Overcoming Legalistic Worldliness

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Victory over sin has been a fearsome challenge and wearisome burden to misinformed saints throughout Christian history. The word “saint,” for example, was bestowed by the medieval church upon a select few who were supposed to be supremely Christ-like and Spirit-filled. That dogma endures today—not only in the Church of Rome but many Protestant denominations. But in the New Testament, “saint” simply signifies those who have set themselves apart from Adam’s old humanity to embrace and live out their new identity in Christ.

This insight empowers us to overcome our addictions and dysfunctions, along with whatever else partakes of Adam’s old humanity. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

So, having died in Christ’s death and risen in His resurrection, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:4,5). No longer need we escape our pain in addictions, for Jesus bore our sorrows to the cross and now by grace we reign with Him. All this is possible when we identify ourselves with Christ’s historic death and resurrection.

In setting us free from of the power of sin within ourselves, our position in Christ also releases us from vulnerability to letting other people control our faith. Every church seems to have well-intentioned, strong-opinionated members who feel called to be a spiritual “Dr. Phil,” the TV advice guru. They canonize their convictions on issues of diet and lifestyle, telling everyone what to do, sometimes even seizing control of a cowardly congregation and getting rid of uncooperative pastors.

This was going on in Paul’s day. His advice?

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’… according to human precepts and teachings?” (Colossians 2:20-22).

Paul is saying: Remember that you are risen with Christ, so your life is not in this world. Then don’t let the principles of the world control you. Worldliness is not only fooling around with sin; it’s also at the other extreme—legalism, which is coercive rather than liberating. People who control your conscience are of this world. “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23).

Taliban religion comes on strong, but its strictures are useless in changing the heart. Terrorists of the testimonies may cast guilt and shame on bad health habits, but that doesn’t help people lose weight. They can scold us, but they can’t transport us to heaven’s sanctuary, the only place for grace to help in time of need. Human rules and self-help programs are a poor substitute for the power of Christ’s resurrection, which is ours only when we embrace our victorious new humanity in Christ.

Goodbye to the old man

God’s formula for victory over sin is so basic that we tend to overlook it: Put off the old humanity, and put on the new. Such “truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21-24, NKJ).

Adam’s old humanity is a dirty old man who makes us lust for sin. As one exasperated person put it: “Everything I want to do is either illegal, immoral or fattening!” God’s solution is not to argue with the old man of sin but to replace him with our new man—literally, our new humanity in Christ.

Most adult Americans and Canadians dearly want to lose some weight. Many shame themselves, trying to resolve their food addiction and shape up. This may help with a manic-style crash diet, but it works against a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle—which is the only sure way to solve weight problem, and many other maladies. Part of healthy living is hopeful thinking. And this we have in Christ alone: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:13, NIV).

Did you notice that the power of God’s Holy Spirit is associated with hope, joy and peace? There’s so much talk about the Holy Spirit, but where is His power? Nowhere to be seen in our good intentions, fierce diets and strict promises.

As pardon for sin comes through the historic death of Jesus, so power over sin comes through the historic event of His resurrection.

As pardon for sin comes through the historic death of Jesus, so power over sin comes through the historic event of His resurrection. This is the basis on which we receive the Holy Spirit—not our feverish attempts to follow the right formulas or even claim the right promises. We can fast all day and scold ourselves in prayer all night, but which of us by taking anxious thought can add anything to our spiritual stature? “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

There’s no substitute for the real deal. When we struggle with sin—whether overeating, a pornography habit, an addiction to gossip or timidity, and everything else—the solution is not trash talking ourselves but reminding ourselves who we really are.

We are sons and daughters of God through our new humanity in Jesus. This is the truth. It’s even how we overcome lying:

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. … Christ is all and in all” (Col 3:9-11, NKJ).

Living in Adam’s old humanity is living a lie, because Jesus is all in all as our new Adam. So let us “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

Excerpted from Martin Weber’s book, God Was There: True Stories of a Police Chaplain (Pacific Press, 2009).

Note: This article has been republished with permission from outlookmag.org.

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mw_feb2011Martin Weber, DMin, served as pastor, editor, author, evangelist and police chaplain across North America and taught pastors on five continents with the General Conference Ministerial Association. He is currently the Seventh-day Adventist product manager for Faithlife/Logos Research Systems in Bellingham, Washington. Visit his website in defense of fundamental Adventist beliefs: www.SDA4me.com.

This Place Is the Biggest Mess!

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I recently went through a fire safety training where the demonstrator talked about how much of a mess it can cause when discharging a fire extinguisher. Of course, nobody wants to have to clean up a huge mess, but it’s even worse to have nothing salvageable to clean up because everything was completely consumed in a fire. In conclusion, he said, “When you have to choose between a fire and a mess, choose the mess!” To spare us from the wages of sin, which is death, to spare us from hell’s fire, we serve a God who chose the mess. He chose the bloody, messy cross, and although it’s been a mess, although we were a mess, He took the nails. He conquered death. He chose the mess!

After revisiting a detailed description of the physical death of Jesus Christ, I remain convinced that Golgotha was a terribly messy place and that anyone physically involved in the death of Christ left covered in the same blood that paid their price. Those committing the worst crime against Jesus were the most covered in His precious blood. It’s amazing how the worst circumstances and worst offenses make grace all the more incomprehensible and all the more invaluable. As Christ hung on the cross, He begged for forgiveness of those same, unrepentant sinners who were yet causing His death. They were covered and didn’t even know it, covered in His blood, and covered by His grace.

I’m continually struck by the messiness of grace. Grace refuses to be bound, refuses to be neatly packaged, refuses to land on just me or just you. It’s messy, overflowing onto everyone, getting all over everything. The same grace that is enough for you and me is sufficient for the most heinous of criminals, the most wretched of souls. Grace loves the people you can’t stand. No matter what you’ve done and no matter what’s been done to you, God’s grace covers you, covers the people you’ve harmed, and covers the people who’ve harmed you most. This comment is not at all to diminish the reality of suffering you may have experienced or the scars you may still bear, but those who’ve wounded you the deepest are living under the same grace by which you stand.

The most concise description of grace is: unmerited favor. We don’t deserve it. There’s nothing we can do to earn grace, and bless God, nothing we can do to be unworthy of it. Grace refuses to have an exclusive target, yet is determined to never miss its intended mark. A friend recently wrote a blog post, Grace Like Snow, and I had the thought, “Indeed, grace is like snow.” It’s not neat; it flutters on down, falling on everything around. What a mess the cross of our Lord surely was. What a mess the grace of our Lord surely is. It gets everywhere!

There’s a place exhuming every depth
Climbing every height, spanning every depth
And this place has covered every cost
Still covers the saved, still saves the lost

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This Sabbath, Celebrate Grace!

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Got pulled over by a cop for a traffic offense? You were guilty. You knew the penalty, the punishment. But wait. The officer turns to you, advises you to be mindful about traffic laws, and lets you off the hook. Just like that. Has it happened to you? It happened to me. If it happened to you, you were a recipient of mercy. You were let off the hook, when you didn’t deserve.

Mercy is when you don’t receive what you deserve: punishment.

You may not have received mercy for civil law breaking, but when you gave your heart to Jesus, you met the God ‘rich in mercy’ (Ephesians 2:4). He showed you mercy when you didn’t deserve. Paul wrote:

“He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5, NLT).

He saved us because of his mercy. Instead of punishing and giving us what we deserve (Romans 6:23), He saved us from the punishment. Isaiah said it this way:

“He took the punishment we deserved, and this brought us peace” (Isaiah 53:5, ERV).

Mercy is not cheap. It is expensive because it costed His Son’s life to set us free.

Mercy is good news, but wait till you hear the other word. Grace. Grace is much more than mercy.

How so? Because mercy is not receiving what you deserve: punishment. But grace is when you receive what you don’t deserve: reward.

The prodigal son received mercy when the father accepted him as a son. Grace when he threw him a party.

The thief on the cross received mercy when he experienced forgiveness. Grace when Jesus promised Him paradise.

We received mercy when God saved us from the punishment for our sins. Grace when He gave us eternal life (1 John 5:11); made us sons and daughters (John 1:12), and reserved an inheritance for us for eternity (1 Peter 1:4).

Mercy and Grace are amazing! That’s why we sing that famous hymn Amazing Grace, and have many hymns praising God’s grace.

Not only is grace amazing. It is also the central theme in the Bible. It is about a gracious God who pursues us, came for us, cared for us, and coming again for us.

Note a few things the Bible says about grace:

Grace is God’s gift to me: “All of us need to be made right with God by His grace, which is a free gift through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:24, NCV)
Grace is for everyone: “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11, NLT).
Grace comes through Jesus: “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17, NIV).
Grace is received by faith: “God saved you by his grace when you believed.” (Ephesians 2:8, NLT).
Grace is God’s gift for all eternity: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Grace is God’s gift of forgiveness: “But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:15).
Grace is God’s power to change: “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16).

Yes, grace changes people. The apostle made it clear that the gospel of His grace and mercy is intended to turn people to God and from their sins (Romans 2:4). Grace not only forgives, it changes, transforms, rewires everyone who comes under its power.

There is more. When grace happens, gratitude happens. ‘And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory’ (2 Corinthians 4:15)

You can live a life of gratitude to God, not because of anything you did, but because of what He did for you. If you have put your complete trust in His Son to save you, He says He has given you life (you were born again), and has saved you:

“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Like to thank him for His mercy and grace? Here’s what you can do:

  • Make a list of your grace and mercy experiences.
  • Talk with God over the list, and thank Him for each blessing
  • Share your experiences with your friends, and spread the joy
  • Keep the list, add to it and return to it when you need to remember His goodness

Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His grace!

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John Mendis is a member of the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist church in Sri Lanka and a financial consultant by profession. He runs his own blogsite at everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com

God’s Law Is Holier, and His Grace Greater, Than We Think

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We often describe God’s law with these words. Perfect. Good. Holy. Righteous. But there is another word the Bible uses. Broad. The psalmist wrote:

“Your commandment is exceedingly broad” (New American Standard Bible, Psalm 119:96).

For Christians, there are at least three implications for God’s law being broad. First, God’s law is broad in the sense that it captures not just your actions, but also your attitudes, and affections. Why is this significant? Pharisees thought no sin was committed until you killed a person (Matthew 5:21-22), and committed the act of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28), but Jesus said your attitudes and affections matter. Understanding that God’s law is broad meaning it includes not just the letter, but also the spirit, help us to relate accurately toward God’s law, and avoid having a narrow view of it’s requirements like the Pharisees.

Second, God’s law is broad in the sense that it captures everything to do with our relationship to God, and everything to do with our relationship to people. Jesus said that this broad law of relating to God and people is summarized in two greatest commandments. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

From the story of the Rich Young Ruler, we understand that he failed to see what love for your neighbour obligated him to do. Here’s how the story goes:

In Matthew 19, Jesus told the Rich Young Ruler, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” The young ruler responded: “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” The Rich Young Ruler thought he perfectly kept the commandments of God, but Jesus said it wasn’t so. He failed to see that love your neighbour as yourself obligated him to assist the poor and needy according to his financial ability.

The Bible says there will be people in the last days who were satisfied and convinced that they kept the law of Christ, when in fact they didn’t. This will be God’s reply to such people:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:41-45).

We may keep the Sabbath, never take God’s name in vain, steal, kill, but we would still fall short of God’s broad law of love if we neglect other moral duties towards God and man that is revealed in His word. I cite a few of God’s moral commands toward our neighbour that are part of God’s broad law: accept one another (Rom 15:7), bear with one another (Col 3:13), serve one another (Gal 5:13), value one another (Philp 2:3), encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11), pray for one another (James 5:16), forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), help the needy (Proverbs 22:9), show no favoritism (James 2:9).

James stated that if we offend even in one point such as discriminating or showing favoritism against our neighbour, we break the whole royal law.

“If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:8-9).

It’s this broad standard and high moral standard of Christ’s law that prompts some to say it is impossible for man to attain this righteousness this side of heaven. True, attaining this righteousness is impossible for man. The disciples understood this enormity of law’s requirement after Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler.

“When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25).

The third implication of God’s law being broad is that it is impossible for man by himself to meet this high moral standard of God’s righteousness. That’s why, God says, the right actions we produce by ourselves are in fact filthy (Isaiah 64:6). Further, He says all have sinned and are guilty of breaking His law of love, and deserving death (Rom 3:23).

So what does this all mean? How do we attain this broad standard of God’s righteousness, if we need this righteousness to live with God forever? The gospel or good news is that we don’t attain or earn this righteousness, because we can’t. We receive righteousness of God on the basis of faith. Paul wrote:

“…and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:9).

We receive the righteousness of God apart from the law, meaning it comes from another place; it comes from Jesus Himself. It’s His righteousness. Paul also wrote:

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” (Romans 3:21)

Paul also says this righteousness we receive is witnessed by the law meaning God’s law witnesses this righteousness of God, and is fully satisfied that it is in harmony with itself.

So, we receive righteousness of God through faith in Christ, apart from the Law.

Two things happen to us when we receive this righteousness of God according to the Bible.

First, when we repent of breaking His law and inability to keep it by ourselves and trust Jesus to save us, Jesus comes into our life, and He covers us with His righteousness. We are counted as if we were perfectly righteous, and we are declared innocent completely before God and His law. We call this justification – God declaring us righteous.

“But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners” (Romans 4:5, New Living Translation)

Second, when Jesus came into our life, He took residence in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Paul said it this way, “I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). When Jesus lives in me, He will come out in my actions, attitudes, and affections. This way, Jesus helps us to keep the broad requirements of His law (Romans 8:4) (and avoid the mistakes of Pharisees, and rich young ruler etc.). In other words, as I trust Jesus daily, He will guide me and tell me where to go, what to do, who to help, by giving me the power to obey His law and put my faith into action; and I will become more and more like Jesus. We call this sanctification – God making us righteous.

Praise God for Jesus! All this (justification and sanctification) was made possible because Jesus took the punishment for our sins (Isaiah 53:5) on the cross. He took the punishment for our sins in which he had no share, so we can be saved by His righteousness which we have no share (Rom 5:19).

Let’s summarize what we learned so far. God’s law is holy, perfect, good but it is also broad. It captures not only our actions, but also our attitudes, and affections. It encompasses all the moral duties and commands stated in God’s word and deals with our relationship to God and man. Its standard is impossible for man to meet; our righteousness is like filthy garments.

The gospel or good news we receive righteousness of God on the basis of faith. When we place our faith in His finished work on the cross, which is, Jesus took away our sins on the cross, we are counted as if we were perfectly righteous. In God’s plan, there is more. God wants us to be like Jesus. When Jesus lives in us, and we trust Him, He helps us to do the right thing and bear fruits of righteousness (Philp. 1:11).

Praise God for the gospel! Apart from Christ we are condemned, but with Him we are righteous.

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John Mendis is a member of the Shiloh Seventh-day Adventist church in Sri Lanka and a financial consultant by profession. He runs his own blogsite at everlasting-gospel.blogspot.com

Christ is Enough, Served Plain.

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My husband likes bold flavors; so do I. Ever since I started making burgers at home — with peppers, onions, garlic, all that great stuff mixed right in — I can barely stomach the bland burger joints. But, if a burger joint is my only option, it has to be covered in all sorts of extras to bump up the flavor — pickles, onions, sauces, etc. Meanwhile, when I make burgers at home, my husband refuses to put much of anything on them because he says it messes up the big, bold flavors already there. He wants it served plain. That’s how I view the gospel. It’s big, and bold, and adding other things just messes it up. The gospel, served plain, is enough. Christ, alone, is enough. I want to be constrained to this one thing: Jesus Christ, and that Christ crucified.

 

So often we Christians set forth with behavior modification plans, seeming to believe that our goal is to correct the minutia of each others’ behaviors. We even seem to spend more time arguing doctrinal beliefs with professed believers of God than introducing a Risen Savior to a dying world. That just messes up the flavor. Lift Christ, exalt Christ, magnify Christ, point to a crucified, risen, and returning Savior! Heart Check: If the people we’re engaging don’t gain a better glimpse of a crucified Christ, or have a richer experience with a Risen Lord, or yearn more deeply for a returning Savior, what have we really gained?

 

Live like somebody died for you!

Policing and modifying others’ behaviors won’t teach them of a crucified Christ and won’t coax them into relationship with Him. Exemplify Him who was reviled but didn’t respond with contempt. Live like somebody died for you! Cry out for mercy and forgiveness for those who are hurting (crucifying) yu! Endure suffering so that those who don’t know Christ may come to know the power of His cross and resurrection. “If we can awaken an interest in men’s minds that will cause them to fix their eyes on Christ, we may step aside, and ask them only to continue to fix their eyes upon the Lamb of God. They thus receive their lesson.” [Ellen G. White, SDA Bible Commentary, Vol. 6, p. 1113

 

Likewise, the message, “Jesus is coming soon,” should never be used as a foreboding omen, but as a joyous proclamation that the same Christ who literally loves us to death is returning for us. As Ellen G. White noted, the shortness of time ought not be urged as an incentive to seek Christ. It savors of selfishness. Is it necessary that the terrors of the day of God be held before us to compel us through fear to right action? This ought not to be. Jesus [alone] is attractive. [TMK, p. 320] Guilt, shame, fear, etc. are never sustainable motivators for healthy relationships (with God or man).

 

Why do we insist on telling Christ He’s not enough?

The only thing we need to hammer home is the message of Christ and His unfailing, unrelenting love. I know many want to insist we must have standards, and we must be a peculiar people, but I promise you His love is enough. His mercy, His grace, His peace, His sacrifice is enough. The message of the cross is forever enough. I know our legalism and desire to feel secure in the framework of rules will have us rebutting, “We have to uphold a standard.” But, Christ IS the standard. The grace dispensed by our crucified Lord will forever be the highest standard to which we could ever aspire! Heart Check: Why do we insist on telling Christ He’s not enough?

 

I’ll leave you with another favorite excerpt from Ellen G. White’s writings quoted in Evangelism (p. 272). “There are many who try to correct the life of others by attacking what they consider are wrong habits. They go to those whom they think are in error, and point out their defects… [However,] those who seek to correct others should present the attractions of Jesus. They should talk of His love and compassion, present His example and sacrifice, reveal His Spirit…There is something richer to speak of. Talk of Christ, and when the heart is converted, everything that is out of harmony with the Word of God will drop off.” Although specifically referencing others’ dress, she was talking about the work Christ does in the hearts of men to help their behaviors reflect their relationship with Him. Adding anything else to the work Christ does in each person just messes up the flavor. Christ is enough, served plain.

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