Posts Tagged With: Sin

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

Milking Spiritual Authority: II. Growing Outward

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1–3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image by Dimitri Wittmann from Pixabay

In Mark 7, we read an episode where the religious leaders challenged Jesus because His disciples did not wash their hands according to rabbinic rules before eating.

“And {Jesus} said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person’” (Mark 7:20–23).

This follows a popular verse. One verse earlier (verse 19), Jesus declared all foods clean. (Yes! You, O child of God, may freely eat BACON!) However, we overlook Jesus’ main point: The evil thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors He listed are the things that really corrupt us, not food. We keep filling our minds and thoughts with garbage, and we spew garbage from our hearts, minds, and mouths through sin. As long as we keep spewing spiritual uncleanness, we cannot think of ourselves as spiritually mature. No bacon double cheeseburger can compensate for that.

Instead of these impurities, our hearts and lives should flow with the true marks of a mature follower of Christ:

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).

As I shared previously, a maturing faith should have an outward focus. Newborn infants need to be fed. Before long, the parents can place food in front of the baby and let him try to feed himself. Eventually, a school-aged child may go to the kitchen and grab his own food. Teenagers might go to a convenience store and buy their own soda and snacks. Eventually, an adult may have children of his or her own and have to feed them. If an adult still needs to be fed, something is wrong.

As Christians, we follow a similar journey. The newborn believer needs to be taught the basics of the faith. Eventually, a growing Christian will read the Bible during private devotions; we do not stop going to church or Bible study, but we “spiritually feed” ourselves. As we grow in Christ, we should eventually feed others spiritually. This may not necessarily be teaching or preaching, but in some way, we should impart God’s blessings to others. Instead of merely sucking in everything others have, we share the strength and hope God gives us with others.

Let us grow up spiritually. Our faith should mature as we spend time with the Lord. The old inner sinful attitudes should decrease and disappear. The fruit of the Spirit should grow. We should move from selfishness to self-giving.

“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. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:11–13).

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Milking Spiritual Maturity: I. All or Nothing

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:1–3; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

What does spiritual maturity look like? This term appears frequently in some corners of the church, and this blog has occasionally addressed it. A search on this site’s homepage currently lists 11 articles, including this, this, and this.

Spiritual maturity can be easily misunderstood. Some think a spiritually mature person attends church often, reads the Bible every day, prays a lot, and listens to Christian music. However, Peter associates maturity—“growing up into salvation”—with a lack of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. It is related with what flows from your heart and mind, radiating the love of God, not religious activity.

Peter told his readers to long for pure spiritual milk. Picture a baby at its mother’s breast. For the first few months of his or her life, a baby will live on nothing but milk, which provided complete nutrition until the baby is old enough to eat and drink more complex things. Eventually, the baby can eat soft foods, then meat, and so on.

Elsewhere in Scripture, we read that the milk is the word of God:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:12–14; emphasis added).

The pure spiritual milk Peter speaks of is the basic principles of the oracles of God, the essentials of salvation. Peter does not trivialize this, and neither should we: He addresses his instruction to all of his readers, drawing no distinction between church leaders and the people who were baptized one week earlier. All of us should drink the pure spiritual milk every now and then.

However, our faith should look different after 10 or 20 years of walking with Christ. As we abide in Christ and His Word, we grow to maturity. After a while, we should look different. We should train our powers of discernment to distinguish good from evil. We should move beyond spiritual milk to spiritual meat, solid food, the word of righteousness.

However, many of us are eager to master the “deeper truths” without first allowing the Word of God to master our hearts. We want to become experts in Bible trivia, biblical studies, and systematic theology without having purified hearts. We think right doctrine or Scripture memorization are the marks of a mature Christian. Yet, as we see above, this is not the case.

Christian maturity is revealed by the nature of Christ in our lives and a thorough renewal of the mind that rejects sins of the heart. Peter tells us to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” He says all several times. What part of “all” do we not understand?

Put away all malice. This includes people from the opposing political party, Muslims, illegal immigrants, or homosexuals. We may disagree with them. We may think they are wrong, deceived, or misguided. But we should put away all malice—even against “those people.”

Put away all slander. For some reason, many Christians think God does not see or care about the internet or social media. We see a meme or link to an online article that justifies our opinion and accuses our “enemies” or horrible things, so we share it. We do not check to see if it is true. (I am not endorsing Snopes; most of us do not even do a simple web search to see if the post can be verified by independent, trustworthy, at-least-partially-fair-and-balanced sources.) Many people do not care whether an online post is true or false. If we want it to be true, we share it. We are willing to justify our hatred, malice, gossip, slander, deceit, etc., in the name of a religious, political, or social agenda. In this regard, many Christians are as guilty (or even more so) than non-believers.

Since Scripture says that we should put away “all” such sin, the presence or absence of such sins of the heart and mind are the true indications of our degree of spiritual maturity or immaturity. Sinful attitudes are destructive to our souls.

As long as any sinful attitudes remain, let us continue to seek spiritual growth. Let us not become satisfied with a little sin, a little righteousness, and a little bit of God’s presence in our lives.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unforgivable? Jesus Says “No”

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31–32; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15).

American media is a bastion of bitterness. In recent weeks, news outlets and the internet fumed over an encounter involving a pro-life high school student from Tennessee (attending the March for Life in Washington, DC, with his classmates) and a Native American activist; their “interaction” generated a myriad of hostile comments with people on both sides accusing the other of committing an act of hate. Some people threatened the student and his school, while others sought other ways to destroy his future.

Sollok29 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Over the past week, Democrat Virginia governor Ralph Northam sat in the hot seat. After a week of controversy, during which he announced his support of late-term abortions (and even infanticide in some cases), a photograph from his medical-school days emerged, purportedly showing him posing either as an African American (wearing blackface) or as a Ku Klux Klan member. After initially claiming to be the one wearing blackface, he later denied being either person, although he admitted that he once darkened his face to dress like Michael Jackson in a talent contest.

Congratulations, Governor. You found a way to enrage most of America in one week. Conservatives were eager to drag your name through the mud after you expressed extreme pro-abortion views. Now, even many liberals were calling for your resignation. I think President Donald Trump most accurately expressed a prevailing view among the American public when he called your actions “unforgivable.”

I decided to address this topic for a few simple reasons. A big reason is that many conservative Christians defend or parrot everything President Trump says. Some seem to use Scripture merely to defend their political party’s platform, instead of weighing the platform against Scripture. With all due respect to the president, the word “unforgivable” is biblically unwarranted here. The Word of Jesus trumps the word of the president, the Republican Party, the Democrat Party, and all news organizations and websites. The Word of Jesus even supersedes the word of any church or denomination that claims His name.

We the people of the United States have become very good at vilifying those we oppose. We have become masters of criticism and judgment. We have become experts at demonizing those whose actions, lifestyles, and beliefs run contrary to our own. Yet, Jesus calls us to become masters of love and forgiveness. He wants us to become experts at shining His light in a dark world.

There is a difference between “unrighteous” or “inexcusable” and “unforgivable.” Abortion is unrighteous; it is inexcusable. It is evil to kill babies inside or outside the womb. “You shall not murder.” Racism is also evil, unrighteous, and inexcusable.

Several months ago, Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh (still a nominee at that time) was accused of committing sexual assault while he was in high school. Although legally exonerated, many people think he was guilty. Most will agree that the things he was accused of doing are evil, unrighteous, and inexcusable; the great debate is whether he actually committed those acts or was falsely accused. (Kavanaugh’s actions are covered by another of the Ten Commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” which later Scripture expands to other forms of sexual immorality. False accusations are condemned by the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”) Some still call them “unforgivable.”

Again, these sins are inexcusable and unrighteous. They are wrong. Abortion, murder, sexual assault, racism, and lying are wrong. However, they are not unforgivable. Reasonable persons—especially reasonable Christians—should be appalled when we are ready to destroy a person’s life because we disagree with them, or because they were accused of doing something wrong, or even if we have ironclad evidence that they are guilty of doing something wrong. This is especially true when we go on witch hunts to find stupid things people did in their youth. Many of us did embarrassing, stupid, or bad things in our youth that we regret later. Do we know for certain that there has been no repentance, or at least an attempt at self-improvement, since the moment of stupidity?

Jesus said there is only one sin that is “unforgivable.” While many sincere Christians disagree about what “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” means, most agree that it is one that will keep a person from coming to saving faith in Jesus. It seems to be a level of such utter opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit that it prohibits faith in Jesus. (Note to those who think they may have committed the unpardonable sin, let me assure you that if you are even giving it any thought, it has not happened yet. As long as you are concerned about your sins, the Holy Spirit is still working on you!)

Is racism evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is abortion evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is sexual assault evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Is creating false accusations and committing slander evil? Yes. Is it the unpardonable sin? Jesus says “No.”

Some of you may have suffered horrible mistreatment at some time in your life. Forgiveness may be difficult. It can be the hardest thing God calls you to do. But, forgiveness is necessary. Spiritually, it is a life-and-death decision. Make the decision to forgive those who have hurt you. You may not feel like you have forgiven them initially; you may have to resist the temptation to continue harboring bitterness, unforgiveness, and resentment. Forgiveness does not make the abuser’s behavior right, nor does it mean you have to allow yourself or others to be hurt again. It does mean that you leave judgment to God Almighty, who is able to forgive all who come to Him in repentance and faith.

Jesus said that only one sin is “unforgivable.” Remember that the next time someone tells you another person’s actions are “unforgivable.” Remember that the next time you tell yourself or others that you will never forgive another person. Oh yes, remember that the next time you refuse to accept God’s forgiveness for you.

This post copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Current events | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Truth Will Set You Free

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

“The truth will set you free” is one of the more familiar quotes from the Bible. Even non-believers know it, and sometimes quote it without realizing that it was originally spoken by Jesus. Yet, many of us saying it without thinking about the context. As a result, we come away with only half of the message, or perhaps a completely incorrect message.

Jesus was speaking to a group of “Jews who had believed him.” Yet, the conversation rapidly deteriorated. Whereas they initially believed Him (verse 31), by the end of the conversation they questioned and challenged Him, then apparently made accusations about His parents’ marital status when He was conceived (John 8:41), accused Him of being a demon-possessed Samaritan (verse 48), and eventually started preparing to stone Him to death (verse 59). Within maybe only five minutes, they went from being almost ready to become disciples to trying to kill Him.

Such is the situation when sin is mentioned. Jesus Christ and His true followers reveal sin so that it can be confessed, leading to repentance and freedom. Yet, many people respond with hostility and hatred.

When Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” his listeners responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33). I can almost picture Jesus staring back at them incredulously, saying, “Um, WHAT? Do you even hear what you’re saying?” The Jewish people were under foreign oppression by the Romans at that time. Their history, recorded in their Old Testament scriptures, was filled with repeated episodes of oppression and exile. A core element of their cultural identity was their deliverance from slavery in Egypt through Moses. For a first-century Jew to say “We have never been enslaved” would be as preposterous as an African-American (particularly, one whose family has been in America since before 1860) making the same claim.

Such is the neurosis of denial. When confronted about sin, we pretend we do not have a problem. We may say that it is not really a sin. Many people today would say that Jesus and the writers of the Bible really did not know what they were talking about; we know better. Science and Oprah have opened our eyes. Or, some people will claim that their circumstances justify an exception to the rules: “I know the Bible says we should not have sex before marriage, but our situation is different because….”

We might admit that it is sin, but not admit that it involves bondage. The Son of God
disagrees: He said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The apostle Paul would later expand upon this thought by saying:

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 (Romans 6:15–18).

Sin brings slavery. Many addicts have come to this awareness. They may have once thought they felt free by drinking alcohol, shooting up heroine, snorting cocaine, or getting whatever “fix” they desired. Eventually, though, as it became a life-controlling obsession, what once felt like freedom proved to be emotional and spiritual shackles, chaining them to a cycle of self-destruction. However, other kinds of sin bring similar bondage. Although many kinds of sin do not involve an obvious chemical dependency, they may become habitual, creating an emotional connection to the sin, and leading to destructive consequences. Even what we think are “little sins” involve some degree of bondage. The shackles may be looser, but they are still there.

Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free. This begins with confession. Many people associate “confession” with a private booth, where you whisper your secrets to a priest, but that is only one aspect of the word. “Confess” merely translates a Greek word, “homologeo,” which could literally be translated as “say the same thing as” or “acknowledge.” It means to admit something is true. In the context of sin, confession involves admitting that something is a sin and that one is guilty of it. To find freedom, we must confess the truth.

We must confess the truth about ourselves. We must acknowledge our shortcomings, failings, weaknesses, and needs. We have to admit that there is some kind of chain holding us back. We must admit that we need something. In confession, we acknowledge that we have sinned and we stop looking for other people to blame. The Book of Common Prayer contains a prayer of confession that begins like this (as I recall, the Roman Catholic liturgy has a very similar prayer):

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 admit that we have sinned: not that it is someone else’s fault, or “the devil made me do it,” or I am a victim of other people’s plots. Even though all of us have fallen victim to others at some time, there are ways that we have sinned. We need forgiveness. We need freedom. We tighten our own chains when we keep pointing at others’ mistakes while ignoring our own.

But, we cannot stop by confessing our sins. That is a beginning, but if it is all we do, it will lead to despair. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. However, it goes on to tell us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). We must confess the truth about Jesus. Jesus’ listeners in John 8 had a hard time accepting that one. They could not accept the notion that He could possibly be greater than their ancestor, Abraham. How could they take the leap to believe that He is the Son of God. Yet, this is essential. We must believe that Jesus is God incarnate. We must believe that through His death on the cross, we have received forgiveness of our sins. We must believe that He is holy, righteous, merciful, and gracious. We must believe that He is love. When we believe these truths, we are free to break free from our chains and run to Him for forgiveness, freedom, and life.

Likewise, we must believe the truth about God and His Word. We must believe that God’s Word is true and that it shows us the way to live in a way that pleases Him.

Finally, we must abide in that truth. We do not use the word “abide” very often nowadays, but it is the basis of our word “abode.” We must live in Jesus’ Word, staying there. To experience freedom and abide in that freedom, we should read and study Jesus’ teachings, meditate upon the Word of God, being doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

This is the foundation of freedom. We must admit that we are sinners, accepting the fact that it brings spiritual slavery. However, having admitted that truth, we should acknowledge the truth about Jesus, His Father, and His Word, trusting in Christ’s forgiveness and building our new lives on His Word. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). If you are in bondage, seek freedom in Christ today. If you have found His forgiveness and freedom, continue to walk in it.

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

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

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