Bible meditations

 
 

Spiritual Warfare VII: The Shield of Faith

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Ephesians 6:16).

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A replica of a Roman shield. Photo by Dorieo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

When we engage in spiritual warfare, we will usually either be responding to an attack or we will face a counter-attack by our enemy. We must be prepared to fight, but we must also be prepared to defend ourselves.

The enemy’s counter-attack may be subtle, but sometimes it will be an all-out barrage. Satan may blast us from multiple directions. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul compares the Christian to a Roman soldier who is facing a barrage of flaming arrows. A direct hit can be deadly. You need full-body protection.

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Depiction of a 3rd-century BC Macedonian soldier holding a thyreos shield. From Istanbul Archaeology Museums [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

For a Roman soldier, that protection would include a shield. The Roman shield was similar to one developed centuries earlier by the Greeks, called a thyreos, whose name was derived from the word for “door.” It was large, shaped like a door, and provided ample coverage when an enemy would launch a barrage of arrows or javelins towards them.

The Christian may not face literal arrows. The “flaming darts of the evil one” (some translations say “arrows” instead of “darts”) are not physical flying sticks with sharp pointy ends to puncture the skin. Satan’s arrows take other forms. Instead of darts and arrows, Satan and his demons may fire temptations at us. They may entice others to discourage us or drag us into depression. They may find our greatest weakness and turn it against us. Sometimes, his attacks may be constant, steady, but moderate. At other times, a period of relative peace may be interrupted by a sudden barrage of multiple attacks from diverse directions (imagine a person whose marriage breaks up within weeks of a job loss and a house fire, while struggling to overcome a drug addiction).

Spiritual warfare is ugly. Do not assume that you are too unimportant to be a target in the battle. Even the newest believer is involved in spiritual warfare. Whether Satan can rob you of your salvation or not, he will do whatever he can to keep you from bearing fruit for the kingdom. Some of his tactics, according to Matthew 13:19–22, are the following:

  • To steal the word of God from our hearts. If he can convince us to doubt God’s Word or His promises to us through Jesus Christ, Satan can keep us from following the Lord, experiencing the full blessings of the Christian life, and advancing the kingdom of God.
  • To bring persecution into our lives. If we have not produced deep roots in our faith, trials and temptations will convince us to give up. The antidote to this is to know, believe, and obey the Word of God (Matthew 7:24–27). Hearing the Word of the Lord and living by it produces the firm foundation and deep roots we need when the winds of trial and temptation blow.
  • To distract us with the cares of this world. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God. If we are too busy trying to make money, to attain prestige and popularity in this world, or have fun and comfort, we may not find time to do God’s will. If we put the cares of this world first, we will not take a stand for God’s kingdom.

Faith is the shield that protects us. It is more than the gateway to salvation. It is also much more than knowledge about the Bible or correct beliefs [even the demons believe, but they tremble in fear (James 2:19)]. Faith is the spiritual power within us that continually brings us under God’s covering protection. Faith draws us to God’s Word and then nourishes itself and our souls with greater faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith equips our hearts and minds to trust God and lean on Him when life becomes difficult.

Faith looks beyond our current circumstances to see the reward of our spiritual battles. After the beloved “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, the biblical author writes how Jesus triumphed on the cross by looking beyond His present circumstances:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking 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” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

As we walk by faith, we emulate Jesus. The heroes of the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, which Christ accomplished. Jesus looked beyond the agony and shame of the cross to “the joy that was set before Him” (which included our eternal fellowship with Him) to triumph over sin, hell, and death. We emulate Jesus as we run with endurance, looking beyond our present battle to the ultimate victory we will enjoy forever.

When Satan attacks, we can wield a shield that protects us under the assurance that we are already fighting from a position of victory. As we remain faithful to Him even in hard times, we gain a victory in spiritual warfare. It is not even a close battle. Scripture tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). Faith does not give us a tiny victory; it empowers us to kick the devil’s butt!

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4–5).

Through faith, we are triumphant. When Satan attacks, we do not run away in fear. We raise our shield of faith and continue advancing. Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against His body. Think about that for a second: Do you think demons are throwing gates at us? No, gates (like shields) are for hiding and protection. God’s children are called to advance His kingdom. We do not do so cowardly. We raise our shields and continue to advance. As we continue the battle, the demons flee behind their gates! However, those gates will not stand against us. We will overwhelmingly triumph over them as we march by faith and raise the sword of the Spirit in victory.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Spiritual Warfare VI: The Shoes of Peace

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14–15, ESV).

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A Roman soldier’s boot. Photo by Matthias Kabel, via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

According to an article on a shoe company’s website, the average man owns 12 pairs of shoes, whereas the average woman owns 27. Both numbers seem extravagant to me: I own about seven pairs (if you count two pairs of winter boots and a very old pair of sneakers that I only wear while at home). Yet, most people can see the purpose of owning multiple pairs. Both fashion and functionality matter with footwear. I may wear a pair of black dress shoes to church or other occasions where more formal wear is expected. Sneakers or athletic shoes are acceptable for more casual settings; they are essential for athletic activity. If you participate in several sports, you may need different kinds of footwear for different activities: track shoes, tennis shoes, soccer cleats, basketball shoes, etc. We can probably count ice skates as “shoes” for playing hockey.

A Roman soldier’s boots (“caligae”) were, in some ways, similar to a modern cleat. They were designed to provide traction and stability while allowing the soldier to walk, run, or march comfortably and quickly. His shoes or boots were designed for warfare. They were intended to help him stand firmly in battle. As Christians serve in the army of God and engage in spiritual warfare, we need to wear the shoes or boots that provide “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

We wage war to advance that gospel of peace. We should be viewed as a threat in the spiritual realm, overthrowing the powers of darkness, confident that the gates of hell will not stand against us (Matthew 16:18). However, as we wage our warfare, we should treat the people around us like prisoners of war, to whom we have come as a liberating army that has overpowered their oppressors. Certainly, many we encounter will view us as the enemy; as the father of lies, Satan has deceived them into thinking that they are free when he really has them in chains of deception. We have come to break those chains with the truth of the gospel of peace.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14–17).

The gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation. Paul says that Jesus Himself is our peace. He is the one who has broken down the wall of hostility between us and God. Through Christ, we have peace with God.

Jesus also brings peace to people of all nations, races, and tongues who will call upon His name for salvation. The Old Testament Law is broken down so that it no longer divides Jews from Gentiles. The love of God should tear down the walls that separate us along racial and ethnic lines; the fact that Sunday morning can still be called “the most segregated time of the week in America” should give us cause for concern. It should propel us to our knees in prayer and repentance so that we are fit to march forth in victory. When addressing the temptation to seek revenge, Paul writes:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

We are called to pursue peace even with those who have hurt or offended us. How much more should we live at peace with those who are merely different from us?

We are called to show the peace of God in our relationships with others and to march forth with the good news of deliverance in Jesus Christ. Quoting Isaiah 52:7, Paul writes:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14–15).

God has given us our marching orders. The gospel we believe is also the pair of boots we wear as we march forth to proclaim liberty to the captives. Christ has already won the war. We march forth against a defeated foe (Satan and his demons) as they maintain their final futile effort at resistance. We have received the gospel of peace, with which we can join Jesus in His mission of destroying the works of the devil and advancing the kingdom of God in the hearts of people. Let us march forth today to let people know that freedom and life are available to them in Christ Jesus. Like cleats on a soccer field, the gospel of peace will keep us standing securely as we march forth.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Spiritual Warfare V: The Breastplate of Righteousness

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…” (Ephesians 6:14).

Greek_PhalanxA Roman soldier’s breastplate was essential. Some of the most important organs in the body are located in the chest. Wounds to the heart and lung could cause rapid death. Other vital organs, including the liver, stomach, and pancreas, are in the same general area. The chest and abdominal region of the body are vulnerable. Along with the head, they are some of the most important body areas to protect from injury.

The soul needs protection as well. The ancient Israelites would think of the heart in two ways, much like we do now. Both they and we acknowledge the physical organ. The Israelites thought of the heart as having a function for the soul as well, as the seat of the will. If you want to do good, it is because your heart is drawing you to do so. If you desire evil, it is because you have a bad heart. Incidentally, they associated some other internal organs with other elements of the inward part of people. The intestines were the seat of compassion: The Greek word for “to have compassion” could literally be translated “to have bowels for someone or something.” The kidneys were viewed as the seat of emotion. Nowadays, we symbolize all of these with the heart. When we have compassion for someone, we do not say, “I am bowelized over this.” Instead, we say something like, “My heart breaks for him.”

Whether it is the heart, the lungs, the liver, the small intestines, or any of the other organs behind the breastplate, it needs protection. Likewise, every element of our souls needs protection. This is why we need the breastplate of righteousness.

Paul was not the first biblical author to associate righteousness with a breastplate. Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote in one of his Messianic prophecies

“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isaiah 11:5).

One can readily see the connection between the first line and the breastplate of righteousness, with a belt that protects the lower abdomen. Likewise, “the belt of his loins” is faithfulness, which the Hebrew writers frequently use as a synonym for truth. Thus, this verse prefigures the first two pieces of the whole armor of God. It also reminds us that the whole armor is found entirely in our connection with Jesus.

Later, Isaiah describes the Lord God’s response to injustice. When He could find no man who was willing or able to accomplish His righteous will:

“He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isaiah 59:17).

The Lord God did this as He took on human flesh as the Son, Jesus Christ. As mentioned in the previous article in this series, putting on the whole armor of God is akin to clothing ourselves in Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Thus, we do not clothe ourselves in our own righteousness. The Word of God tells us that our own attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). We need to clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ, to allow His righteousness to cover us and emanate from us.

Elsewhere, Paul describes it as a breastplate of faith and love:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:8).

Faith, hope, and love are essential elements of relationship with Christ. Faith and love are intertwined with the righteousness of God. We protect our hearts—our will, emotions, desires, and entire souls, so to speak—by covering them with the righteousness, faith, and love of God in Christ Jesus.

We cannot ignore the opportunity to clothe ourselves in the breastplate of righteousness. This is not a take-it-or-leave-it option. It is a choice between being clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a slave to righteousness or being a slave to sin:

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:15–22).

Each of us must make a decision. Do I want to be a slave to sin or a slave to the righteousness of God? “None of the above” is not an option. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody / Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Will you remain in the army of the Lord, or will you be taken captive as a prisoner? Will Satan hold you captive and bound in sin, or will the Lord release you with His power to serve Him with the gifts and talents He has given you?

As we clothe ourselves in Christ, He empowers us to walk by faith in Him and display His love to those around us. This is the breastplate of righteousness in action, guiding us to walk as He walked. Most importantly, this breastplate guards our hearts by guiding our wills to remain in sync with His will. As long as we keep our hearts guarded by Jesus, He will protect us from the temptations to turn our hearts to the lures of Satan that bind us in slavery to sin. Even when we do sin, the righteousness of Christ is available to us:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

This verse appears after John reminds us that Jesus is merciful and just to forgive and cleanse us if we confess our sins (I John 1:9). As we follow Jesus, trust in His sacrifice on the cross for our salvation, and turn to Him in regular confession and repentance, He will guard our hearts and protect us from the attacks of the enemy. Jesus will be our breastplate of righteousness.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Your Best Life, NOT Now—Second Corinthians 4:16–18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (Second Corinthians 4:16–18).

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The first time the Bible mentions St. Paul, he is participating in the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, who was not experiencing his “best life now.” Painting by Rembrandt (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey by posting an article claiming that Joel Osteen sailed his luxury yacht through the flooded streets of Houston after that storm, distributing free copies of his bestselling book, Your Best Life Now. Another recent gem from that site imagined a Christian humanitarian relief organization responding to famine in East Africa by dropping crates of prosperity-gospel books into Ethiopia. Both articles highlighted an unfortunate irony of a popular brand of Christian thinking, that believes that faith in Jesus Christ guarantees health, wealth, and comfort in this world.

Let me begin by stating that my purpose in this article is not merely to attack Osteen’s book. To be honest, I have not read any of his books. My grievance is against the school of thought that believes Christians can experience “your best life now.” This is an unbiblical worldview that would sound absurd to the writers of both the Old and New Testaments and their initial readership. Ancient Israel was a small nation with a troubled history, frequently under foreign oppression. The early church was viewed as a radical fringe sect within Judaism, during a particularly repressive period of Israel’s history. Early Christians would not believe they were experiencing their best life now.

American Christianity has bought into many of the ideals of modern commercialism. We buy cars that we think will make us look prosperous. We buy cologne, perfume, clothing, and alcoholic beverages because commercials promise that this particular brand will make us popular with the opposite sex. Then, we baptize this mentality into a watered-down gospel, believing that the promises of Jesus include not only forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, but also financial wealth, perfect health, whiter teeth, fresh breath, and sex appeal. Since we want the best things in life, we demand that God offer us His best blessings in this world.

Early in my Christian walk, I learned a method of evangelism that involved sharing “The Four Spiritual Laws” with people. This was a tract, providing a brief summary of the gospel and inviting the reader to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It was a great little booklet, written by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. According to Bright, the first law was “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” To support this claim, he quoted John 3:16 and John 10:10—

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Fortunately, Bright kept a proper biblical balance here, emphasizing spiritual blessings and everlasting life. However, many modern people read our own hopes and desires into that first law. We are thrilled to hear that God has a wonderful plan for our life, but that does not mean that His plan is our plan! God’s wonderful plan for your life recognizes that we are eternal beings. After our earthly bodies die, our spirits will live on. It is in that life next phase of life—heaven or hell—where God will bring His wonderful plan for our lives to fruition.

My self-made plan for my life includes health, happiness, comfort, and wealth. Instead, like most people, I experience hard times. There are days when I am not healthy. Sometimes, the universe does not submit to my personal agenda. There are times when unexpected expenses arise and I wonder how I can pay those bills. Clearly, if God has a wonderful plan for my life, it is not “Sit around all day, taking it easy, while millions of dollars just roll in from nowhere.” Today, I know deeply-committed Christians, men and women with deep faith in Christ, who are struggling with illness, affliction, and suffering, and some who are facing imminent death. I would hope that today’s circumstances are not their best life.

When St. Paul listed his accomplishments and proof of his genuine anointing as an apostle, it read like this:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:23–29).

Many Bible scholars believe Paul also endured problems with his eyesight and would be considered legally blind today. Several Bible verses hint at this possibility, including the fact that the Galatians would have gouged out their own eyes to give them to him (Galatians 4:15): judging from what he says elsewhere in his letter to that church, one cannot imagine him commending such self-mutilation unless it would have served a meaningful purpose.

Thus, one can safely say that St. Paul did not expect his best life in this world. God loved Paul and had a wonderful plan for his life—but His plan was not one of ease and comfort. Likewise, God loves each of us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but it does not match the plans we devise when we put ourselves first.

God’s plan for us does include this world, but it is not what we can take out of it. Instead, it is the legacy we can leave behind. God’s plan for our lives includes our faith in Him. It includes the people to whom we witness, who will join us when we see Him face to face in heaven. It includes the people we disciple, minister to, encourage, and exhort. It includes all of the lives that are changed for the better when we live in obedience to Him.

We will experience hardship in this world. But, that hardship is creating for us an “eternal weight of glory.” Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can take on the eternal weight of glory that God is preparing for us. God has a wonderful plan for our lives. We do not see it now, but we will see it when we behold Jesus face to face. We do not live our best lives now, but we can behold our best life by faith as we look to those things that are unseen.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Merely Human?—1 Corinthians 3:1–4

But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4).

In my last two posts (here and here), I discussed the need for Christians to grow up and become mature in our thinking and living. When we are born again, we become “babes in Christ,” but we should eventually grow up. Unfortunately, many Christians remain in a “condition of protracted infancy” (to use the words of nineteenth century pastor Andrew Murray).

The divisiveness we see in the body of Christ is a dangerous symptom of this rampant spiritual immaturity. According to St. Paul, it shows that we are not aware of our identity as children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We act like ordinary people. We forget that we are children of God. Instead, we act like we are “merely human.”

What is your spiritual identity? Are you a child of God, made in His image and filled with the Holy Spirit? Or, are you merely human, trying to follow a set of religious teachings in your own strength?

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Andrew Murray

Too often, we justify our sins and shortcomings by saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect. I’m only human.” God calls His children to something greater. We are called to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9); in other words, we should look like our heavenly Father, especially in our actions. We are filled with the Holy Spirit and therefore can (and should) bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). We have been adopted as fellow heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:17; see here for more on this subject). Despite the clear teaching of the New Testament, many Christians think of ourselves as “only human” and do not experience the full power of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives. As Andrew Murray says in “Spiritual or Carnal”:

There are thus three states in which a man may be found. The unregenerate is still the natural man, not having the Spirit of God. The regenerate, who is still a babe in Christ, whether because he is only lately converted, or because he has stood still and not advanced, is the carnal man, giving way to the power of the flesh. The believer in whom the Spirit has obtained full supremacy, is the spiritual man.…

All that is carnal and sinful, all the works of the flesh, must be given up and cast out. But no less must all that is carnal, however religious it appears, all confidence in the flesh, all self-effort and self-struggling be rooted out. The soul, with its power, must be brought into the captivity and subjection of Jesus Christ. In deep and daily dependence on God must the Holy Spirit be accepted, waited for, and followed.

This is not a call to perfectionism. We all have our good and bad days. These three groups are a helpful guide, but many of us waver between being carnal and spiritual. We also may be stronger in some areas of our lives than others. I have been commended by some for showing a lot of patience in some circumstances and with some people, only to show that I really lack that fruit when dealing with other circumstances and people.

However, we should stop accepting a lower standard for ourselves than God offers. Are we merely human, or are we filled with the Holy Spirit? If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, are we willing to allow Him to work in our lives, or will we continue to use our humanity as an excuse to live in defeat or worldliness.

We often think a carnal or worldly Christian is one who fails to follow a few rules. We may think carnal or weak Christians are the ones who drink alcohol, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, and listen to rock music. However, Scripture points out some other marks of a carnal Christian.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:1–5)

According to James, the brother of Jesus, the marks of a worldly carnal Christian are quarrels, fighting, covetousness, selfishness, etc. Other sins grow out of those. In 1 Corinthians 3:1–4, Paul lists jealousy, strife, and divisions as a few marks of spiritual immaturity. We often overlook those. Many Christians seem to think these sins are moral or spiritual virtues (“he has strong convictions and he’s passionate about the truth!”).

Throughout First Corinthians, Paul addresses a lot of problems that grew out of this carnal state. A major one was arguing over favorite preachers. The church was being divided by people who bragged that they followed Paul, Apollos (a particularly eloquent teacher), Cephas (Simon Peter), or some other leader. There was even a faction that said, “I follow Christ.” While that sounds most noble, they do not seem to get Paul’s seal of approval. It is possible that they merely boasted, “I do not need to listen to any of the apostles or teachers. I will just follow the spirit of Christ within me. You can’t tell me what to do or think!”

We may not drive around with bumper stickers that say, “I follow Paul”; or wear tee shirts reading, “I follow Apollos” or “Cephas.” But, the church remains divided. We argue over denominations. Some refuse to fellowship with people who say they believe in Jesus, but do not share their views about end-time prophecy, sacraments, or eternal security. We no longer about Paul, Apollos, or Peter (I know some who cling to “my-idea-of-Jesus-and-I-will-listen-to-nobody-else”). Instead, we follow John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Joel Osteen, John MacArthur, or some other prominent preacher. Whenever we place a human teacher over God’s word, and create division in that person’s name, we have accepted carnal worldly Christianity. We have chosen to be merely human. It is time to grow up.

Growing in Christ is a lifetime commitment. However, God has given us His Holy Spirit. We do not have to accept “merely human” as our standard. We do not have to live the Christian life in our own strength. Let us move beyond being merely human to live as children of God.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Growing Up in Christ. II: Maturity in Christ—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

jesus_blessing_the_children1In the preceding post, we introduced the subject of carnal Christianity and saw that Jesus calls us to grow into spiritual maturity. This is a life-long journey for us. We begin as babes in Christ; we grow up to become mature men and women of God. The previous article showed that many Christians remain mired in a state of prolonged spiritual infancy, seeking self-gratification instead of thinking and living like mature believers.

To truly achieve spiritual maturity, we must avoid the temptation to stay focused on ourselves and our desires. Many Christians fail to grow up because they bounce from church to church. When asked why they are leaving Church A to find a new congregation, they often complain that “I’m not being fed there.” This is usually a shallow attempt to sound spiritual, when you really mean, “I do not like what the pastor is saying or how the worship band plays. The church is not entertaining me.” (Remember in the preceding article, how infants need to be fed, but adults learn to feed others.)

There is a simple message for those who approach the Christian life like this: It’s time to grow up. For those who think the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit are for personal amusement or to show off how spiritual and holy you are: It’s time to grow up. For those who approach their Christian walk as a way to build up your own ego, and not as an opportunity to advance the kingdom of God for Jesus’ glory: It’s time to grow up.

What are some of the marks of spiritual maturity? How do we know we have moved beyond spiritual infancy to maturity in Christ? A few questions will help us answer that question for ourselves:

  • Am I guided by Godly wisdom or the wisdom of the world? (See James 3:13–18.)
  • Am I motivated by the love of God or a desire to put myself first? (See 1 Corinthians 13.)
  • Am I guided by the Word of God or my own opinions? As I wrote several weeks ago, “One of the great marks of Christian spiritual maturity is this: Are we willing to accept biblical truth even if it goes against our personal preferences or biases?” When confronted by one of the “hard teachings” of the Bible, is the Word of God true, or do I know better than He does?
  • Are my values centered around Christ, or are they driven by the culture around me or my own desires?
  • Most importantly, do I make decisions seeking to build others up and draw them closer to Jesus, or am I driven by desires for self-gratification or self-glorification? Do I get excited when I see other people come to know Jesus or grow in their walk with Him? Or, do I try to do things that merely make me feel good? Am I most concerned that I look good to others? Who am I most trying to impress? Myself? God? The people in my church? Or, the unsaved people around me?

Spiritual growth and renewal of the mind is a process. It takes years for a human baby to mature from birth until he or she can effectively nurture his or her own children. Likewise, it may take years from the time you surrender your life to Christ until you achieve spiritual maturity. Indeed, full spiritual maturity—perfection—is a feature of the next life, not this world.

In Ephesians 4, St. Paul describes the purpose of the ministry. It is a good summary of any church’s ministry goals and a guide for measuring our own spiritual growth:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11–16).

God is calling us to think like adults and live like mature men and women of God. What steps can you take to move closer to that goal today?

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Growing Up in Christ. I: Beyond Carnality—1 Corinthians 14:20

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (I Corinthians 14:20).

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Jesus invites us to come to Him like small children, but He calls us to become mature in Him. Picture by Bernhard Plockhorst [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Renewal of the Christian’s mind, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, has a goal. God is seeking to raise us from spiritual immaturity to maturity. The Word of God calls us to mature thinking and living, not immaturity. While Jesus calls us to childlike faith (Mark 10:15; Matthew 18:3; Luke 18:17), He calls us away from childish behavior.

The circumstances that led St. Paul to write 1 Corinthians 14:20 seem to continue to this day. The Corinthian church was driven by an over-emphasis—perhaps it is more accurate to say a misguided emphasis—on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially the more dramatic manifestations. They were eager to speak in tongues and prophesy, but failed to show the love of God. Gifts of the Holy Spirit became excuses to show off or claim some kind of spiritual superiority over one another when God intends them to be an opportunity to serve others and build up the church. Egos replaced evangelism and edification. This discussion essentially begins in 1 Corinthians 11:17 (where he discusses abuse of the Lord’s Supper) and continues to the end of chapter 14. On a few occasions, he contrasts spiritual maturity with spiritual childishness. His great discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13 culminates as follows:

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways (I Corinthians 13:11).

There is a time for childishness, but as we grow in our faith we should achieve spiritual maturity. Certain shortcomings are acceptable when you are young; as you mature, they should become a thing of the past. When my son was a baby, his mother and I had to feed him: He could not eat unless somebody placed a bottle or food into his mouth. After a few months, we could place food in front of him and he could put it in his own mouth. After a few years, he could go into the kitchen and get his own food. Eventually, he could go to the store and buy his own food. Now, he works for a living and provides food for three children of his own.

It was completely normal for us to spoon-feed him when he was about four months old. Now, he is able to feed himself, and he is able to feed others.

This is not just a physical pattern for maturity, but also a spiritual pattern. As new Christians, we need to be “fed” spiritually. Eventually, we should reach a point where we accept responsibility for our own walk with God. A final stage of spiritual maturity is when we no longer worry about whether the church is “feeding” us and look for ways that we can nurture others in the body of Christ. Andrew Murray refers to this early stage of Christian growth as “carnal Christianity.” In chapter 1 of The Master’s Indwelling, he describes the “carnal state” as follows:

It is simply a condition of protracted infancy. You know what that means. Suppose a beautiful babe, six months old. It cannot speak, it cannot walk, but we do not trouble ourselves about that; it is natural, and ought to be so. But suppose a year later we find the child not grown at all, and three years later still no growth; we would at once say: “There must be some terrible disease;” and the baby that at six months old was the cause of joy to every one who saw him, has become to the mother and to all a source of anxiety and sorrow. There is something wrong; the child can not grow. It was quite right at six months old that it should eat nothing but milk; but years have passed by, and it remains in the same weakly state. Now this is just the condition of many believers. They are converted; they know what it is to have assurance and faith; they believe in pardon for sin; they begin to work for God; and yet, somehow, there is very little growth in spirituality, in the real heavenly life. We come into contact with them, and we feel at once there is something wanting; there is none of the beauty of holiness or of the power of God’s Spirit in them. This is the condition of the carnal Corinthians, expressed in what was said to the Hebrews: “You have had the Gospel so long that by this time you ought to be teachers, and yet you need that men should teach you the very rudiments of the oracles of God.” Is it not a sad thing to see a believer who has been converted five, ten, twenty years, and yet no growth, and no strength, and no joy of holiness?

There is a time for immaturity, but eventually, a Christian should grow beyond that. In the following post, we will look at what spiritual maturity should look like.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Setting Your Mind Where It Belongs—Romans 8:5–6

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5–6).

The Holy Bible

What do you think about, when your mind has room to wander? What do you talk about, when you get the opportunity to speak your mind? Jesus said that “Out of the abundance of the heart {the} mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Your words reveal who you really are. Your thoughts guide your words, your decisions, your actions, and ultimately your destiny.

In the modern world of social media, many of us have a platform to publicize our thoughts constantly. Go to your friend’s Facebook page, and you know what matters to him or her. Does your friend post Bible verses? Devotional readings? Sports news? Music videos? Dirty jokes? Photos of family and friends? If you have a social media account, take a look at the things you post. What does it say about you?

When discussing Romans 12:2, the verse that introduces the concept of “renewal of the mind” that this blog frequently addresses, we saw that this renewal is the work of the Holy Spirit. As we come to Christ and His Spirit dwells in us, He transforms us by renewing our thinking.

Romans 8 contrasts two lives: The life “according to the Spirit” (the life of a true follower of Jesus) and the life “according to the flesh” (the life of one who does not have a real relationship with Him). It is interesting to place these two lives side-by-side (items in italics on the right side of this chart are implied by the context; God has more to say to His children than He does about the rest of the world here):

Christian Life

Non-Christian Life

No condemnation (sin is condemned in the flesh of Christ) Condemnation
Law of the spirit of life Law of sin and death
Walk/live according to the Spirit Walk/live according to the flesh
Set their minds of the things of the Spirit

—Life and peace

Set their minds on the things of the flesh

—Death

—Hostile to God

—Cannot submit to God’s law

—Cannot please God

In the Spirit; Spirit of Christ dwells within Does not have the Spirit; does not belong to Him
Body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies The Spirit will not give eternal life to our mortal bodies. When they die due to sin, that’s it
Spirit is life because of righteousness Death because of unrighteousness

Notice a few key words that characterize the Christian life: Spirit; life; peace; righteousness. Now, notice some that characterize the non-Christian life: condemnation; sin; death; flesh; hostility. Which do you prefer? Now, ask yourself: Which list characterizes your thought life?

Many Christians spend too much time refusing the blessings we have available to ourselves. We say our prayers and read our Bibles, but then we may run off and do our own thing the rest of the day. We set our minds on the things of the Spirit for half an hour before work, but then we spend the rest of the day on the things of the flesh.  It is an easy trap to fall into, with all of the messages and images that bombard our brains throughout the day.

Some even try to baptize their fleshly thinking in Christian jargon, but it does not work: Hostility and anger are usually not “righteous indignation”; what some people call “naming and claiming the promises of God” is usually greed, materialism, and consumerism with a blasphemous pseudo-Christian label slapped on it. True life, true joy, and true peace are found when we yield our thoughts to the leading of the Holy Spirit, not when we try to coerce God to surrender to our program.

When you finish reading this blog, take some time to read your Bible and talk to Jesus (especially if you have not done so yet today!). Then, ponder the truths He revealed to you through His Word. God is always speaking to His children, but we need to listen. Think about what God is trying to say to you. Let it guide your thoughts, desires, and plans above all else. The world, flesh, and devil seek to derail you through a flood of voices and visual presentations. God wishes to speak His gentle peace to your heart. It comes quietly and subtly, but it brings great peace, joy, life, and righteousness. Set your mind on the things that bring God’s blessing into your life.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

In One Accord—Acts 1:12–14

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:12–14).

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Jesus’ ascension into heaven preceded a ten-day period of prayer by the disciples, leading to Pentecost. By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

This account, of the disciples’ time in the upper room, is often overlooked. It appears immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and begins a brief interlude between that event and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Those ten days seem like a chronological “no man’s land.” But, they were significant. After three years of following Jesus, His disciples began to finally understand Him. He gave them instructions, and they obeyed.

They realized that Jesus wanted them to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before beginning the Great Commission. How would they know the Holy Spirit had come, though? Whatever that meant, they knew Jesus was talking about an event they had never seen before, involving a Spirit they would not see. How could they be certain when it happened? I wonder if things happened during those ten days that led one of the disciples to ask, “Was that it? Did the Holy Spirit just arrive?” Even though they were waiting for something they could not explain, they were obedient. They waited. Most importantly, they devoted themselves to prayer.

It is interesting to note who was praying with the disciples. Paul would later mention that Jesus appeared to 500 people at one time after His resurrection (First Corinthians 15:6). One might expect several members of that crowd to join the disciples in the upper room. However, Luke mentions only a few people.

One notable group in that upper room was Jesus’ brothers. During Jesus’ preaching ministry, they thought He had lost His mind (Mark 3:21), and they did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Instead of supporting His ministry or following His teaching, they tried to save Him from Himself. Now, along with their mother Mary (who seems to have also had doubts about her Son’s mental health at that time), they joined the disciples, praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The resurrection led them to believe. At least two of them, James and Judas, would become leaders in the early church. James would eventually issue the official decision at the council in Acts 15 and write the New Testament’s letter of James. Judas would write the New Testament’s letter of Jude; according to some ancient authorities, his great-grandson would be the last Jewish bishop of Jerusalem (around 150 AD).

Another notable group was “the women.” Readers of the Gospels are usually not surprised by this; women played a prominent role in Jesus’ ministry. Of course, we think of His mother Mary, who remained with Him to the cross. Mary Magdalene also comes to mind, especially as the first person Jesus spoke to after His resurrection. Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary, played prominent roles in His ministry as well. We can assume that Jesus wanted these ladies to be active in the fledgling church. However, this was not normative in ancient Judaism. Women were second-class citizens in the synagogue. In the upper room, they were a necessary part of the body that prayed in one accord, awaiting the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost, they too would receive the Holy Spirit and glorify God in other tongues (Acts 2:1-4, 17, 18).

Today, many evangelical Christians use the words “Christian” and “conservative” almost interchangeably. Clergy, congregations, and the mass media think they are synonyms. However, this is not always the case. While it is true that the Bible commands certain moral values we would now consider conservative (especially in terms of sexuality), that has not always been the case. The conservative approach would preserve the status quo. It would have been easier for the apostles to tell the women, “Look, ladies, you know women cannot be rabbis or synagogue leaders, so why don’t you just go home? We’ll let you know when the Holy Spirit arrives and then you can just follow us.” That did not happen: The Christian approach was to rise above man-made traditions and cultural expectations, in order to do the clearly revealed will of God. Jesus had spoken; He had commended Lazarus’ sister Mary for choosing to sit at His feet like a disciple (Luke 10:38-42).

Jesus did not call the disciples to rely on their natural abilities or resources. They had already failed many times when they tried to serve Him that way. Pentecost would bring a new beginning. Old expectations were set aside. A renewed people, united in faith and prayer, would proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and kingdom of God to a dying world.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Choosing Life, Good, and Blessing—Deuteronomy 30:15-20

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” (Deuteronomy 30:15–20).

lightoftheworld1

God calls us to bring His light, life, and love to the world. Photo by Alvinysf (Crossmap) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

In recent weeks, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, which means that President Donald Trump will have the opportunity to appoint his replacement. For many observers, this is significant. Kennedy is usually considered a moderate “swing vote” on the Court. Most believe that Trump will replace him with a strong conservative, like Clarence Thomas or Neil Gorsuch, thereby giving the Supreme Court a distinct conservative majority.

While this has been in the news, a friend asked me, “Do you think Roe vs. Wade (the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion-on-demand throughout the United States) will be overturned?” My answer may surprise some people: I do not expect a political solution to legalized abortion in the foreseeable future. While many Christians believe there are currently four pro-life justices on the Supreme Court, only one of them has proven it in a ruling. In a ruling upholding a partial-birth abortion ban in 2007, only Clarence Thomas and the now-deceased Antonin Scalia expressed the belief that this ruling should be overturned. The other allegedly pro-life justices did not formally agree to that statement. (See the Wikipedia article about Gonzales v. Carhart for more about that ruling.) So, we may have only one truly pro-life justice right now (I am not aware of any abortion-related cases where Gorsuch has stated his opinion), and I do not think we will have more than three after Trump’s next nominee is approved.

Thus, a political solution is not likely in the near future.

A political solution would be a quick fix. If we could just get one President to support Christian moral values and have five people in black robes issue an edict for us, things would be so easy. Americans like easy, quick solutions. Why should Mom spend an hour or more cooking a healthy, nutritionally balanced dinner when countless fast-food drive-through windows will satisfy our cravings with little effort? If that seems excessive, the grocery store sells plenty of meals that can be zapped in a microwave oven in less than five minutes. We want quick/easy/painless solutions to all of our problems, and we hope somebody else will take care of them for us.

The Christian should not seek political solutions to spiritual problems. In Deuteronomy 30:19 (a popular verse at pro-life rallies), God calls His people to “choose life.” He presents two paths before us: life vs. death; good vs. evil; blessing vs. cursing. Those who walk in His ways choose life, good, and blessing. Those who rebel against Him walk in death, evil, and cursing.

The Gospel of John tells us that the light and life of God are found in Jesus: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5). Elsewhere, the Bible tells us that God is love (1 John 4:8). Thus, three of the core features of God’s nature are life, light, and love. We are called to share His life and love with those around us. We are called to be the light of the world, reflecting Jesus’ light to others (Matthew 5:14; John 8:12). “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). With God as our Father, we can be witnesses for Him with our words and life.

It is not an easy solution. God calls His children to the mission of changing our world: one heart, soul, and mind at a time; one day at a time, 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 52 weeks per year. But, it is God’s way. He does not call upon us to wait for others to solve this world’s problems. He calls on us to change our world by living a lifestyle of life, good, blessing, light, and love.

Copyright ©  2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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