won’t hurt us…because sin is "forgivable," and "God will understand." Remember, we have grace, and we’ve “culturally established” it to be cheap and easy to abuse. So, go ahead and sin…feel good about it, because God loves you and wants you to be entertained. Moreover, God will bend His perfect will around that cheap grace in a manner that allows us the comfort to do as we please.
Or, maybe not...
Here we find one of the most important components of the spiritual war that rages all around us…our view of sin and the importance of repentance.
Humanistic Lordship…Thinking We’re in Control
We love to claim Jesus as our Savior, but our native sin nature hesitates to surrender to Him as Lord. At the core of this hesitation is our tendency to be obedient to self alone, lacking a true desire to serve anyone or anything that doesn’t serve our whims and our very self-centered ideals. We often convince ourselves that we can control our sin nature, because we are strong and always in complete control of our life (humanism). We think that we can wade into a "little sin" every now and then, for amusement and satisfaction of the flesh, but we can stop at any time…or can we?
The Example of A Look Too Long
Marriages do not end because a spouse “suddenly and unexpectedly” cheats. Sin is not innocent, and it's seldom, if ever, accidental. It all begins with a controlled and intentional choice to stop and “look too long” at another, through lustful and sinful eyes…eyes that are seeking rebellion against God for personal gain or enjoyment. Those looks turn into deliberate thoughts, planting the early seeds of infidelity and secretly watering them along the way. In this case, the “looking” spouse absolutely knows that even their thoughts are wrong, but they continue to return to them. They continue to feed and water them, and that which is fed and watered will ultimately grow. Frankly, it will flourish.
Too many times, the intentional and reoccurring visits to the sin that we think we can control end in personal and spiritual catastrophe. Families are left devastated in their wake. That first look, the one that was intentionally longer than it should have been, can easily turn into a marriage-ending adulterous affair, breaking the marriage covenant between the man and woman and between the cheating spouse and God.
Where did they lose control?
I would venture the thought that the loss of control began when they made their very first choice to return to that sin and not repent and not walk immediately away from that which they knew to be wrong. It’s on that second visit that they begin to compromise their spiritual integrity and character and redefine their foundational morals, because, at that point, they have already made the choice to "embrace" a little rebellion…and, it’s a desperately slippery slope from that point forward.
Sin grows because of our purposed interaction with it. It grows because we visit with it…time and time again, often in secret. We make it a friend. We enjoy its company, and we convince ourselves that our affair with sin will be short...but it never is. The more we play with sin, the more attractive it becomes, and the less cognizant we are of the damage it is actually doing in our life.
Playing God with Our Weaknesses
We think we can handle a little “look” that’s too long…or a little depravity of thought. Possibly, we feel that sharing a little lie regarding someone else is innocent enough to revisit with others who may find it interesting? Maybe it’s viewing a little pornography or stealing…just a little? Or, we may just harbor resentment towards our fellow man…a bitterness that we have learned to embrace regarding someone else? It's actually become a comfort in our life, because it makes us feel better about ourselves, if only for the moment. We know it’s wrong, but we can handle it, because we’re strong and in control. No one really knows about it, and we’ll repent later, because right now the enjoyment outweighs our guilt.
But, the call of Scripture remains… and it cries out: “Repent.” Turn away from sin, and stop revisiting it. Stop befriending it. If we truly love the Lord, and if we truly seek to become the “new creation” that God intends, then we must be willing to release our firm grasp on that which Christ came to save us from…that which separates us from the intimate relationship that God desires. We should know that giving into sin is a choice to place something else in God's rightful place in our life. When we give in to sin, we give up God at that moment...replacing Him and His commands for the pursuit of our own fancy. We become Lord.
We all struggle with our sin nature, because we struggle with lordship. It’s much easier to sin than it is to address a change in our desire to sin. But, the change must be from the inside out, and it starts with our release of control, admitting our weakness in desiring to sin in the first place, and setting our mind on Christ and not on the things that enslave us to a sinful and worldly existence in this life. It starts with a frank and honest reevaluation of exactly how we view sin, our weakness, and the repentant nature that should mark the life of every disciple of Christ.
Next: Repentance- Seeing Our Sin Differently: The Instruction of Scripture
Our current culture is flowing in the direction of humanism (the belief that man is God). No “Christian" would want to readily admit that, but the lives that many live often reflect a humanistic mentality. We demand to be heard, and we demand that our needs are met. We demand a life of unaccountability to anyone. And we demand to be found guiltless, regardless of our actions. And so, we demand a religion that eloquently caters to those whims.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, modern culture has done a great job of whitewashing sin almost entirely away from the discussion, because sin is offensive and ugly to confront. Talk of sin makes people uneasy, and conviction brings about a recognition of the glaring guilt of all humanity. The preference of modern culture is to just leave the discussion of sin alone, sidestepping the thought of repentance while only concentrating on God’s great love for us. We’ve elevated the attractive elements of "religion" and diminished the unattractive truth of our sin. We’ve streamlined our churches, enhancing their appearance and ministries to become a sort of “eye-candy” for a generation of large crowds who seek professional and guiltless times of worship.
The real message of the Gospel, one that displays fully the depravity of man and his great need for a Savior, is replaced by a message of a God who wants to give us things because He loves us so much. It’s a very attractive message in a culture of humanistic greed, and people will flock to it by the millions. Many modern day preachers will not even touch the idea that repentance of sin is integral to the life of the disciple of Christ. The crowds may become offended and seek out another venue in their quest for the “perfect” God for them. Yet, the message of Scripture is quite clear, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.” (Matthew 4:17)
Culture is concerned with looks, comfort, and everything material. And often, cultural Christianity is concerned with much similar things. Culture would drive us to attend a church with cutting-edge ministries and large contemporary sanctuaries full of arena seats, professional lighting, and outstanding worship bands backlit like a concert. If your church is running fog machines on Sunday morning…well, never mind… The media presentations of our church should be slick and polished, and the coffee shop out front should rival Starbucks.
The pastor should be a narcissistic rock star…and, if he doesn’t have a podcast…well, he may not be “relevant” to culture. He should always make us feel good about God’s love for us, but he should never impose even a passing notion that we may be guilty of anything...ever.
If we attend such a church, one with great concert style worship, “relevant” messages (eloquently delivered on simulcast) espousing our unmerited favor in God’s eyes, and great coffee, then our salvation, and our love of God is validated…right? If we go to a culturally acceptable church, with a culturally acceptable message, then everyone is happy, well entertained, and remarkably comfortable. There’s never a challenge issued to address what the Bible really says concerning our sin. Repent.
The need for repentance is often hidden under the trinkets that wealth and sleek shiny religion can purchase. But, the sickness remains, and it is internal. Our sickness is a sin nature that is native to our flesh, and it’s a nature that has desperately sought to undermine God since Eve first chatted with a snake in the Garden of Eden…a snake who would become the lord of modern day cultural thinking. And so, we have a desperate need for repentance...a desperate need to make Christ Lord.
Religion is important to our culture, but Lordship may not be.
We have to decide if we are willing to serve God, or serve the attractive nature of a God-diminishing culture. Culture Christianity can often make the true message of God in Scripture undesirable…but regardless of our intentions, someone or some thing will be God in our life. It may be ourselves. It may be culture. And, we have to choose wisely…
Joshua 24:15 says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Repentance is essential to our life in Christ. We cannot hold firmly to our sin and think we are drawing closer to a God who willingly sacrificed Christ for the payment of that sin. Don’t allow cultural christianity to dissuade us from acknowledging our guilt, and the command of God to repent.
Trying to convince ourselves that we truly love God without real and intentional repentance is like kissing the hand of Christ to mark the spot where we plan on driving the nail.
Clearly, in 2017, we are seeing a distinct change in the foundational teachings of Christianity. Strangely to some, the precepts of God’s law has never changed…none of them…not even once. However, those precepts have certainly been watered down by many over the years, many who would seek to fit them into a cozy box of “options” for the would-be disciple of Christ. We see this reflected in culture today. A diluted view of repentance and a cheapening of grace.
Culture has reexamined grace, and they have cheapened it. They have done a fairly thorough job of washing the guilt of mankind cleanly away from the discussion, as if sin doesn’t really exist. They have taught Jesus to be a wonderful, loving, and merciful Savior, and He certainly is, while they have failed to emphasize our guilt as the very reason Christ had to die in the first place. And, we’ve redefined terms, such as repentance, to fit comfortably into the mainstream. It’s a change of theology…”if you sin, which you probably won’t, just utilize cheap grace, and ask forgiveness for it until it happens again.”
If we are to truly be followers of a resurrected and living Christ, we need do much more than simply ask for the forgiveness of our sins. Frankly, upon true conversion to the lordship of Christ in our life, the eternal consequences of our sin is already forgiven, but check that we have a clear understand that the earthly consequences of that sin, for us and others, are not escaped. Therefore, the instruction of Scripture is to “repent,” to change our mind regarding the sins that we deliberately embrace, and to turn from them, (180 degrees/directly away) marching on in a new direction…the direction of Christ and God’s will.
Sinning, asking forgiveness for it, and then sinning again in the same manner the next day, is not the idea of “new creation” reflected in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
When we live under the premise that we simply need to ask forgiveness for our trampling of God’s law, without changing the mindset that led us to that very sin in the first place, then we, in effect, cheapen the blood of Christ…the very blood that paid for our redemption in the eyes of Almighty God. A follower of Christ, absent a true heart of repentance, is, at the very best, a lukewarm follower, prone to wander away, all the while feeling good that he can ask a cheapened forgiveness when his “guiltless sinning is done.”
When we weigh the cost of our salvation against the waffling moodiness of our true conviction of the effects of sin in our life, what takes the higher priority? We value our salvation, yet we find it so hard to turn away from our embrace of the very things that Christ died to save us from…the very things that separate us, as a person and a culture, from a Christ who died for our right to choose Him.
Up Next: Repentance and Cultural Christianity
This is the first installment in a new series of blogs regarding "Turning From Sin."
part.01- repentance: establishing the proper definition
To effectively turn from sin, we must establish a life-applicable definition for one very distinct term: repentance. There is a clear call in Acts 2:38 to "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Of course, to “repent” means that we are to ask forgiveness for our sins...Right?
Consequently, the word “repent” could possibly benefit from closer examination, because it has nothing to do with "asking forgiveness for anything. With the revealing of that information, three church steeples just exploded across the Bible belt, and mainstream Christianity will have to rewrite quite a few self-help books on how to live happily for Jesus while confidently living out a life of deliberate but “easily forgivable sin,” while seated comfortably in the Lordship of our own will.
But, what does the word “repentance” really mean?
The word repent is the Greek verb “metanoeó.” It’s a compound word, and it joins “metá” (changed after being with) and “noiéō” (think different after). Literally, it means a change of mind, or to think differently afterwards. Notice, there’s no component of this compound word that even hints at “asking forgiveness.” None.
Repentance is a definitive redirection of our thinking toward something, specifically where our actions are concerned. It does not illustrate a moody or lukewarm state of evaluation that is subject to change under the slightest application of outside pressure. We should be keenly aware that shedding tears over our sin, feeling conviction, and even the confessing of our sin all fall outside the parameters of the real definition of the word. We can experience conviction, cry, and confess all we want. If we keep returning to the same sins, we haven’t repented of them.
Repentance is deliberate, purposed, and settled. If taken in its true form, repentance illustrates a solid and intentional changing of our mind from one thing (or way) to another. So, the command to “repent of our sins” is not a call to ask forgiveness for them, but it is a call to “change our mind” about further participation in sin from that point forward.
An interesting side note…the word “repent” was also used by the Greek military as a command to “about-face,” or “turn around.” Moreover, there was no call to stop marching. So, the term “repent” was called out to soldiers while they marched, instructing them to turn 180 degrees from their current direction of travel, and then to continue marching forward in a new direction. They had altered course, a definitive change of direction, and marched away…leaving their old destination behind them.
Let’s be sure to understand the importance of real repentance and not cheapen it by a more comfortable definition of our own terms. I thank God for the forgiveness of sins, but we must learn that true repentance involves a discipline changing of our mind regarding our involvement in sin.
Next Blog: Repentance and Culture
“…and after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face
and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”
– 1 Kings 19:12 (NIV) –
Life is filled with noise…loud and obnoxious noise. Sometimes that noise comes from world events, sometimes it comes from people, and often, it comes from within ourselves. Personal fears can scream to us at a level that very easily drowns out everything else around us. We can become eerily fixated on the level of the noise, desperately distracted and searching for something of solace amid the fury of high decibel pandemonium. It’s not uncommon. We need someone to scream some instruction to our weary soul, a voice of confident reason to penetrate through the depths of the noise.
If you read 1 Kings 19, you will find a very weary and disoriented Elijah, a man of God fleeing the evil threat that Jezebel has made on his life. He’s on the run. He left without food or water, at one point, he leaves his servant behind, escapes to the wilderness, and prays to God for death.
Strangely enough, this is the current behavior of a man who had just boldly and successfully confronted 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel. He called for all of Israel to meet them there to observe the power of Almighty God. Elijah was so confident in the power of God that he even taunted the prophets of Baal and Asherah. He was bold, full of faith and trust in God, and he knew that God was with him. As the story on Mount Carmel draws to a close, the power of God is manifested to everyone, and they all cry, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!” Shortly after, Elijah orders the execution of the 850 prophets. God wins. All is good, and Elijah’s faith grows even deeper in God’s provision…right? Wrong.
When Jezebel hears this news, she sends Elijah a message threatening his life. Noise. She's coming for him. Elijah knows that she’s killed before, and he dismisses the confidence of faith that he has just had magnificently confirmed on Mount Carmel, and he replaces it with crippling fear…and he runs. He’s distracted by the noise, but he will soon meet with God who knows the fearful state of his situation and chooses to speak to him through a gentle whisper.
Life, health, politics, finances, people…they all generate noise in our life, and often, we hear the noise, become fixated by it, lose our grip on faith, and begin the process of trying to outrun the things that vex us. Somewhere amid the fray of it all, we would hope that God would scream out a little instruction to us…what to do, where to go? But there’s often no screams from God, and we are left trying to sort through the circumstances alone…or so we think.
My friends, God is always there. Sometimes He speaks to us in ways that are easily perceived. In Scripture, God speaks dynamically, announcing His presence through an earthquake (Exodus 19:18). In 1 Samuel, Job, Psalm, and John, we find God’s voice compared to thunder. In Job 38:1, God speaks through a whirlwind. But in 1 Kings 19, we find God whispering in a “still small voice”…the glorious, majestic, sovereign God of all whispering in hushed tones to His child in distress.
In the middle of chaos and uncertainty, are we listening for the gentle whisper of God?
Could the possibly exist that God is speaking to us in a manner that is not as noticeable as an earthquake or thunder? In the midst of our flight from the noise of life, could the pounding of our feet, running on the ground beneath us, be sufficient enough to muffle the gentle whisper of God who is desperately seeking our attention?
Let’s remember that God has the capability to speak to us in any manner that He so desires. Whether it be through thunder, or in a whisper, one thing is certain, we must be able to discern the voice of our Lord, and we must be listening. Just like a child who can recognize their parents voice over the noise of a crowd, we must be familiar enough with the voice of God to hear when He’s speaking…and even when He’s whispering.
John 10:27 says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
We should always be listening for God’s voice…specifically the gentle whispers of instruction and love that I feel flow constantly from the mouth of God to the ears of His beloved children. I’ve found that God speaks to me gently on most occasions. That’s almost never my preference, but it’s most always the case. I would prefer bold, obvious, and loud instruction…something to immediately grab me from my distraction. But still, God so often chooses to whisper.
Those gentle moments of whispered instruction can be hard to discern, but, when I do notice them, I find a refreshed intimacy with God based on how He chooses to communicate with me. He’s not yelling; instead, He’s talking to me with intentional gentleness in the midst of my chaotic mind. He’s not frustrated nor afraid. He’s not overreacting. He’s simply, and purposefully, whispering a calm to His child.
Deuteronomy 31:6, says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Wherever we go, whether it be to the right of left, God is always there. He will never leave us nor will He forsake those He loves, but, know this, He won’t always scream instructions to us like an overzealous coach. We must listen, and we must know who to listen for. In the middle of the loud noise of life, be sure to listen intently for the gentle and often hushed voice of God. In those situations, His voice can only be heard by those who know His voice and are paying attention. Our life is lived among the gentle whispers of God. Know His voice.
It's important to understand just how easily we often fall. Sadly, a season of intimacy with God can become distracted and not end well. When we move God off of the center point of our life, the end result is always movement in an unrighteous direction, as sin and unrighteousness is native to our flesh. It's the direction we will always head.
Charles Spurgeon gave this warning, "The raw material for a devil is an angel. The raw material for the son of perdition was an apostle; and the raw material for the most horrible of apostates is one who is almost a saint.”
Oddly, the "raw material" for complete rebellion against God often grows from someone headed in the right direction. When we begin to trust too much in our own knowledge, think too highly of our own words, crave the admiration of our peers, or arrive at the sketchy conclusion that our life is the epitome of righteousness, as if we were the standard, God is no longer the center point of our life. When we think it's more important for people to hear from us instead of hearing from God, we've slipped loose from our place as a bondservant of the Lord, and we're seeking to become the master.
Let our walk with God always be grounded in the humble knowledge that God doesn't need us...at all. Lets us always understand that we are to be humble servants of Christ, living in awe of His unrelenting love for our rebellious hearts, and clinging desperately to Him under the shadow of a cross that should have been ours.
Be careful that our journey toward God in life doesn't become a quest to become the God of our life. We should be aware of our weaknesses, never seeking praise from man, embracing a heart of humility, and understanding that Satan, at this very moment, is in pursuit of our very life. The closer our intimate walk with God becomes... the closer Satan's pursuit. To the true follower of Christ, sinful temptations and trials of every kind are sure to increase in volume and duration.
Be aware, and be careful not to fall…
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it."
– I Corinthians 10:12-13 (NIV)
When those temptations present themselves, we should be aware that the escape is God and not ourselves or our own righteousness. That verse does not promise that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can personally bear apart from His grace, mercy, and provision. Instead, it clarifies our complete dependance on Him in that our way of defeating temptation is through Him alone.
As we grow in Christ, the dangers to our intimate relationship with God increase. The road we travel becomes more treacherous, and temptations and trials increase, but God is forever faithful to stand with us through every season. Let us be sure that we're there with Him, kneeling humbly at His feet, in complete dependance on Him...surrendered to the reality that we need Him today more than ever before.
So, Charlottesville, Virginia seems to be completely out of control. If you’ve watched the news today, it’s plain to see hatred on full display. It’s not just a nod to depraved behavior, firmly rooted in prejudice, that some among us seem to embrace, but it’s the systemic sin nature of man, fueled by Satan, a very persuasive agitator, ramping up in utter defiance of everything that God stands for. Racism, bigotry, violence, and hatred stem from something far greater than skin color, and it’s a systemic problem that legislation, police action, and community action groups can never fix.
Many of these individuals, plenty on both sides of the divide, would verbally espouse a love for God; however, I have my doubts. My last reading of Scripture didn’t include instruction to assume a personal mindset of hatred towards others. In fact, if you look closely, Scripture says this…
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” – 1 John 4:20-21 (ESV)
Based on that verse alone, it would be safe to assume that a great number of those protesting in hatred today do not love God, and, therein, we find the real problem. We don’t hate one another because of skin color, nationality, religious beliefs, or political differences; we hate one another because our love for God is either not present, or it’s greatly diminished.
There will always arise valid reasons for dispute, specifically in the politically charged climate of our era where politicians seem to encourage national divide based on social and economic issues. We will all never fully agree on any issue, and, you know what? That O.K. It’s when we elevate our disagreements to an irrational level, fueled by raw emotion, that things become ugly. It’s easy, at that elevated point of emotion, to view others with contrasting opinions as the enemy. We mentally strip them of their self-worth and relevance, simply because our views don’t line up.
We should never strip someone of the honor they possess as a creation of God. If Christ didn’t develop hatred for the Roman soldiers who nailed His already beaten and abused body to a cross, who are we to withhold love and honor from someone with whom we simply disagree?
Romans 12:10 leaves us some very relevant instruction in how to get along. It simply says this, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
There’s no honor in what we see displayed today on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and there’s certainly a profound lack of love. It’s Godlessness running rampant in a nation that calls itself “Christian.” I pray for our nation, but I don’t pray for equal rights for all men and women of all colors or for equal pay for women and men. I don’t pray that everyone has healthcare coverage, nor do I pray that any certain political party retains the majority in Congress. My prayer for our nation is that we earnestly return to a profound love for Almighty God. It is only there where we will find peace and unity. We cannot be unified under our allegiance to a flag, obviously. However, we can be unified under our personal and corporate allegiance to God.
There is but one hope for our nation, and that is a reverence and pursuit of God. It is in Him alone where there is healing for a country so divided. All other avenues are “schemes of man” that are doomed to fail.
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
– 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
Pray for our nation to seek the face of God.
Francis Schaeffer wrote, “The beginning of men’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart.” I concur. More importantly, Scripture concurs, and it does so robustly.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God is Christ Jesus for you.”
– I Thessalonians 5:18
“Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
– Ephesians 5:20
“And whatever you do, in word of deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
– Colossians 3:17
These are just a few of many verses that speak directly to a heart of thankfulness, a heart that should be continually overflowing with our gratitude for the innumerable gifts of a gracious God. Yet, from the very beginning, it would seem that thankfulness was securely packed away in favor of rebellion, complaining, greed, envy, and a potent mix of other destructive and rebellious desires that can only be authored from the core of a malignant sin nature. These things steal our joy, they cause dissatisfaction and unrest. These things are what I call the “sideshow.” They run simultaneously with the “main attraction” of God’s plan, but their message is contrary in nature and relentlessly destructive.
We can all become distracted from time to time and live a life caught up in the sideshow. It can even be fun for a moment, or so we think. Consequently, life inside the sideshow may be entertaining, but it is destructive to all involved, and it can even change our heart. No, it will change our heart from thankfulness to something entirely different. Be prepared, the side effects of an unthankful heart are far reaching.
Thankfulness can be defined as “feeling or expressing gratitude, appreciative, or conscious of a benefit received.” The very last definition poses a great question to the child of God:
Are we conscious of the benefits that we receive through the lordship of Christ?
A thankful heart is, at its core, a heart that is paying attention to what really matters, and that is the main attraction of God’s perfect will and purpose for us. A thankful heart is a perceptive heart. A thankful heart perceives based upon the lordship of the life it’s implanted within. A thankful heart sees through the eyes of Christ, and it is empowered to appreciate, to love, to serve, and to show compassion in the face of all things, good and bad. A thankful heart rises above the fray of worldly unrest and drama, because a thankful heart sees clearly the much bigger picture of the sovereignty of a loving God. It keeps a clear focus on the main attraction.
We cannot have a thankful heart when we become fixated on the world. The world is full of sideshows. They can be found on every street, in every corner, at every workplace, in every family, and they even consistently thrive within every church. Sideshows are everywhere, and they seek to become the main attraction. At the very least, they seek to pull us away from the main attraction, if only for a moment…and, sometimes, a moment is all they need to achieve a lifetime of success distracting us from the glory of God.
Life’s problems have a way of distraction about them, and we seem to love a good distraction. If we’re not careful, we’ll end up embracing all of the frustrations of the world, and the drama of the people in it, and we will find ourselves living life with a thankless heart, because we have abandoned the sovereignty of the big picture (main attraction) to firmly take hold of the moodiness and rebellious nature of the sideshow. We’ve taken our eyes off of Christ, and we’re being entertained by something of far less relevance.
Hebrews 12:2 leaves for us some pertinent instruction:
“…look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself, so that you may not grow weary of fainthearted.” – Hebrews 12:2-3 (ESV)
Let’s take another look at that same verse in The Message bible…
“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and and finished this race we’re in. Study how He did it. Because He never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – He could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now He’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” – Hebrews 12:2-3 (The Message)
Christ did not die on the cross with a thankless heart. A thankless heart is devoid of passion, compassion, and love. The heart of Christ was overflowing with all three of these characteristics as He literally suffocated to meet a horrific physical death, under the weight of our sin. He endured this course because He never lost sight of the big picture…the perfection of God’s will and the redemption of sin.
The example set by Christ throughout His earthly life pointed directly at His love and thankfulness for God, the Father. The example set by God points directly at His love and thankfulness for Christ, the Son. They never took their eyes off of each other, barring the one moment that God had to look away from Christ, because Jesus had literally become the sin of the world (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Sincerely immersing ourselves in the lordship of Christ will inevitably lead to a heart full of thankfulness. Thankfulness is a byproduct of letting Jesus lead.
If we suddenly find ourselves dissatisfied, bitter, angry, and rebellious towards life, it’s probably because we’re being entertained by a sideshow. (Again, they're everywhere, and we love a good distraction.) These are signs of a thankless heart being entertained by the world. We should immediately relinquish our seat at the second-tier amateur act and head back to the main attraction where we belong. The doors are still open. Just know that while we were away, groveling in the mundane at the sideshow, we missed great things premiering on the main stage of God's will. God's will doesn't stop in our distraction, and every moment we spend away costs us opportunities to see Him in all of His glory.
Let us never take our eyes off of Christ. Let us never become entrenched in the sideshows of life and lose sight of the main attraction, and let us live with thankful hearts for the incredible gift of Christ.
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!