Posts Tagged With: repentance

First Sunday of Advent: One Year, One Thing

“If every year we would root out one vice, we would soon become perfect men. But now oftentimes we perceive it goes contrary, and that we were better and purer at the beginning of our entrance into the religious life than after many years of our profession” (Thomas a’ Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chap. 11).

By Liesel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Happy New Year!

No, I am not confused about the date or accidentally posting an article one month early. Today is the First Sunday of Advent, which begins a new year on the church calendar. Over the next few weeks, churches that follow a liturgical calendar will have Scripture readings and songs looking to the coming of Christ, which we will celebrate on Christmas. At the same time, we are reminded that He has already come and He is coming again. We should also remember that He is still with us (Matthew 28:18-20).

Many Americans will wait until January 1 to make New Year’s Resolutions. If the secular world can recommend New Year’s Resolutions, to be announced in a drunken stupor shortly after midnight on January 1, perhaps Christians can make spiritual resolutions on the First Sunday of Advent.

In a recent post, I listed Of the Imitation of Christ as one book that all Christians should read. Brother Thomas’ quote above, found early in the book, really spoke to me. There are areas of my life where, to be honest, I am not as holy or righteous as I was a few years ago. In some areas, my life looked more Christlike before I became a Christian.

I know I am not alone. I know people who admit that they have developed bad habits after becoming disciples of Jesus. Perhaps they overcame a drug or alcohol addiction and got hooked on pornography. Maybe they stopped cursing and became self-righteous, judgmental gossips. If this sounds like you (maybe your sins are different from mine), let’s take a stand together in the coming church year.

Take a look at that quote. Imagine if you could overcome one sinful habit per year. Maybe you have five or six sins that you keep falling back into. Can you imagine overcoming those five or six sins within five or six years?

So, here’s the challenge I am placing before anybody who desires to draw closer to Jesus:

  • Pick one sin that you struggle with. Ideally, it will be the one that causes you the most difficulty. Maybe there is an addiction that is destroying your health and family. Maybe you have a bad temper that has gotten you into trouble. Write that sin down.
  • Bring that sin before Jesus in prayer. Thank Him that He has already forgiven you. Confess that it is sin. Ask Him to give you victory by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of those fruit is the most direct antidote for your sin? Pray for the Holy Spirit to manifest and grow that fruit in your life.
  • Believe and expect God to do this! If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit already dwells within you. The fruit of the Spirit is already available to you. If you are not living in victory, it is because you have neglected some fruit that is available to you. Claim it!
  • If there are resources available for addressing your sin, use them. You may want to follow the Twelve Steps, originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous but adapted by numerous other organizations to address other life-controlling problems. A copy of the Life Recovery Bible, available from https://www.tyndale.com/p/nlt-life-recovery-bible-second-edition/9781496425751, will help you work the steps over your struggle.
  • As part of the Twelve Steps, you will be challenged to conduct a personal moral inventory. Do not be afraid: It can be intimidating to dig up all that dirt, but it will bring freedom. Recovering addicts will often say, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Share your findings with someone you can trust: a priest (if your church has sacramental confession), sponsor (if you are in a Twelve-Step Program), or a close friend or mentor whom you can trust to keep your confession private. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23-24, English Standard Version).

Throughout the coming year, we will come back to this challenge from time to time. I may mention it within other posts, or I may devote special posts to it. This may be in conjunction with other special days on the church calendar (I will follow the calendar of my denomination, the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church).

May we all find victory in the coming year. Let’s find that one sin that holds us back and cast it aside as the Holy Spirit works in our lives. Imagine if we can find victory over one sin per year, without taking on a new one. Where will we be in our walk with Christ one year, five years, or ten years from now?

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Character and Values, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confession: Resisting the Lies of the Enemy

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John 1:8–10, ESV).

The Holy Bible

The Bible is the Christian’s guide for confession and for distinguishing between God’s truth and Satan’s lies

St. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1–2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Much of our spiritual warfare takes place in the mind. The Christian’s bloodiest battlefield is usually the space between their ears. If we want to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, to offer Him true spiritual worship, and to avoid being conformed to this sinful world, we must let our minds be renewed. This is crucial to transformation.

One reason our minds need renewal is because we often believe lies. Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. He is, in some way, responsible for every idea, philosophy, or world view that contradicts the Bible; for example, we may say that Satan is the father of atheistic evolution, false religious cults, and postmodern sexual morals. However, his cleverest lies deceive us about who we are in relation to Him. Once Satan can trap us in a spiritual identity crisis, he can plant the seeds of greater deception.

1 John 1:8–10 hints at two closely related lies that many Christians fall for: “We have no sin” and “We have not sinned.” The first implies that one has achieved a state of moral perfection; the other claims that either we were always in that state of moral perfection or that some people really have not sinned. “We have not sinned” may have several other lies attached to it:

  • “There really is no such thing as sin. Morality and ethics are relative, so there is no such thing as objective right and wrong.” This is one of Satan’s most commonly believed lies in our time.
  • “Our actions are heavily directed by our biology (hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.), so defining something as ‘sin’ is really just trying to force a cultural norm on another person.”
  • “There are some sins out there, but only really horrible people (note: people who have done bad things that we have never tried) are actually sinners. Adolf Hitler is a sinner, because he murdered so many people. Since I’ve never killed anybody, I am not as bad as him, so I am not a sinner.”

“We have no sin” (the present tense lie) includes a few other possible deceptions:

  • “Well, I used to be a sinner, but since I became a Christian, my sins are all forgiven. Therefore, what I do does not matter anymore.”
  • “I have an excuse for any sin: My carnal nature (or flesh) committed the sin, but my spirit had nothing to do with it. Or, the devil made me do it. Or, it’s always someone else’s fault: I lost my temper because my father was an alcoholic, or the other person pushed my buttons, or other people hurt my feelings.”
  • These other two lies can combine into a false view of entire sanctification: The believer claims to have experienced a crisis moment of sanctification after salvation and is now totally free from sin. Therefore, if they do something that looks like sin, either (a) there is some exception to the normal rules about sin here or (b) it is the other person’s fault.

Some Christians believe this because they have accepted Satan’s shrewdest lie of all: The belief that “God is harsh and you need to earn His love.” His justice and righteousness demand that we get our acts together. If we believe that is true, we have only two options: Make excuses to convince ourselves that we have met God’s standards, or beat ourselves up for failure. Somehow, we can convince ourselves about this even when we know that Jesus died for our sins and we are forgiven. We may intellectually believe that God gracious and forgiving, while our emotions convince us that God is like the judgmental, harsh, or abusive people in our lives. It is hard to believe that our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally when we were never quite “good enough” for our earthly parents.

God’s justice, though, is intimately bound with His grace and mercy. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when we confess them. We have no need to make excuses. When we realize we have sinned (or, perhaps, we even think we might have sinned), we can go to Him, admit our wrongs, and ask for forgiveness and cleansing. Repentance means that we admit we were wrong and ask God to help us turn from the sin in the future. Sanctification means that He will give us the victory over that sin. It may not happen overnight. You might confess the same sins every day, and He will forgive you again and again. If you are sincere in your confession, the day will come when you cannot think of a reason to confess that same sin again. (“Wait a minute, God: Did I just go the entire day without committing XXX? Hallelujah!”)

Forget the devil’s lies. Have you sinned? Yes: The Word of God says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Does that mean that God hates you? No; like a loving parent, He is there to pick us up no matter how often we fall, and to clean us up whenever we make a mess. Confess your sin; admit you need His help; and believe He will do it.

If you are a Christian, take some time daily to confess your sins and lay hold of a renewed awareness of forgiveness. I say the following prayer twice a day to keep my “sin account” short (feel free to replace “We” with “I”):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

from The Book of Common Prayer

You can make up your own prayer of confession or find some online. A few good confession prayers are available at http://thirdmill.org/files/english/html/worship/pray.confess.html.

If you have never surrendered your life to Jesus and invited Him to be Lord of your life, you may prayer for forgiveness and new life in this way (from PeaceWithGod.net)

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Let us not allow fear to hold us back from approaching God to receive forgiveness. We may confidently approach the throne of grace to obtain mercy, whenever we need it!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Modern-Day Elijahs X: Elijah, John the Baptist, and You and Me

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:19–27, ESV).

“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:11–14, ESV)

john-the-baptist-by-tiffany

Stained glass picture of John the Baptist, by John Stephen Dwyer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Throughout this series, I have spoken of men and women of God who shared in the “Elijah spirit.” The first to earn this status was his protegé, Elisha, who received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit when he was taken into heaven. Elisha would continue Elijah’s prophetic ministry after him. While the Old Testament speaks of many prophets after them, none shared Elisha’s close association with Elijah.

Then, John the Baptist came. In the last book written in the Old Testament, Malachi prophesied that Elijah would return “before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes” (Malachi 4:5). This inspired a spirit of expectancy among the Jewish people. By Jesus’ time, they were eagerly awaiting the coming of Elijah, since they though that would signal the coming of a Messiah who would put the Romans in their place. So, when John the Baptist rose to prominence, the logical question in their minds was, “Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet? Are you the Messiah? Who are you?”

John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah. Yet, Jesus said he was. This seems like a contradiction, but it is really two sides of the truth. The two men were essentially answering different questions about John the Baptist’s connection with Elijah.

John was essentially saying, “No, I have never been taken into heaven in a whirlwind by chariots of fire and angels. I have not descended miraculously from heaven. I am an ordinary man, who was born about 30 years ago by natural means to normal parents.” The religious leaders were wondering if John the Baptist was Elijah according to their expectations. “No,” he said, “I’m not what you are expecting.”

In Jesus’ mind, though, John the Baptist walked in the Elijah spirit more than any man who ever lived. As far as He was concerned, John the Baptist fulfilled that prophecy exactly as God intended. He was the forerunner, sent to proclaim the coming of the “great and awesome day of the Lord.”

How did John the Baptist manifest the Elijah spirit? More specifically, how can we, like John, manifest that spirit?

First, John the Baptist preached a message of repentance. Much as Elijah called the people of Israel back to the worship of the true God and away from idols, John the Baptist called the people of his day to obey the revealed will of God in all areas of their lives (Luke 3:7–14). This is also the message that we are called to proclaim. The Gospel of salvation is a message that calls people to turn from an old life of sin to a new, abundant life.

Second, John the Baptist pointed people to Jesus, just like Elijah pointed people to worship the one true God. Neither man sought his own glory. In fact, at the height of John’s popularity, he would tell his disciples, “[Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Likewise, we are called to point people to Jesus—not to our denomination or organization, to another man, to a system of thought, or to ourselves.

Third, both men were engaged in spiritual warfare against the forces of wickedness. Both took their lumps for the kingdom of God because they took a stand against the kingdoms of this world. Elijah’s shining moment was the battle on Mount Carmel, but he spent most of his career taking a stand against an idolatrous king and queen. John the Baptist would lose his head because he had the boldness to say that even the earthly king was subject to the demands of God Almighty.

The man or woman of God in 2018 must be bold to take a stand against the world’s system. Sadly, I think most American Christians are as devoted to a political party or ideology as they are to Jesus. We will overlook, and even justify, the sins of our favorite politician. Instead, we should be bold to look to Jesus as the answer to our world’s problems.

Elijah is considered one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament. Though his story appears in the New Testament, John the Baptist was the last great prophet of the Old Covenant. He stood as the forerunner of Christ’s ministry. Today, as we follow Christ, we have the legacy of Elijah and John the Baptist.

Luke 1:15 tells us that John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” When we speak of the “Elijah spirit,” it is simply the spirit that empowered Elijah to accomplish his ministry. That spirit is, in fact, the Holy Spirit of God who empowered Elijah and Elisha, filled John the Baptist, and fills and dwells in all who have received Jesus Christ as Lord. The Christian already has the Holy Spirit—the “Elijah spirit”—dwelling within him or her. Are we ready to walk in that Spirit? Are we ready to let every person we meet, and indeed every angel and demon, see that the spirit of God is at work in us?

Copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christians and Culture, Modern-Day Elijahs | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Heart, A New Life—Ezekiel 36:25–27

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27, ESV).

The_Holy_Bible

These words come from a prophecy wherein God promises to restore the fortunes of His people, the Israelite tribe of Judah, to their own land after a period of exile. At the same time, though, they find greater fulfillment in the New Covenant.

Many Christians fall into a trap of forcing ourselves to live by man-made rules, trying to do so in our own efforts. “If I just try harder, I will kick this addiction all by myself. If I come up with stricter to rules to follow, I will not be tempted in this area of my life.” Okay, we may not say those exact words. Yet, how often are we tempted to believe that our rules or efforts somehow make us more spiritual, or more holy, or better equipped to be a better person? To some, it is not enough to try to live by the commandments that are clearly spelled out in the Bible; we need to add rules. “Don’t listen to that kind of music! Don’t drink that! Don’t go to movies or watch television!”

God has not called us to follow new rules. He calls us to be a new kind of person: One in whom His Holy Spirit can dwell. These verses provide three elements of the new birth we receive when we surrender to Jesus:

  • Cleansing: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.” This is where it begins. We accept the free gift of salvation through Jesus’ death for our sins. God cleanses us. He forgives us for our sins. Cleansing can be a process. At salvation, we are forgiven completely, but we often find ourselves struggling with sin. (Or, at times, not struggling enough: We may just continue to willfully give in to temptation, because we enjoy it.) Forgiveness may be immediate and complete, and not based at all on our performance. Sanctification—the process whereby we become more like Christ—takes a lifetime. But, that is where the other elements come in.
  • Renewal: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” Perhaps the greatest challenge we face as believers is that we do not truly believe this promise. Do I still have the same old heart of stone (spiritually dead, hardened against the will of God) or do I have a heart of flesh (in this sense, a living heart, one that has been softened to the will of God; one that beats in tune with the heart of God)?  Do I truly believe that I have a new spirit? Do I identify myself as a child of God, or do I still identify myself by my sins and failings?
    As a Christian, I do not merely have a new lifestyle. I have a new life. I have a new identify as a child of God.
  • Indwelling: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This may be a continuation of the previous promise, but with more detail perhaps. God does not merely give us a new life with a new identity. He gives us the resources we need to live that new life.  The Holy Spirit dwells within those who have received salvation through Christ. He enables us to live the new life.

Part of growing in a relationship with Christ is recognizing what He has done for and in us and trusting Him to do His perfect work in us. At the same time, we have to recognize when the “old me” is popping up again. The old me can take many forms. It can be outright sinful behavior. It can be a bad attitude. It can be fear, worry, or anxiety. It can be bitterness or unforgiveness. When the old me emerges, I must remind myself of who I am in Christ, turn to Him, and allow His Spirit to guide me in the right direction.

When temptation comes, let us learn to lean on our Saviour and seek His strength to live the kind of life to which He calls us.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The War Within—Galatians 5:16–18

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Galatians 5:16–18, ESV)

Many Christians are familiar with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). St. Paul listed them for us, along with a list of deeds of the flesh, to assist us in a spiritual battle that rages within each of us.

Paul writes a lot about the war within. In Romans 7, he spells out his dilemma in great detail. With his mind, he desires to follow the law of God; but his flesh (the NIV translates this as “sinful nature”) seems to drag him in another direction, compelling him to do the things he does not want to do. This theme appears frequently in his writings, since it is a timeless problem. The outward appearance of temptation may change across cultures and time, but the nature of sin and its deceitfulness never change.

We have all been there: Probably every Christian has a besetting sin that causes frustration, anxiety, guilt, or shame. It can range from alcohol or drug addiction, to a bad temper, to a tendency towards irritability or worry, to sexual obsession, etc. We are not alone, though. The apostle who wrote approximately one-half of the New Testament books openly shared his struggle with us. The Gospels share some of the struggles of other apostles, like Peter and John. Even the heroes of the faith suffered this inner conflict.

I wish I could come up with a five- or seven-point plan for “walking in the Spirit,” which is the solution Paul offers. However, one really does not seem to exist. Countless books offer great suggestions: Pray more, read your Bible, listen to worship music. Even my most recent blog posts, including this one, are centered around renewing your mind with Scripture. Each of these suggestions is only part of the solution to walking in the Spirit, but there is no simple plan. Walking in the Spirit is a constant minute-by-minute commitment.

It begins when we come to Jesus, to receive His Holy Spirit within us and give us a new life. We are born again, and we begin the journey of walking in the Spirit.

We then commit ourselves to Him day by day, to acknowledge His presence and ask Him to lead and guide us. For me, that usually involves three times of prayer per day: usually one in the morning before I leave for work, a brief time of prayer during my lunch break, and a third in the evening. However, I cannot afford to just “turn off” the presence of God when my prayers end. I have to continue to acknowledge His presence: I may no longer be praying, but I can remind myself that God is with me even during my secular employment.

Most importantly, we need to RUN TO HIM when we begin to lose a sense of God’s presence. He is always with His children, since the Holy Spirit abides in them. So, when we do not feel the Spirit’s presence, it simply means we have lost that connection, but God is eager to restore it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that, at the moment of temptation, “God is quite unreal to us.” (A great reflection on that quote can be found here.) When we face temptation, we need to run back to Him and not try to face sin in our own strength. Our own self-will (the flesh) is what usually led us into temptation; therefore, self-will cannot deliver us. Only the power of God can do that.

Again, there is no easy formula for walking in the Spirit. It can best be summarized like this: You have been born again as a child of God; now live like a child of God. Remember who you are, and Who lives with you and in you. Most importantly, when you have strayed from God’s best for your life, run back to Him.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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