My book, Jesus Crushes Sin, is described as “a down-to-earth, Jesus-centred holiness for those who keep losing.” This tag-line explains why I wrote the book, and why I think I had to write it.
For many years I suffered with a particular sin issue in my life. The reason why I don’t really go into the details of what it was, either here or in the book, is because I want the book to encourage people with all sorts of issues with sin. Some might think, “Well, his struggle is different to mine.” I don’t think that’s true. I really think that the book helps anyone with any sin issue to rethink the way we approach God, and see Christianity. In fact, I think that even those people who are “winning” against sin ought to read it, especially if they are preachers or teachers or pastors or some kind of leader in the church.
This is because, by and large, we’ve made Christianity for winners, when in fact it’s for the poor and the weak and the weary. But it’s also for the winners, because the winners might not realise just how badly steeped in sin they actually are: the much more subtle, and much more dangerous, sin of self-righteousness.
To break the tag-line down, this book essentially tries to uncover:
A down-to-earth approach to holiness. A lot of writing and preaching on this topic overly idealistic, exhorting us to be this or that, to do this or that, and to basically pull up our bootstraps. The goal of holiness, as it were, is put so far away for most of us that we despair when, after many years, we realise we’re just not getting there. Is there a there, anyway? We might begin to question that there is! But instead, what we need is a theology of holiness that tells it like it is (down-to-earth) without leaving it as it is (focusing us on Jesus).
A Jesus-centred holiness. Much writing and preaching on this topic is about you. How well are you doing? Have you put your holiness programme into place? Don’t you realise that you need to clean up before the Holy Spirit pours out on you? Don’t you know that God won’t fellowship with an unholy vessel? So you better sort yourself out! These sorts of approaches make holiness into some sort of self-improvement human programme and take our eyes off of Jesus, fully God and fully man, who is more down to earth with this topic than most of us are.
An approach for those who keep losing. If you’ve found the holiness programmes, the theories and the formulas and the disciplines and all that stuff is something you just keep sucking at, welcome to the club. If, like me, you find you keep losing at the Christian (supposed) life and the good news just isn’t so good anymore, then it may be that the “good news” you’ve been hearing isn’t actually the “good news” at all! What we have today is a sanitized Christianity, not a sanctified one – which is why it so often feels like it runs out of power. But the scriptures and Christian theology, when you dig deep, tell a different story.
Here’s some news for those who might not know: my newest foray into the non-fiction, Christian living / theology territory, releases next week Wednesday, 3 February. It’s called Jesus Crushes Sin: A down-to-earth, Jesus-centred holiness for those who keep losing.
It’s a book for the losers in Christian living. Those of us who know what God expects of us, but find we just can’t do it. We never quite seem to reach the place where we know we’re supposed to be. And the “good news” doesn’t seem to be so good anymore.
When I started writing I wanted to release my Christian-specific books for free to the public, and print versions at cost. I just think that kind of stuff should be free. But, of course, a writer has to also make a living. Plus, many people have told me that they actually want to support me financially, but if I keep doing everything for free they can’t really do that, unless I take donations (which I’ll feel a bit weird about, to be honest).
Over the years I’ve never quite known what to do. But now I think I’ve finally found a way to do both, and why on earth I never realised it at first, I don’t know.
I’ll be offering up the ebook and PDF versions of Jesus Crushes Sin at my website for free download from 3 Feb.
The paperback version (I’m still busy with the printers) will be made available at just above cost, to give me some margin for calculation errors (I’ve learned that there are all sorts of sneaky costs that come in with print at various stages of getting it to people). It’ll be available directly from a distributor’s website. The link will be made available here when it’s all ready. ** UPDATE ** – it’s now available for preorder.
Those who want to support me financially and want the ebook can purchase it from their favourite platforms. All the main distributor links will be on my site. ** UPDATE ** now available for preorder.
From February 3rd, you can download the free ebook here at my website.
I’m really excited about this book as I’ve been working on it for about three years, on and off! It’s finally ready, and I think what it has inside is going to be super helpful for people who struggle to live the Christian calling.
That’s the key phrase that changed everything for me. What is perfect love? It is God’s love. All of sin is the opposite of love. Even private sin, that we think only affects ourselves, like watching pornography. The question is: Can I live in perfect love? Can perfect love live through me? Because if God’s love can live through me then surely my sin will start to get rooted out of my heart?
In Dealing with Addictive Sin: How I Came to See Holiness in a Brand New Way pt 2 I highlighted how 1 Thessalonians 5:23 began to make me see that God promises that he will finish a completing work of holiness in this life. What does holiness look like, ultimately? It looks like Jesus – everything we know about him; his character, his life, his sacrifice, his resurrection. Holiness looks like perfect love. If Jesus lives in me, as the scriptures promise, perfect love lives in me. Because God is love. (1 John 4:8.) But I also want him, perfect love, to live through me.
And that’s the hard part.
But if there is a promise that he will, in fullness, in this life, then everything changes. And indeed, I’ve come to see that there is.
The grand narrative in this is one of inheritance. Throughout all the scriptures, God promises an inheritance to his people, that they come to in this life. Here are some details from the scriptures of what this inheritance looks like:
2 Peter 1:4
Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire.
Hebrews 4:1; 9
Therefore we must be wary that, while the promise of entering his rest remains open, none of you may seem to have come short of it… Consequently a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God.
We can see two things here: one, our inheritance in Christ consists of becoming partakers of the divine nature. Two, that our inheritance consists of rest. I could quote a lot more but these will do. The crux of my “seeing holiness in a new way” is this: that we come into this inheritance in this life. Sure, there are things for the next life that we can also call our inheritance (like new bodies and a new heaven and a new earth) but the argument in Hebrews 3 and 4 shows us that God promises this rest as “long as it is called ‘Today,'” (Hebrews 3:13) and we’re exhorted to not harden our hearts ‘today’ in unbelief because the promise is coming. Just like Israel entered into their inheritance (the promised land) so we will enter ours (holiness of heart and mind). 1 Thessalonians 5:23 shows us that the plan is to keep us in this inheritance unto the return of Christ.
When I came to this conclusion my life changed. Because I finally found out what faith is really about – a relying on Christ’s work in me to make me into a partaker of Christ’s very own nature, in this life, so that he could live his perfect love through me. It no longer became about God ’empowering me’ to live the godly live, it became about God living through me to live the godly life. It became about, to put it in a crude way, being possessed by God to love his possession: people.
Instead of life being one big battle against what seems to be a dualistic nature within me (it isn’t really, but more on that some other time) it suddenly made sense that the time through the wilderness of sin, even addictive sin (borrowing from the narrative of Israel in the wilderness) was something God has done to get rid of my unbelief and my reliance on myself and my work for my own sanctification and my own self-righteousness, and rely on Christ’s full work (not just his death, but his life, his birth, his resurrection) for my sanctification. As justification is by faith, sanctification is by faith, and so is missional living. As perfect love lives in and through me, my very heart is really being changed, and the change will eventually be completed in this life, as far as it’s possible for it to be done in this body of mine – and that ‘far as possible’ is very far indeed!
For in his incarnation, Jesus brought man and the divine together; in my life in Him, he brings me and the divine together. My life can look like his in his humanity here on earth. In his death, Jesus dispossessed Satan’s hold on man so that He could make us into his very own possession. In his resurrection, Jesus was victorious over death and sin, so that in my life – in this life – my intimate union with Him would bring the same into actual reality.
It all put scripture together in such a cohesive way. But also, it brought great peace and joy to me in ways I can’t fully translate onto paper. I finally realised one other thing: for many years I wondered why, after having the most amazing experiences with God that shortly afterwards I would sin in some of the worst ways. Wasn’t God’s presence supposed to sustain me? Only now did I realise that this conundrum had made me reject God’s presence because I could not believe, due to how my old theology framed my experience, that he really could fulfill the deepest desire of my heart that he himself seemed to give me when I was in his presence: holiness. God’s presence would make me deeply long to be like him and be with him, and the Bible confirmed that I should expect that, but it seemed that holiness was never something I could really have in this life – so why would I want to get into God’s presence only to get desires that will never be fulfilled until I die? God’s presence kept leading me into despair, not joy! So I had started to avoid his presence. Rather than get back into this conundrum I had secretly decided that I was far happier living on the fringes of his glorious love.
But now I realised I could have my desire. And my prayer changed to “Lord, give it all to me! I’ll have as much of you as I can possibly have in this life! Take me to the very fringes of what is possible in this life! To the very edge of how much I can have of your holy presence without dying!”
Because I realised that God, indeed, saves to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25). And my relationship with Christ, with myself, and with others has not been the same. A heart of worship returned to me. And, interestingly enough, so did my enjoyment of other things that I used to enjoy (such as music and nature and reading fiction).
If I could put it this way: I came back to the ordinary life. This has helped to deal with guilt and helping me to accept sin as normal to the human experience while, at the same time, knowing that a day will come when I will grow out of it because of the Holy Spirit’s work.
“God is love and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them. And as we live in God our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgement but we can face Him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world.” (1 John 4:15-17, NLT)
A journey of many, many years comes to a solid foundation to work from.
I don’t generally come to conclusions quickly when it comes to theology. It’s taken me years to decide where I sit on many things. And I’m fine with changing my mind, so I’m not very dogmatic. The subject of holiness, however, has probably been the central driving factor of most of my theological searching.
That might not be obvious when you look at what I’ve blogged about and written over the years. It may seem like I view the subject as an afterthought. That’s because, in the background, it’s been the “niggling factor” of my Christianity; the one piece of theology that has haunted my faith for over a decade; that has shot my faith into dizzying heights of joy and, in the very next instant, crushed it into the dark soil of despair.
The reason why is because so much of the truth of Jesus rides on this one fact: Can you, Jesus, sort out my inward sin? Those horrible thoughts… those temptations that are so easy to fall into… that little bit of jealousy… or that little bit of superiority. When you begin to realise just how sinful you are, despair is lurking around the corner – which is precisely why so many people, including Christian teachers and pastors etc., avoid the issue. These days, we sugar coat the topic with motivational talks, positive thinking, modern liberal-leaning theology, or hyper-grace hermeneutics.
When you realise that you’re pretty much incapable of sorting out your internal life – or that your capabilities only go so far – you have to either accept that this is life, or that some miracle need to happen to change it. But what does God promise? Does he promise the forgiveness of sins and that’s it? Does he promise the ability to sort it out? Does he want to sort it out by His power? And, to what degree will He sort it out?
I realise not everyone is a loser like me when it comes to holiness. There are some pretty strong people out there, even in my circle of friends. They battle with only the “little” sins, such as a bit of ambition (which they fight); a bit of gossip (which they fight); or just a bit of looking too long at a girl. But they’re able to keep themselves in check and never really move into big-sin zone. They don’t live their lives looking for affirmation from others (ambition and gossip) and they’re able to easily say no to pornography when temptation comes.
Me, not so much. I battled with pornography for practically a decade. I wanted to be a rock star and be a big deal. And I battled with depression and anxiety as a result. Depression has largely gone away in my life, anxiety hasn’t.
So what’s my point? My point is that it’s not until you struggle with the big sins, with the not-so-subtle ones, and you realise that despite all your strength and your desire to do what you know is better; and despite all your intentions; you still fall, badly (not just “a little”) that you start to seriously ask: Can Christ’s power save me from my sin?Not just forgive me; not just give me power to say no sometimes (or even most of the time); but really, truly, save me?
“Save” as in, well, SAVE. Bring me out of it. Or, rather, bring it out of me.
Does God promise rest from the endless, despairing battle with sin in this life? Or does rest only come when they put us six feet underground and talk about whether or not we loved enough in this life? These are the questions I think every Christian has to face sooner or later, and reconcile with the answers.
All my theological studies around this question led me to certain conclusions, and for the longest time my conclusion was that life will always be a mixture of victory and defeat and as long as you’re fighting against sin you will be OK.
I was reluctant to admit it to myself, but I found this conclusion unliveable. I tried to work it out positively. Martin Luther’s theology drew me as the most encouraging way of dealing with this – and so I eventually decided to write a book on it, to both help me put together my thoughts on holiness in a systematic way, and help the many others I know feel their Christian life is nothing but a slog and fight every day (or, at least, most days).
Once I decided to write the book (but hadn’t started) I – for some reason – gained an interest in John Wesley. I don’t know why. It was like something was drawing me there. I just felt I wanted to know more about the guy.
What I found out stunned me. But it didn’t convince me. I spoke to a few friends about it and came out thinking that his views on holiness seemed all rather strange. I came to the conclusion that Wesley was probably wrong – in fact, I realised that I could trace his theology to the hard-lined, spitting preacher, pentecostal law-holiness stuff many of us have been exposed to. This made me reject it.
But as I got my book going and got a few chapters in and needed to start addressing the scriptures in my book, I came across 1 Thessalonians 5:23. And it was there where I put my keyboard down and couldn’t write for months. Because, what I read there – this time, when I really read it and read it again, and again – didn’t make any sense at all. Yet, it sounded strangely familiar…
“One design you are to pursue to the end of time – the enjoyment of God in time and in eternity. Desire other things so far as they tend to this; love the creature, as it leads to the creator. But in every step you take, be this the glorious point that terminates your view. Let every affection, and thought and word, and action, be subordinate to this. Whatever you seek or shun, whatever you think, speak, or do, be it in order to your happiness in God, the sole end, as well as source, of your being.”
Through my many years as a Christian, I’ve found that this is the real crux, the real design, and the real goal of the Christian inward life. While we have many responsibilities and desires, it always leads back to this one thing – enjoying God, which is knowing Him, in this life and the life to come.
For many this is merely a hope. They believe they might only experience this in the life to come, thinking that any enjoyment of God in this life isn’t entirely possible, at least not consistently. For others, this hedonistic ideal turns them off; they feel that God has other things for us to do and pursue over and above our enjoyment of him, that enjoyment is a by-product but not the goal. I say, however, that everything else is a by-product of this one thing, this one goal, and it’s a desire we can have fulfilled in this life.
You don’t need to take my word for it. You can find it on the pages of Christian writing throughout the ages, including the Bible. But I’ll still need to qualify what I mean, so let’s get all the nonsense out of the way first.
What I don’t mean by “enjoying God”:
1. A health and wealth gospel
I believe the “prosperity gospel” is one of the saddest things in the church today. Even worse, it’s serious business in poorer countries and continents. In Africa it’s a really big thing and I hate it. It runs against the whole message of the Bible and Jesus, takes advantage of people, and simply isn’t true. It doesn’t produce good fruit and it doesn’t produce results. I’ve been there and it’s nonsense.
2. A selfish / self-absorbed / modern hedonist message
Enjoying God is the pathway to perfect love. Saying that enjoying God is the “central goal” of the Christian life is no more selfish than saying that worship is the central goal of the Christian life. What you enjoy the most in your life, or the thing you seek to enjoy above all other things, is what you worship.
But the word “worship” has come to mean many other things besides deep joy, love, peace and contentment in God and a life in the Holy Spirit. It’s come to mean, for many, a religion of works; or a liturgical ceremony; or a a goose-bumps experience while listening to great worship music. Sure, the word can mean these things, but worship is principally, and at its core, about making God our number one treasure in life, the person we enjoy being around the most, the person we and the ‘one thing’ (with no other way of putting it) that we love with “all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength” (Matthew 22:37).
3. A charismatic, mystical experience
I don’t mean to say that experience isn’t part of worship and the Christian life, but we don’t live for the experience, we live for God Himself. See, enjoying God is not about hype, it’s about a deep-seated contentment and joy that won’t go away, no matter what life brings. One may experience certain spiritual things which we may call ‘mystical’ (in a loose sense of the word) but these experiences are not the goal.
These are not the goal any more than my enjoyment of a cup of coffee is a goal. I enjoy coffee and, as a result, I make an effort to have a cup a day and enjoy it. I don’t force myself to enjoy it, I don’t have to convince myself of my desire for it, but I make the necessary space to enjoy it every day.
This is what I mean about enjoying God – you don’t have to make yourself enjoy Him – grit your teeth and use your willpower – but you make space to enjoy Him every day, and this is what worship and a life of worship principally is. The beauty is that this is all activated by the Spirit of God, who lives in us if we have faith in Jesus Christ. That leads us to the next bit.
What I do mean by “enjoying God” is:
1.A life in the Holy Spirit
God has given us His Holy Spirit to live in, not a religion or even a law. (Galatians 5:18 and many other scriptures.) But how do we “live by the Spirit”? I contend that this is primarily done through worship – the kind of worship that makes Jesus Christ the central treasure of the heart. That kind of worship is the kind that seeks to enjoy God, not just perform duties for God.
When asked what the “greatest commandment” is, Jesus answers in Matthew 22: 37 that it’s to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” See, it starts with the heart. Jesus says in Matthew 6:21 that, “Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.” Worship is about what we treasure above all other things – what the principle thing is in life that we take joy in, that we enjoy the most, that we spend our time, energy and thought pursuing.
We can’t make Jesus the only treasure of our heart without the Holy Spirit. The good news is, when you come to believe in Jesus, you’re given the Spirit of God, and He ignites a desire within you to worship Him and make Him your treasure. Now that we are able to worship in spirit and truth, we are able to continue in walking in the Spirit and growing in God’s grace.
2. It is a life lived unto God (holiness) – a life of perfect love
After stating the greatest commandment above, Jesus says in Matthew 22: 39 & 40 that, “…a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
It’s only through the first commandment to worship God above all – to make him your joy – that you are able to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:11) and therefore fulfil the second. You ‘fulfil’ it through a process of maturing. Living in this space is what if often termed a “holy” life or a “sanctified” life. It’s a life that’s about growing towards having perfect love to / for others.
The Bible is full of promises and exhortations that say that, because we have the Holy Spirit after we’ve put our faith in Jesus, we can grow into this ‘perfect love’ so wonderfully that we can actually become mature in it (Ephesians 4:11). In other words, we don’t have to live our entire lives battling with sin but can grow in our sanctification to such a degree that sin is no longer our default option but perfect love is.
1 Thessalonians 5:23
“23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Corinthians 7:1
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
3. It is worship
As stated many times above, ‘enjoying God’ is about worship. What we desire the most, and what we seek to take joy in, is what we worship. So it’s not contrary to worship to say that enjoying God is something we must desire, or that enjoying God is the one design we are to pursue, because this is what worship actually looks like.
4. It is contentment (not hype)
The kind of enjoyment I speak of here is the settled, deep contented joy that comes from being in God’s presence and living in the Holy Spirit. It’s not the kind of ‘joy’ we see often advertised at ‘worship experiences’ or ‘charismatic revivals’. I’m not discounting these things per se, but I am talking about something that goes beyond momentary experiences and becomes a lifestyle, a permanent fixture in our hearts, a permanent state of our souls.
This way of life is not only one that you can find throughout Christian history from writers, pastors, teachers and leaders of all backgrounds, but it’s one you will find firmly placed all over the Bible.
John 15:11 ESV
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Psalm 16:11 ESV
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Romans 15:13 ESV
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Psalm 19:8 ESV
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
Philippians 4:4 ESV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
What is God’s glory, exactly? What do (some) Christians mean when they talk about the ‘glory realm’?
Well, I think for a lot of Christians God’s glory looks something like a laser show, metaphorically speaking. For them it’s about bright flashing lights, angels appearing, the skies cracking open — THAT’s God’s glory for them. It’s all about the eyes — it’s all about seeing something amazing.
But Christianity can not and should never be relegated to that. This isn’t a laser show. This is about hearts changing. The fruits of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self-control. When people talk about God’s glory why don’t they ever talk about that? Is God’s glory about seeing something amazing, experiencing something out-of-this-world? Or is it in the simple day-to-day reality of becoming a person that reflects Jesus — a person who produces those fruits in a real rubber-hits-the-road kind of way.
A lot of people get stuck in hype rather than reality. Flashing lights are cool and all but they last only a moment. The Spirit producing His fruit is a lifetime thing. God’s glory is in the quiet un-hyped transformation of hearts. I recall Elijah’s experience when there was an earthquake and a forceful wind — yet the Lord was not in them. Rather, he was in the small, still voice. (1 Kings 19.)
Perhaps the reason for this disparity is when we don’t understand how glorious God’s creation actually is. The earth is glorious, and so are we — God’s creation, made in His image. Heaven and Earth met in Jesus when he walked this planet and now meet in us, by His Spirit. And, surprise surprise, most of that isn’t a big light show.
I believe that non-Christians (please excuse the term) can receive forgiveness from God for sins and wrongdoings just by simply asking, if they want forgiveness because they’re sorry for those sins.
If you aren’t a Christian you may think that God only forgives people who lead a religious life, if they try hard enough. Consequently, you might think that God only forgives Christians, as they lead a religious life. This might not make sense to you – surely God can accept you for who you are?
Well, you’re right about that — he does. Christianity is not about leading a religious life in order to get God to forgive us for things we’ve done wrong. God does accept you for who you are, but sins are not necessarily who you are, and sins are sins — they do need to be forgiven. We know this in our own relationships with our parents.
Luke 24: 46, 47 says this (Jesus speaking): “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations…“
The Christian Gospel is good news (“Gospel” means good news in ancient Greek). God forgives all who are sorry and ask for forgiveness.
But then it goes further than that. If you put all of your trust (faith) in Jesus you are given eternal life, effectively ‘saved’.
This is probably more for the theologians now, but anyway it’s worth a mention. I think God always forgives those who repent. That’s the first step. The next step is to put complete trust in Jesus for your ‘salvation’ — that you will have eternal life.
Non-Christians can ask God for forgiveness because of Jesus, and get it. But they only enter into eternal life when they believe in faith, which is when they become Christians.
Creating this difference between those that ask for forgiveness and those that believe is perhaps not necessary, and the Bible doesn’t always provide a clear distinction. Yet, at the same time, it can help us to simplify our message of good news.
Forgiveness is for non-Christians. We might complicate the message by adding “believe Jesus is Lord” to it at first, without saying to guys, “Look, you can be forgiven today for your past sins. Great! But what will you do about the future? Believe in Jesus as your saviour and the future is covered, you can enter eternal life and receive the rewards of God.”
John the Baptist preached a message of repentance, and had a baptism of repentance. Jesus’ message is more than that, and his baptism is one that enters us into eternal life. John the Baptist was called to prepare the way. Repentance and forgiveness perhaps comes first, then people must decide if they want to go further — if they want to accept Jesus as saviour and enter eternal life.
I believe in once saved always saved, but I also believe that there could be a distinction with those who ‘believe’ and those who just want forgiveness. Perhaps this is why the early church seemed to have only allowed those who were baptised in the name of Jesus into their worship services, and only those were allowed to take part in the Eucharist (communion). The non-baptised weren’t allowed in to all these services, but were allowed in prayer services or other types.
Baptism is a sign of not just repentance but entering into the life of Jesus. That’s what Romans 6 indicates. (See also 1 Peter 3:21.) Effectively, it’s a sign of our acceptance of Jesus as saviour, Lord, and our decision to become a disciple, to follow The Way, amidst some other things.
This is just something I’m developing and thinking about at the moment.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately of my identity in Christ and how who God says I am in Christ Jesus reflects on how I think about myself, what I believe about myself, and how I therefore react based on what I believe.
The Holy Spirit makes some pretty big statements about who we are in Christ in the Scriptures. Colossians 3:3 says that we have died and our life is hidden with Christ in God. It is making a statement of an event that has occured (past tense) for those who have believed in Jesus, and then afterwards it goes on to talk about the things we used to do (sexual immorality, covetousness, anger etc.) and then the things we ought to ‘put on’ now that we are in Christ Jesus (compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiving others, and much more).
What are the Scriptures doing? They are telling us who we are and who we were. It does the same in Romans and Galatians. See Galatians 5:22, for example, where the fruits of the Spirit are listed. The Scriptures talk about how Christians are filled with the Spirit — and what are the fruits this Spirit produces? Goodness, kindness, gentleness, self-control, love, joy, and faithfulness.
Colossians 2: 6 says:
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Very often, and perhaps rightly so, we’re trying to walk with Jesus rather than walk in Jesus. But we’re told to walk in Him, not just with Him. Our lives are hidden in Christ in God. We’re covered by the blood of Jesus, so God looks on us as righteous (see the book of Romans).
So what does God see when he looks on us? He sees us as who we are in Christ. He sees us as good, patient, loving, kind, gentle, self-controlled people. That is our real identity.
I, as much as anyone, know of the tension between our real identity and our old identity that still creeps up. But just because I struggle to live up to my actual and real identity doesn’t mean that that isn’t my actual identity.
Have you ever thought and said to yourself, “I am a good person. I am a gentle person. I am a patient person. I am a kind person. I am a faithful person. I am a loving person.”? It’s difficult to do that, it’s difficult to believe that, it sometimes feels unrealistic to talk about ourselves that way, but God thinks like that about us. Because we’re in Christ.
A son is still a son even if he struggles to be one. Nothing can take away his sonship. His identity is still ‘son’ regardless of anything.
That this is a our true identity is nothing short of a miracle, of course. But that’s the point. God has done a miracle.
Many people are quite aware of the Christian doctrine of the Fall of Man, although I’m sure they’re also confused on the details that matter.
I was watching the movie Taking Pelham 1-2-3 this last weekend and a line of dialogue struck out to me, probably because I was considering this whole thing of us being a fallen race.
In a conversation with John Travolta (the bad guy), Denzel Washington (the good guy) asks him whether he is Catholic. After a series of conversations Travolta responds by saying, “a good Catholic knows no one is innocent.”
And this – that no one is innocent – is a fact. We are all guilty. We are all corrupt. But we’re not pure evil. We are made in God’s image, every single one of us, and that means there is a pure goodness in all of us that hasn’t been taken away. It’s just that we’re bent. We’re sick. But we aren’t pure wickedness with no goodness in it at all.
Somehow we have to hold the fact that we’re made in God’s pure, holy, utterly blessed image and that we are a fallen, bent and corrupt race in tension. We can’t go extreme on one or the other, or we lose the plot.
We can’t talk about our fallenness all the time, and we can’t talk about how pure and wonderful we are all the time. The former makes us obsessed with guilt and death, the latter is unrealistic to our struggles and leads to a Godless spirituality.
See, a bent piece of steel is still a piece of steel. We are a bent race that was made in God’s image. That doesn’t mean we’re not still made in God’s image. It means we’re bent. Our flesh isn’t evil, it’s bent. And through Jesus we slowly become unbent. Healed. And one day he will give us new flesh and bone that is no longer corrupt. Awesome!
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”
We all have certain temptations and struggles that come to us again and again and again, and just never seem to go away. They could be anything – sexual temptation, the temptation to get angry, the temptation to drink, the temptation to be lazy, or anything else.
At least, I do – in particular there is one kind of temptation I struggle with constantly. It just never goes away. I just never grow out of this weakness. No matter what line of thought I subscribe to, how much I read the Bible or pray, where I hang out, what I do and say — nothing seems to take away this temptation. It’s a weakness I’ve got that I have to struggle with almost every day. I have to overcome it almost every day. I have to prepare myself to face it the next day, almost every day.
This constant struggle is a great suffering. I’m sure that many reading this – or all – have something similar. I imagine Paul’s ‘thorn in his side’ (2 Cor 12:7-10) might have been some sort of temptation that God would never take away from him. He had to endure it, for God’s grace was sufficient to endure it, and God’s joy is far more abundant when we endure it and overcome it.
I’m sure Jesus was tempted when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane (pictured above), praying that perhaps the cup of His suffering would pass from Him. Then, of course, He prays that God’s will be done and not His own will (Luke 22:42), and by doing so He goes to the cross willingly.
What is being shown to us here? It appears God will not always take away temptation and suffering. He may let it stay – for the rest of our lives even – and we may have to bear this cross, this suffering, for the rest of our lives.
Is that encouraging? Well, the Lord is treating us as sons. He is disciplining us, He is creating the fruit of self-control within us. Secondly, He promises all over the Scriptures that there will be great reward. (Self-control is also a reward, and I believe there are other rewards too.) See the promises given to those who overcome in Revelation 2 and 3. God is not unjust – he will pour out His joy and rewards now and later to those who overcome. But we must overcome.
This turns overcoming into an opportunity as much as a suffering. And, of course, His grace is sufficient and we have the Holy Spirit who enables us to overcome. As hard as the suffering under the temptation is, the rewards for overcoming far outweigh whatever the actual sin may be and the brief period of suffering we endure.
“We live in a unique culture….We are the first culture to be surprised by suffering.” -Tim Keller. (Thanks to AntRist for that quote.)
Grace is not attainable – this is evident by the Gospel. You don’t deserve grace, and you don’t attain it in some means. Grace can only be received.
Likewise, is holy living attainable? Is the power of God to live holy, and live as Jesus, attainable? Is healing attainable?
We have been led to believe, through many teachings, that it in fact is. While people differ between whether perfection is attainable in this life (some say yes, some say no) perhaps the entire premise is wrong. Perfection is NOT attainable. The power of God is NOT attainable. Healing is NOT attainable. Holy living is NOT attainable.
It is only receivable.
And that makes things very different. That changes a heck of a lot of stuff.