Can You Really Control Yourself?

With God, all things are possible.

Can you control yourself? God commanded self-control, and what God commands He also enables His children to accomplish. If you are a Christian, walking with Christ, walking according to the Spirit, God has already given you the power to overcome the flesh!

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Rom. 6.4-7)

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6.12-14)

We can excuse ourselves: “I just cannot conquer this sin.” We allow it to fester and hang around in our lives without challenge.

Notice God did not say, “Let me control you,” but “Control yourself.” We reign over our own bodies, hearts, and minds. He certainly helps and empowers us in our self-control, as we see from the the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To Titus Paul wrote that older men should be “temperate,” that older women should not be “enslaved to much wine,” that younger women be “subject to their own husbands,” and that Titus himself should “be an example of good deeds.” All of those traits have self-control in their base. Paul uses another term with the older men, younger women, and younger women: they should be “sensible.” Many translations express this word as “self-controlled.” Thus, God expects self-control at all stages of a Christian’s life from the aged down to the youth.

Remember teenage Joseph, handsome in form and appearance, solidly refused Potiphar’s wife’s advances, saying, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39.9). She pressed him hard, one day grabbing him and trying to drag him into her bed, but “he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house” (Gen. 39.12). What a courageous young man, who saw sin so clearly, and who refused to cross a line God had drawn!

With God’s help we can all have this kind of self-control!

I do not say that a worldly-minded, fleshly-thinking person can have this control–for he allows his flesh to control him. But God bestows great grace upon us, His children, that we might flee youthful lusts and get out of the house!

Let us bring our children up in the Lord in such a way that they might know Him and the freedom from sin He grants through Jesus Christ. And let us also take hold of His grace, knowing that God’s grace brings salvation for all people and trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions. God’s grace empowers us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2.11-12).

Walk in the light, dear brothers and sisters!

Work Out Your Salvation

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

This conundrum is, perhaps, not such a problem for the creationist who understands that God created the chicken fully-grown and mature. But that’s not really the point, is it?

The serious Bible student will discover questions like this regarding his salvation. Which came first, God’s will or mine? Which came first, God’s work or mine?

Philippians 2.12-13 encourages us to ponder this very question:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Notice:

  1. Obedience links with “work out your salvation”
  2. The “for” stands as a “because,” so the actions in verse 12 result from the actions of verse 13
  3. God produces a will and a work in us
  4. Everything results in His good pleasure

Many use verse 12 to insist that we are, indeed, saved by our works. Besides running counter to so many other clear New Testament scriptures (i.e., Eph. 2.8-9; Tit. 3.3-7; Gal. 2.16; Rom. 11.5-6; etc.) which say we are not saved by our works, that understanding also violates the immediate context by not considering verse 13 and GOD as the ultimate cause of our salvation.

These verses do not appear in isolation; we must consider the context of the entire letter to be faithful to God’s meaning. We may back up to Phil. 1.27:

Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;

Paul reminds them (and us) that their conduct should be worthy of the gospel. “How does our conduct reflect the gospel?” we might ask. Reading the rest of the letter answers the question. So God desires–in fact demands–obedience and a “worthiness” of conduct.

But why should we obey? Why attempt to walk such a high path? Do we obey and work in order to be saved? Are we keeping ourselves saved by walking in the right way? The answer is yes…and no. God is certainly telling us to walk this way and it will result in our salvation.

Back up to Phil. 1.6 for one more insight:

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

This answers the question, “How did my salvation begin?” God began it.

It also answers, “How will I continue to be saved?” God will continue to perfect it until Jesus returns.

Notice Phil. 1.11 says, “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

Who has been filled? We who are in Christ! Who does the filling? God!

And so “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” and “set your minds on things that are above” and “whatever you do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” and “draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” All those passages tell us to obey, to work, to do. We now understand our obedience is a loving response to the work God has already done in us and continues to do for us.

When I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, I do not work to get saved or stay saved. I’m working because I am saved and I want to show the fruit of God’s work in my life. May my life and your life result to the praise of His glory.

Fearing God Isn’t Common Sense

Marker FaceWhy should my three-year-old not use the permanent markers to illustrate his room, his bed, and himself? Isn’t it common sense?!

Why should my nine-year-old not ram her bicycle into the back of the toddler’s tricycle in order to push him along? Isn’t it common sense?

Why should my older boys take baths more than twice a month? Isn’t it common sense?

Why shouldn’t that teenage driver blow through the stop sign in front of my house? You’d think it would be common sense.

How could anybody with a brain vote for [you fill in the blank]? It should be common sense, right?

Perhaps what I think is common isn’t so common after all. When the country is divided in half over which candidate is best, where does common sense leave us? I have a sense and you have a sense about what is right, and if our senses don’t agree, can we really follow the rule of common sense?

Just Believe in Your DreamsThe spirit of the age is “follow your heart,” “do what feels right,” and “go with your gut.” As Luke Skywalker flew his X-Wing over the Death Star towards his tiny target, he heard the ghost of Obi Wan urge, “Trust your feelings, Luke.”

New Age religions are not really new. They are based on ancient philosophies. Buddha taught that divinity is within, and you find true enlightenment through your own experiences. Truth is found within yourself.

The Bible teaches the opposite. Truth is external and must be taught, coming from the Supreme and Sovereign God, Creator, Sustainer, Savior. God created us, and we are not Him. He speaks to us through His word, through His Son Jesus.

Wisdom is not something that just comes through experience, but true wisdom comes from fearing God. Notice the following from Proverbs:

1.29      Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD,
1.30      They would have none of my counsel
And despised my every rebuke.

8.13      The fear of the LORD is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverse mouth I hate.

9.10      The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

15.33    The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom,
And before honor is humility.

Read the BibleWhat is fearing the Lord? It’s listening to and obeying Him! It’s setting aside your common sense and relying on God’s sense, which may sometimes not make sense to you. It’s relying on something outside yourself–God’s word–to determine your destiny, your path, your goals.

Man’s “common sense” can become his way of following his own authority and rejecting God’s. I must teach my children not to rely on their common sense but to constantly ask, “What would God have me do? How does God discern this situation?”

The Jews in Thessalonica were called NOBLE because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17.11). They didn’t blindly accept Paul’s preaching; they verified it through studying God’s word, which was their ultimate and final guide. It didn’t matter that Paul’s preaching made sense to them or not; they double checked. If they determined the teaching to be from God, they followed it.

Man’s philosophies often make sense to us, and sometimes we accept them because they sound reasonable. But that doesn’t mean they are right. God declares what is right and wrong, and we don’t really have a say in the matter! He’s the one who rules; we don’t.

Fearing God isn’t common sense these days. But it’s still the way to true wisdom.

Galatians: What Is the Law of Christ?

Fruit of the SpiritAs we have seen, Paul explicitly declares the Law to have no power over the Christian. One who is in Christ, being led by the Spirit, is not under law:

  • “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse…” (Gal. 3.10)
  • “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law…” (Gal. 3.23)
  • “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” (Gal. 4.21)
  • “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal. 5.18)

Yet Paul still speaks of us fulfilling the Law:

  • “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Gal. 5.13-14)
  • After giving the fruit of the Spirit, Paul concludes, “Against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5.23)
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6.2)
  • “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8.2-4)

What is the law of Christ, the law of the Spirit of life? It is not circumcision, that’s for sure, since Paul spends most of Galatians condemning those who preach and practice circumcision! It’s also not “the whole law” of Moses (Gal. 5.3). Is it part of the law of Moses, then? Doesn’t the verse Paul quotes in Gal. 5.14 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) come from the Old Testament (Lev. 19.18)? Is he instructing his readers to observe that commandment but not to observe circumcision? How do we know, then, what Old Testament passages we should still keep and apply today and which ones we should understand as having already been fulfilled?

BlessedHere is where the simplicity of God’s “law” in Christ comes in. We should recognize the difference in type of law–the Law of Moses was a law of commandments written on stone; the Law of Christ is a law of faith written on hearts.

Moses went up on the mountain and brought down Ten Commandments and a host of other moral, civil, and ceremonial laws.

Jesus went up on the mountain and spoke. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus identified the two core laws upon which all the law and the prophets hung: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you strength, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This is the law of Christ.

No longer do we have lists of commandments which are against us; now we have core principles about how our hearts should be towards God and towards men. The New Testament avoids lists of laws, as a matter of fact. Jesus and the apostles mainly taught by example, by narrative, by principle. They gave plenty of applications to help readers discern and refine our understanding of principles given.

Returning to Galatians 5, we are to walk by the Spirit, and by so doing we will avoid gratifying the desires of the flesh. The fruit the Holy Spirit bears in us is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As we walk in these things, we literally walk outside of law. There is no law against these things. The law of Christ truly is a law of liberty in which mercy triumphs over judgment. We are set free from sin, from the works of the flesh (Gal. 5.17-21), in order to walk by the Spirit with Christ our Lord!

Taking Romans Personally

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12.1-2

Humility Quote C. S. LewisPaul connects Romans 12 (“therefore”) to the mountain of previous teaching from Romans 1-11. Before he presents what we should do, Paul deals with great theological truths about what God has already done and how we stand in relation to Him because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Beyond being merely an intellectual exercise, the renewing of our minds includes actually obeying God–doing that which is good and right–which Paul immediately outlines for us in Romans 12.3-15.7. Here’s a quick breakdown of what is covered:

  1. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought; evaluate yourself properly (12.3-8)
  2. Love genuinely (12.9-13)
  3. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (12.14-21)
  4. Subject yourself to the government (13.1-7)
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself (13.8-10)
  6. Walk properly, as in the daytime (13.11-14)
  7. Welcome the weak in faith (14.1-15.7)

Just about all of this has to do with submitting ourselves to others. How do we actually present our lives as living sacrifices to God and renew our minds? We follow Christ’s footsteps (see 13.14; 15.1-13) by assuming the lowest place, subjecting ourselves to every ordinance of God, submitting to one another in love, yielding to our enemies, and welcoming brethren with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Humility Quote by D. A. CarsonIn a conversation last night with a friend, something hit me. He asked (in light of the “bearing with the weak in faith” from Romans 14) how we decide who is stronger and who is weaker?

“How can you know who is the weak one?” he asked.

“Whoever the other guy is, that’s the weak one,” I jokingly replied.

But silliness aside, I’m pretty sure that is not the question God would have us ask, because if we use Romans 14 to start a big row over who is weak and who is strong, does that not tend to divide rather than unify, as Paul insisted upon?

As I read Romans 12-15, God speaks to me, personally. I know He didn’t write Romans directly to me, but I should read it as a message from God to me. In other words, I don’t read it to figure out how you ought to change in your actions towards me; rather I read to discover how I might repent and change in my actions towards you. I can only worry about and change myself, and God has only given me control over one person on this planet!

FlowerIf every Christian read the Bible this way, wouldn’t we make gigantic strides towards unity? If every husband only worried about being the right kind of husband and didn’t worry about forcing his wife to be the right kind of wife…if every wife only worried about respecting her husband properly…if every brother only worried about how he was treating his fellow siblings and not about what they did to him or didn’t do for him…how powerful would that be?!

Is that how you read God’s word?

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12.18)

Playing It Safe

Living or ExistingSome folks habitually “play it safe.” They won’t board an airplane. They won’t go overseas. They won’t step too far out of their comfort zone. In their minds, life is too precious to jeopardize it in such frivolous ways.

Jesus told a story in Luke 19.11-27 which included a man who played it safe. It’s the story of the ten minas (one mina was about three-months’ wages) which a nobleman distributed evenly among ten servants, telling them to “Engage in business until I return.” When he returned, the nobleman found several servants who had multiplied his money. But one fearful servant returned the single mina he’d been given, saying, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man.”

The nobleman-now-king took the mina away from him and gave it to another servant who had most-successfully multiplied his money. Everyone was dumbfounded that he would take away what little the one servant had and give it to the one who had the most, but he answered, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Safe!The fearful servant tried to play it safe, but too late he discovered he had done exactly the opposite. The king told him he should have at least put the money in the bank so it would have earned a little interest! Do SOMETHING, even if it’s small.

Fear freezes. We must not let fear control us to the point that we fail to DO SOMETHING. Everyone knows there is something wrong with the lady shut up in her house, refusing to come out because of her phobias. But many live that way, holding to their daily routines, their safe routes, their points of protection, their comfortable zones, and woe to the one who would nudge them off course!

Whole churches play it safe for years. Comfortable pew warmers smile, sit, chat, and go home. Did the preacher say something about helping the poor? Can we just write a check for that? Did someone encourage us to teach the gospel to our neighbor? Well, we have such a good relationship with the neighbor, it would be a shame to ruin it with talk about religion. The whole world around us is dissolving into an ethical and moral nightmare; are we content to watch it crash and burn and not speak the words of life necessary to fight against evil? We’ll complain amongst ourselves at the deterioration of society; then we’ll go home and allow Netflix to entertain us with the same filth we protest against.

Rock ClimbingMen play it safe by not addressing sin in their own lives, by not confessing sin to other faithful men who can support, pray, and help. We don’t address sin in our families for fear of straining relationships…yet the relationship is really strained because of the sin! We play it safe when we don’t stretch ourselves to grow in the talents and abilities God has given us to use for His glory.

We need to stop playing it safe. When the King returns, will He find us working to increase what He entrusted to us, or will He find us sitting on our couches, eating ice cream, and immersing ourselves in the world’s entertainment? I hate to admit I do way too much of what’s in that last sentence.

Jesus didn’t die so we could watch Netflix. Jesus didn’t die so we could play. Jesus didn’t die so we could increase our wealth. He died so we could have life and that we, in turn, could become life givers and producers in His kingdom!

Jesus didn’t play it safe…and He doesn’t want us to, either.

The World’s Biggest Problem

CapitalismYesterday we discussed Bill Gates’ perspective on the world’s greatest problem, which is basically a shortage of clean energy.

Before we start tossing around the liberal and conservative labels, let’s think quickly to the perspectives of the leading “conservative” advocates of our day. From time to time I listen to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and talk show hosts of that ilk, and after listening to them for a while I get the same empty feeling as when I listen to Bill Gates or the Democrat solutions. They miss the real problem as well.

For example, Rush Limbaugh said:

“The world’s biggest problem is the unequal distribution of capitalism. If there were capitalism everywhere, you wouldn’t have food shortages.”

If you asked these men to list our country’s biggest problems, do you believe they would include a lack of submission to God? To be fair, it might make the list for some, but I am fairly certain none would place that as this country’s primary issue. Glenn Beck? He might.

Bible ReadingSatan has drilled deep into our heads and successfully obscured the real problem! The real problem is not clean energy vs. coal and oil. It’s not racism. It’s not conservatism. It’s not liberalism. It’s not global warming or terrorism. It’s not capitalism or (gasp!) socialism. And ABSOLUTELY NO government will (or can) solve our real problems! People are not the solution; we make the mess.

Don’t let all the political yammering and yapping obscure what is real, that only God can turn things around, and He requires people to submit to Him and His ways. Repentance is the key.

How are poverty-stricken people really taken care of? Those who are more wealthy open their hearts and help them. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble… (James 1.27). Command those who are rich…not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God…Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share… (1 Timothy 6.17-18).

How is racism defeated? God pricks our hearts to understand all men are, indeed, created equal in His sight. God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the all the face of the earth…we are the offspring of God (Acts 17.26, 29).

As soon as we take God and His word out of the picture, we have no anchor for the soul. Men do what they will and what they want. Chaos reigns.

The end of the matter, when all has been considered is this: to fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12.13).