March, 2012


17
Mar 12

The Believer’s Nature

As I have already shared, the past several months, I have been reading the Scripture with a specific question in mind, “Who does God say I am? Who is the ‘new me’?” I have shared my decision to believe what I read in Scripture, rather than merely reading what I believe.

I recognize that what I am about to share may be controversial to some and may be misunderstood by others. However, I do not write to be controversial; I have a growing passion for the person of Jesus Christ to be revealed through His body. The Lord has shown me the folly of my own way of thinking, and I have a new desire for everything that I share to be judged by the Word of God. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, and I need to change. It’s really that simple. I desire to be like the Bereans who searched Scripture to see if the things they heard were really truly, and I challenge you to do the same.

With that introduction, let me cut to the chase. In regard to our identity in Christ, I have been asking this simple question, “Do we have a sin nature?” Regardless of the theological and doctrinal answers I had received to that question, the impression that I had received from much of the teaching I’d heard had implied (and sometimes outrightly affirmed) an ongoing struggle with the sin nature.

Because of this, if I will be completely honest, it was difficult for me to even visit this question. If I say my nature isn’t to sin, is it not pride? If I visit this question, will I create some kind of faith that allows total lawlessness because it denies our capacity to sin? The true question, of course, is simply, “Is this concept Biblical?”

As I read Romans, I realized that Paul went to great lengths to persuade us that we died. What he means…we’re dead! If I’m dead, it means that the “old me” is dead, gone, and buried–because that’s what happens to dead people. The “old me” was crucified with Christ, and a “new me” rose with him. The “old me” was under legal obligation to sin, but he’s dead, so I’m not under obligation. The “old me” is not something I have to kill; it’s something that happened on the cross 2000 years ago. In fact, because this is our reality, Paul tells us to consider ourselves as being dead to sin! This means that we need to change our thinking to believe that we are dead to sin. The “old me” is dead, along with its bent towards sin, and the “new me” is alive to Christ.

The question naturally follows, “If I’m dead to sin, why do I not always feel like it?” However, we can ask this question differently, “If the Word of God does not match my experience, which do I believe?” If the Word of God says I’m dead to sin, it means that I’m dead to sin. If we believe that we have a sin nature, we will live as if we have a sin nature. The trouble with believing that we have a sin nature is that it keeps us in bondage to sin. How can I get free from sin when it is part of my nature? And is that not the reason we died with Christ, because we were fundamentally broken and could not please God? However, if we believe that we are truly dead to sin, we will live as though we are dead to sin, and we will live free from it–because Jesus really did die to set us free from the control of sin!

I have heard many people quote Romans 7:15, which says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” At first glance, it appears that perhaps Paul is saying that he has a sin nature. However, as we look at the context, we see that he is describing us before Christ. The law that was given is a spiritual law, but those who are of the flesh (non-spiritual) cannot fulfill a spiritual law. In fact, he sets the context of this passage with verse 14, “I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” In other words, you can embrace verse 15, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate,” only if you embrace the previous verse that you are of the flesh, sold under sin. When Paul wrote this, was he really confessing that he was of the flesh and sold under sin? And if this is what Paul meant, why did he continue in Romans 8 by thanking God for condemning sin in the flesh through Jesus Christ? How can this tension continue if God has taken care of the underlying problem?

I have heard a second explanation, that if we must die daily, implying that if we don’t, our old self will resurrect. I can find two passages possibly supporting this. In 1 Corinthians 15:31, Paul proclaims, “I die every day!” However, Paul is not talking about dying to sin. In the previous verse, he talks about being in physical danger every hour, and in the following verse he talks about the beasts of Ephesus. This concept is in reference to Jesus’ words in Luke 9, where he instructs us to take up our cross daily. This is in the context of Him telling His disciples that He must suffer and must face persecution, and I personally believe Jesus’ intent was that we not shrink back from facing suffering or persecution.

I have heard a third explanation for this, that we are “positionally sanctified” and “progressively sanctified”. I understand that we grow in faith and knowledge of our Lord, and I understand that not everyone’s spiritual journey continues at the same rate. However, my concern is that our belief in progressive sanctification keeps us from experiencing the fullness of what God has already done. If Scripture teaches that it’s normal for us to continually battle something we call a sin nature, I am willing to embrace that. However, that’s not what I read. What I read is that we are not under obligation to sin; and if we are not under obligation, why would we live under it? No matter what our experience, we must believe what God says about us. As we embrace what He says, our experience will follow. If it is what God has spoken, it means it is truth and reality. To live according to that is to live in reality.

The issue of a sin nature is not merely an intellectual issue. It is an intensely practical issue. Our beliefs drive our actions. If we believe that our nature is sinful, we have no way of escaping the control of sin, because it is part of who we are. We will continue to fight with something that Jesus dealt with 2000 years ago. If we believe that we are dead to sin and alive to Christ, we will live free from its grip and control.

As a final disclaimer, I am not saying that we cannot sin. Adam and Eve sinned before the fall, and we have the option to obey sin and become its slaves. Though we have the choice, we are under no obligation!

I recognize that this discussion opens a plethora of additional questions. As I said, I do not intend to argue or invoke controversy. I only desire the Word of God to be my ultimate authority, and I want to allow what He says to dictate my life, not my own opinions or experiences!

Soli Deo gloria.


12
Mar 12

Experiencing Truth

Here is another simple concept that has been reshaping the way that I live: “God wants our experience to match truth.”

I have two examples.

First, the truth is that God loves me. God wants me not only to know it in my mind, but He wants me to know it in my heart. Because He is a real God, He wants me to not only know in my mind that He loves me, but He wants me to experience His love.

Second, the truth is that God is always present. He does not merely want me to know that intellectually, but He wants His truth to define my experience. When God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” His heart is for me to know His presence. When God says that I am His temple, His heart is for me to know His indwelling presence. He does not just want it to be in my mind, but He wants me to experience His presence.

I could give a hundred more examples, because this truth applies to every facet of God.

Am I now reducing Christianity to merely a pursuit of an “experience”? Absolutely not! Some of us have gotten scared because of people who seem almost drunk with a desire for some of kind of “experience”, and in their pursuit, they have lost sight of truth. Yes, we must learn from their failures, but we can’t let their failures keep us bound in fear! We must pursue God, and in our pursuit of Him, we must pursue His truth. And we must allow Him and His truth to dictate our experience. 

Whenever we separate truth and experience, we end up with an intellectual gospel that is merely about ideas and theology but is void of power to change lives. I have seen young people who, having grown up in the church, leave searching for more–sometimes desperately seeking God in hunger for more and sometimes completely disillusioned with what the church offered. These people are not looking for more ideas or better theology; they are looking for the living God.

How can we come to this place of experiencing God’s truth?

Jesus said we must come to Him as little children. It is as simple as coming to our Father like a little child, crawling up into His lap, looking up into His eyes, and telling Him, “I believe you.” It is not by our own effort; it is not something we earn. It is simply because He has spoken it, it is truth, and we believe what He says.

May we never lose the simplicity or reality of the gospel, and may our lives be transformed by His truth. May we know Him deeply, and may the reality of His love and His presence not just change our minds but change our lives and ultimately transform our experience of Him!

Soli Deo gloria!


7
Mar 12

Christ Is All

The past several months, my life has been getting more and more wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. It started when I made a commitment to believe what I read in Scripture, and not long after that I began to read things like this–that He lives in me [1], that I am in Him [2], that I have the mind of Christ [3], that my body is Christ’s [4], that my spirit is one with Christ’s [5], that I am dead [6], that I am alive to Him [7], that I am His righteousness [8], that I am seated with Him in heavenly places [9], and that I am no longer by nature a child of wrath but have a new nature [10].

I came to realize that my identification with Christ runs really, really deep. While I had no trouble believing it intellectually, it is taking me a long time to truly internalize it and embrace it. I’ve had to change the way that I think, sometimes in drastic ways.

I would like to make two bold propositions for you to consider and weigh:

First, we cannot truly understand the gospel until we can start imagining Jesus literally walking around in our flesh, because this is how deeply we are identified with Christ. If we can imagine Jesus doing it, maybe we should be doing it as well–not because we want to merely be like Jesus, but we want to live out Jesus. From what I read in Scripture, this means things like loving the unlovable, healing the sick, raising the dead, unraveling the enemy’s kingdom, setting captives free, glorifying and magnifying the Father, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom.

Second, this concept of the revelation of Jesus Christ is a very foundational concept in a believer’s life with profound implications, but in my many years of attending church services, I can count on one hand the number of sermons on this truth. I have heard many times that we cannot measure up to God’s standard, and this is true–or rather, this was true! This was the truth that drove me to the cross! However, we dare not stop there! A half truth can be the most dangerous weapon, and we dare not preach half the gospel! We cannot allow us as believers to think, act, and believe as if we were not saved, not redeemed, not identified with Christ, not sons and daughters, and not heirs! Thanks be to God! Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I have access to His riches not because of what I’ve done but because of what He’s said about who I am. If this is what God says about me, no feeling, no opinion, and no experience will counter it. He is truth, and I choose to pattern my life around what He says.

May Jesus Christ truly become the central figure in our life!

Soli Deo gloria.

Footnotes:

  1. Gal 2:20
  2. Col 3:3
  3. 1 Cor 1:16
  4. 1 Cor 6:15
  5. 1 Cor 6:17
  6. Ro 6:6, Gal 2:20, Gal 5:24, Col 2:12
  7. Ro 6:8, Gal 2:20, Col 2:12
  8. 2 Cor 5:21
  9. Eph 2:6
  10. 2 Cor 5:17, Eph 2:3