War

There’s a war on sin in my heart, a war only Jesus can win

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Read: Matthew 20

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. (Matthew 20:32)

Jesus had compassion on them. (Matthew 20:34a)

Reflect:

I wonder what I would ask for, if Jesus asked this question of me. Would I even have a ready answer? Or would I mumble and tremble and stumble and end up asking for something worthless, so Jesus felt pity for me rather than compassion?

These two men knew their problem and were bold enough to ask for the solution.

What is my problem? My biggest problem is sin.

Two days ago I prayed asking for a member of my church to rebuke me for any sin of which I was unaware. This afternoon, I got a call from my dear friend who hosts the weekly ladies’ Bible study I lead … in answer to that prayer. I knew immediately that I had sinned, not doing the good I should have done. I even told her on the phone I knew she was telling me [about this situation with another person] because of my prayer to expose my sin.

Yet still, all afternoon, I’ve been struggling with my attitude; battling against my tendency to offer excuses and self-justify; wrestling with my unrepentance. The war on sin is real – the battleground is my heart.

What do I want Jesus to do for me? I want my heart to be purified.

crux:

There’s a war on sin in my heart, a war only Jesus can win.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God. You are righteous, pure and blameless in all you do.

Thanks be to you that your word promises me, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). I need your righteousness, the gift of your righteousness apart from the Law.

Please forgive my sin against X. Please forgive me for being selfish with my time and not visiting her when she was sick and in need of a visit. Please help me to visit her quickly and not put it off again.

You know my heart, LORD. Purify me so my sins that are red as scarlet before me may be as white as snow. Purify my heart, I pray.

Please forgive me for not caring enough about other people’s emotions, and only valuing my own emotional desires. Teach me to love sacrificially, LORD, as Jesus did for me.

Teach me to respond to your Spirit’s niggling voice when I need your prompts to enact love. Speak louder, LORD, when I don’t listen.

Please forgive me. Help me when I go tomorrow to make my apologies to X in person.

Amen.

Squirm

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive

Read: Matthew 18

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. … If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15a,17b)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Reflect:

All eyes must have turned to Matthew, the ex-tax collector, as Jesus gave his advice for dealing with unrepentant sinners. No matter how much Matthew squirmed, though, he still recorded Jesus’ words in his gospel.

Jesus gave three steps of increasingly public rebuke before increasing authority for drawing a sinner’s attention to their own sin. This process gives people an opportunity to recognise and admit their own sin. There’s a reason the saying “blind to their faults” is a saying. Then this person is able to repent privately instead of letting the matter go public.

But ultimately, an unrepentant sinner needs to experience some earthly penalty, or they will go on unrepentant towards the ultimate penalty of all, hell. In this case, social exclusion (from the church) provides a punishment that will hopefully be recognised as the metaphor it is; symbolising the exclusion from God’s presence that an unrepentant sinner risks. Social exclusion such as not eating with the person and not entering their house, while still allowing for public conversation, has the benefit of shielding brothers and sisters in the church from the harm that the sinner’s behaviour might wreak.

Matthew chose to place next in his gospel Jesus’ advice for how often one should forgive sin. Now it’s Peter’s turn to squirm. “Seventy-seven times,” Jesus says. He’s not just multiplying Peter’s suggested seven times by eleven. Rather, Jesus is making reference too the story of Lamech the murderer (Genesis 4:19-24)* who killed instead of offering forgiveness for personal injury, and claimed seventy-seven times vengeance.

As outrageously unrepentant as Lamech was for his crimes, so you are to be just as outrageously forgiving of another’s crimes against you, Jesus seems to say.

crux:

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

“Against you only have I sinned” … yet I have hurt and wounded many with harsh words and hard deeds. I repent of my sin. Please forgive me LORD. Make a clean heart within me and change my ways.

Please allow others in my church who are close to me to observe my sin and rebuke me for it. Make me humble enough to accept such rebuke and be corrected.

LORD, I don’t want to be like Lamech, desiring vengeance. Make my heart soft and tender, eager and willing to forgive. Please help me to love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with the forgiveness that covers over wrongs, for your glory.

Amen.

 

* For this insight I must thank Lois Tverberg and Ann Spangler, authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (2009, Zondervan) pp. 38-39, which I am currently reading.

Likeness

A disciple of Christ manifests the likeness of Christ

Read: Matthew 10

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household.” (Matthew 10:24-25)

Reflect:

When I first became a Christian, I assumed it was blasphemous to seek to be like God. After all, isn’t that how the serpent tempted Eve when he told her, “when you eat from it … you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5)?

But then I was introduced to verses like these (10:24-25), where Jesus Christ clearly taught his disciples that they should be like him. Elsewhere, God directly says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (Six times in Leviticus and twice in 1 Peter.) Paul’s advice is to imitate him (Paul) as he imitates Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1).

It is now apparent to me that where people seek, in their hubris, to make themselves like God through their own efforts (as Eve did), they sin. But where we respond to the call of Jesus to follow him, to follow his example, to be like our teacher and master Jesus Christ, to be holy as the LORD is holy… in this, there is no sin, only sanctification.

These verses and others like them are the reason part of my tagline at crux.live is live Christ.

In my character, I am to seek to live like Christ, with the Spirit’s help. In doing so, I should expect to be persecuted, just as my teacher and master was persecuted.

The wider the gulf between contemporary culture and Christ-like holiness, the more Christians will suffer persecution for their resemblance to Jesus. This is what is currently happening to Australian sportsman Israel Folau for his (biblically-based) social media comments. Persecuted Christians need to cling to Matthew 10:32, where Jesus promised, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

crux:

A disciple of Christ manifests the likeness of Christ.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Your Son was perfect and yet he was persecuted.
Jesus was sinless and still he was slandered.

May I give glory to Jesus Christ in my everyday ordinary Christian life. May I never be guilty of persecuting Christ, and never slander his name.

Please make me like Christ, my teacher and master. Make me compassionate and wise, confident and generous, merciful and hopeful. Make me shrewd and innocent. Help me to manifest Christ’s likeness in my everyday ordinary life.

Do not protect me from persecution, or else how will I know that I am like my teacher? But please, LORD, help me to endure whatever persecution comes and stand firm in my faith to the end. I pray this also for Israel Folau and for all who are criticised for their Christ-like holiness.

Amen.

Unless

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour

Read: Matthew 3

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8-10)

Reflect:

John the Baptist, or John B. as I like to call him, is firm and direct with his audience of Pharisees and Sadducees. They are “religious” people who have come to hear a “spiritual” person and the message they get is this:

“It is not enough to say you’re sorry, you need to show you are sorry.”

This is the same message James gave in his epistle: Faith without works is not real faith; practice what you preach; don’t just talk about it, go and do it.

John B. told his religious auditors that their whole identity was in question: it was not enough to claim a genetic heritage as Israelites, in Abraham. Genes aren’t enough to connect a person into a true relationship with the true and living God. Being a Jew was not enough to save them then, just as it is not enough to save anyone now.

John B. uses fiery imagery to get across the point that the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees were risking their lives when they refused to “prepare the way for the Lord” (3:3) in their own hearts by repenting of their sins. Repentance from sin is necessary because until we despise our sin, we will never welcome our Saviour.

crux:

Unless I hate my sin, I won’t really love my Saviour.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Please help me to hate my sin.

Show me how utterly despicable my sin is in your sight, so I may despise it as you do.

O LORD, I am scared as I pray this prayer. What might you make me suffer so I begin to hate my sin? What have I been clinging to that I will have to give up?

I know I’m forgiven: thank you for forgiving me by Christ’s sacrifice.
I know I’m justified: thank you for justifying me by Christ’s blood.
I know I am saved: thank you for saving me by Christ’s death.

I also know I am not yet fully sanctified: thank you for your promise to complete the work you have begun in me by your Spirit’s presence and counsel.

LORD, make me love righteousness. Help me think about noble, admirable, praiseworthy and excellent things. Keep me from evil; deliver me from temptation. Help me to flee from the devil and run to you. Make me fruitful in repentance.

Thank you for raising me up, a mere stone that you have transformed into a child of Abraham.

Amen.

Rest

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart

Read: 1 John 3:19-24

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. (1 John 3:19-20)

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 3:23)

Reflect:

This passage answers some of the questions raised earlier in verses 6 and 9 of this chapter, which say that Christians stop sinning. According to John, if my heart feels guilty, then my feeling shall be corrected by my mind, which knows that God is greater than my heart, greater than my shame.

I stop sinning because Jesus has taken away my sin (3:5). Jesus did this by fulfilling the law; not abolishing it (Matthew 5:17), but refining and redefining it in himself.

Jesus said the whole law is summed up in two commands: to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love my neighbour as I love myself (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31). Now John reframes this summation of the law. John says, paraphrasing Jesus (John 6:29), that God’s commands are two-fold: to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ and to love one another.

If I consider the parallels between these two two-fold summations of the law, I can see how the second interprets the first. John’s “one another” defines Jesus’ “neighbour” as fellow believers, I think, based on John’s previous use (3:10, 3:16) of “brother and sister”. (Which doesn’t mean that Christians should not love non-Christians, merely that this love is not a primary command.)

Likewise, “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” clarifies what it means to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We love God primarily by believing in His Son.

And when I believe in God’s Son Jesus, I know that God is greater than me and he has sent his Son to take away my sin. I stop sinning because my sin is no more – abolished not by the abolishing of the law, but by its fulfilment by Jesus Christ. Sin is lawlessness (3:4) and since the law is fulfilled in Christ and through my belief in him, there can be no more lawlessness in me, no more sin in me.

Aaah! Now my heart is free to rest.

Crux:

God is great and the good news about his Son gives rest to my heart.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Great is your name; great is your glory.
You are greater than me; greater than the condemnation of my heart within me; greater than anything I can conceive or imagine; greater than infinity.
You are greatly to be praised.

I believe in the name of your only Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord.

I believe that somehow you, who are more-than-infinite, became less, lowly, a human infant born of the virgin Mary, conceived by your Holy Spirit’s essence.

I believe that Jesus suffered cruelly according to the decision of Pontius Pilate. I believe Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross; that he died there at Golgotha, the place of the skull. I celebrate this as Easter Friday.

I believe that the body of Jesus was buried in a fresh grave by those who sought to honour him.

And I believe that Jesus rose again to life on the third day, which I celebrate as Easter Sunday.

I believe that Jesus was seen alive by honest eyewitnesses before he ascended to heaven, to the God-realm. I believe Jesus is sitting even now at your right hand. I believe that one day Jesus will return to earth to judge all people, including those who have already died and those still alive on that day.

I believe, LORD. Please deepen my belief in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Stop

I stop sinning because Jesus took away my sin

Read: 1 John 2:29-3:10

But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:5-6)

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (1 John 3:9)

Reflect:

John is blunt. Blunt, plain and clear. True Christians stop sinning.

We do not continue to sin. We do not keep on in our old sinful ways. Sin stops when a person is “born of God”. Sin stops when a person is called a child of God.

I am filled with questions.

If Christians stop sinning, why might we need a mediator and advocate in Christ (2:1)?

If I don’t think I’ve stopped sinning completely, does this mean I’m not really God’s child (3:9)?

If so, why did John assure me that “this is what we are!” (3:1)?

What does it mean to stop sinning, if “sin is lawlessness” (3:4)?

Is stopping sinning my action, my work, or is it a grace-gift of the Trinity at work in me and active for me – the Father’s love that calls me his child (3:1), Jesus removing my sin (3:5), the Spirit’s seed remaining in me (3:9)?

And how does this all fit together with Paul’s instruction to the Colossians (Colossians 3:5-10) which tells me to “put to death” that which belongs to my “earthly nature” and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of the Creator”?

Oi!

Crux:

I stop sinning because Jesus took away my sin.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I confess that I am confused. I’m confused about who I am and what I do. But what I do see clearly in these verses is You: who you are and what you do.

You are the Father. You lavish your love upon me. You call me your child. I praise you!

You are Jesus Christ. You have taken away my sins. In you there is no sin. You appeared and the devil’s work (sin) was destroyed and obliterated. I worship you.

You are the Spirit. You anointed me. You seeded me with yourself so I may grow and bear spiritual fruit. You remain in me. I honour you.

LORD God Almighty, you are Father, Son and Spirit; you are Trinity.

Help me, please. Make your word, which you spoke to me through John’s epistle today, come true in me and come alive in my life. Stop my sin, LORD, I pray.

Amen.

Child

I live forgiven as a dear child of the Father

Read: 1 John 2:12-14

I am writing to you dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. (1 John 2:12)

Reflect:

Growing up in a feminist culture, I am tempted to grumble at the lack of female nouns in these three verses. But women like me are addressed here, under the descriptor “children”. Should I take offence at such diminution? Never!

John clearly holds his “children” dear and close to his heart. So far in his letter, John has referred to his readers as “my dear children” (2:1) and “my friends” (2:7).  I too am John’s dear child because he proclaimed the gospel to me through his writings: in his Gospel, in his letters and in Revelation. I am John’s dear spiritual child, his offspring of faith. This is certainly nothing of which to be ashamed or dismayed.

Too, I am more than John’s faith-child, I am a child of God. I am not just John’s dear child, I am God’s dear child. Jesus has revealed the Father to me (John 10:38, 14:9) so that I might know God the Father (2:14) as his own adopted child (Galatians 4:4-5). His Spirit has taught me to call him “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6-7).

And then, what John says of me, God’s dear child, is immensely precious: My sins have been forgiven on account of the name of Jesus Christ. O what joy!

The knowledge of my guilt has been building from reading the last one-and-a-half chapters. Do I really walk in the light (1:7)? Do I truly live as Jesus did (2:6)? This guilt is washed away by the truth that my sins have been forgiven in Jesus’ name.

No, I do not always walk in the light of God. I do not constantly live as Jesus did. That is why I need Jesus.

But, Jesus has been faithful and he has ensured the forgiveness of my sins. He has done this through his identity (“name”) as “Word of Life” (1:1), granting me “eternal life” (1:2). Through Jesus, the Word of Life, I have been made acceptable to enter into the presence of my heavenly Father. Hooray!

Crux:

I live forgiven as a dear child of the Father through Jesus, the Word of Life.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty, Dear Abba Father,

Hallowed be your name!

May your name be great and sacred in all the earth. May your name be revered and worshiped by all people. May we no longer blaspheme, but know and rejoice in your name.

Thank you for your grace to me extended through Jesus, the Word of Life. As Peter said, “To whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life.” I have none other but you. You forgave my sin and in that moment granted me eternal life. So though my flesh might die, my soul shall live as a new creation forever with you as your child.

I praise your name, O Word of Life, Jesus Christ.

Please grant me opportunities today to share the good news that in your name is forgiveness; that you love us as dear children; that in knowing Jesus we may know you, God my Father.

Amen.