Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ye Olde Sin Nature

St. Paul's epistle to the Romans has always been one of my favorite books of the Bible, for both its incredible insight and its ability to deal with the tension between the new spiritual nature and the old sin nature within every Christian this side of Heaven. Paul pulls no punches but deals with the matter head-on, confessing that this struggle also takes place in his own life. His words are sometimes almost paradoxical.

"If we have been united with [Christ] like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin."
-Romans 6:5-7
"In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness."
-Romans 6:11-13

Paul writes again and again of the Christian's victory over sin, that we have been set free from sin, that the sinful nature has been killed. He also commands us not to submit ourselves to sin as our master, to daily kill our sin nature, and to offer ourselves to God and not to sin.
I have often struggled with the idea of Christians still having a sin nature. When we commit our lives to Jesus the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and births a new holy nature. We are born again into God's family. We become adopted children of God. We become ambassadors for Christ. We are finally enabled to refuse our sinful nature and to live holy lives. Why, then, must we still have a sinful nature at all, the old flesh*?
It occurred to me a few days ago that there may be a very good reason for still having the sinful nature. While Scripture is clear that I am made new through the work of the Holy Spirit, I often miss that I am made new. God is birthing a new creation within me. My new nature is of course a new creation, but it is also a continuation of me. Paul's discourse on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians provides insight here:

"So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body."
-1 Corinthians 15:42-44
'I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." '
-1 Corinthians 15:50-54

Just as our resurrection bodies are described as being the same as our mortal bodies, but different, we too are the same people, but different. Although I am a sinful man, I am still God's good creation. God did right in creating me, but I have been severely marred by sin. It is clear in Scripture that God could have simply destroyed His fallen creation and made a new one, but instead He is graciously redeeming and recreating that which has fallen so that it will be better than it was to begin with. Thus, God does not desire to simply destroy us but to birth His life within us. Our old selves must die, but only so we can truly live.
All of this has been the build up to why we might still have our old natures. God is in the process of conforming us to the image of His Son, sanctifying us and bringing us into submission to His will. He wants each of us, individually, to be all His. He does not simply want to destroy His older, good but marred creation, but to make that creation new. We still have our old nature because that too needs to be transformed into the new nature if we are to be completely transformed. It is as if God painted a perfect picture, which has now been marred almost to the point of being beyond recognition. God could have simply thrown it away and painted a new one, but instead He is restoring it better than ever on the same canvas.
Our old self must be put to death, but like a seed being planted, it does not die for the sake of dying, but so that it might be born anew.
Why do I still have a sin nature? Perhaps because it has not yet been returned to God, but must be returned to God.

*Remembering that we as Christians do not think of spirit as good and material things as evil, the "flesh" refers not to our bodies but to our sinful nature. Spirit can be bad (i.e. demons) and physical things can be very good (i.e. Genesis 1:31).

Pre-emptive Blog

I don't know if it is proper to write a blog preview about possible upcoming blogs, but in this blog we push the envelope and take things to the limit by doing so. Watch out: I'm a loose-cannon blogger who doesn't play by the rules.
I need to go to bed, but I also want to post a blog, but I also do not currently have the mental capacity to compose a blog worth reading, so here is a taste of what may be coming soon.
!!! Thoughts on why Christians still have a sin nature !!!
God potentially telling me something about Ghana?!?!
~Whether or not there is such a thing as "The American Church."~
---What theological justification I have for disbelieving in rational alien life forms---
And more...

(The term "blog" is used nine times in this blog, if you count the three instances of "blog" in this final sentence).

Saturday, August 18, 2007

On a Church Sign

I just found a site (with the help of AOL) that allows you to generate your own church sign. They have five different sign designs to choose from and the lettering is up to you. Please, though, only use this power for good.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Prisoner of the Law

Galatians 3:21-25 reads (with the emphasis belonging to myself for this post):

"Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.
Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."

There seems to always be a struggle in reconciling the relationship between the law and grace through faith. The questions arises again and again, "If the law could not save anyone, what good was it?" Of course, at some points Paul points out that the law helps us to understand just how sinful we are, and leads us to the need of a Savior, but at the same time makes our sins more sinful by removing our potential plea of ignorance.
The above passage, though, seems to give one more little glimpse into the role of the law. It jumped out at me a couple of days ago when I realized that it actually says we were held prisoners by the law, locked up by the law until faith was revealed. Of course the Bible says again and again that we were prisoners of sin, which is clearly a bad thing, but I had never noticed that we were once prisoners of the law. The law is always considered to be a good thing in Scripture. What does this mean to say that we were prisoners of the law?
It occurred to me (which I believe was inspiration from the Holy Spirit) that being in prison is not necessarily a horrible thing. It is clearly not the best thing, but it is also not the worst. Consider the modern penal system:
We place criminals in prison partly to punish them, but also to keep them from committing any more crimes. If we could somehow instantly reform them we would not have the need to keep them imprisoned for so long, although we still might for a while for purely punitive measures. If we have no way to reform them, though, the best option we have is to restrain them so that they might not do their worst again.
We, as humans, were in a similar situation. We were depraved sinners, constantly acting out the wickedness stored up in our hearts. For so long, there was really no means of reform. There was nothing that could change us internally from our criminal and sinful state and so we were given the Law as a means to restrain us from our wickedness. The Law was powerless to reform us, it was helpless in regards to making us into good and righteous people, but it was an effective external restraint that held us back from doing our very worst, or at least made it clear when we crossed the boundary lines.
When Christ came, we were able for the first time to be released from the prison of the Law, because there was now One who could reform us. We no longer were in need of the external restraints because One who could heal us internally had come.

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Patriarchs weren't Pansies

I spent the past two days helping my brother and his family move. I could really end this post right there and you would understand, but I won't.
Moving stinks. Even when it's not really that much stuff. Even when the move is only three miles. Even when you are the one moving and you get to go sleep in a fully-assembled bed at night. Even when the people you are helping are nice the whole time and don't yell at you for doing things the wrong way. Moving stinks.
The whole moving thing got me thinking, though. I was only helping other people move a relatively small amount of stuff three miles for two days with the assistance of trucks, dollies and hand-trucks, and it was not terribly fun.
The fathers of the faith had it much harder. Take Abraham for instance. As a 75 year-old man, he recognized the call of God on his life, packed up his wife and servants and set out to travel hundreds of mile by foot. Being a wealthy man, he also had herds of livestock to keep moving along with his possessions. God promised him a land, but he passed away without really having a home. Abraham moved perpetually in order to gain a homeland for his descendants, and basically died while on the move. All that in order to follow God.
Moses, Joshua and the rest of the Israelites were kept in a perpetual state of moving as well, for 40 years. Of course, it was a punishment for idolatry, but what a punishment! They bore the punishment though, for the sake of their children inheriting the Promised Land.
The Apostle Paul, once he took up his missionary call, was constantly moving from place to place. I doubt that he had many possessions, and he did manage to stay in Ephesus for three years, but beyond that he had no home and was constantly moving so that others might inherit the Kingdom of God.
When we read the stories of these patriarchs, we do so in the matter of a few minutes and we completely miss the struggle and toil they put forth year after year. They struggled and waited and suffered for the sake of following God. I'd like to say I could do that, but compared to those guys I am a pansy.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Abuse and the Sin Cycle

Recently, I have met several men who have unintentionally set me on a course of learning what appears to be an invaluable, and yet remarkably painful, lesson. Getting to know these guys, I learned that several of them had common experiences growing up in abusive homes. Coming from a healthy and loving family background, it was surprising to have faces applied to the statistics of abuse that we have all heard about. I would never have guessed that something like child abuse could be so prevalent, or that these guys had that in their background, no matter how removed from those situations they now are. They all now carry within themselves a sort of hatred and bitterness toward their fathers and stepfathers, to the extent that they have not seen them in years and feel as if they would attack their former attackers if they ever did encounter them again. Whether or not they would act on this wrath I do not know, but the fact that they carry such anger around is meaningful in itself. Some of these guys have already emotionally hurt people around them, no doubt in some part related to their own experiences of being hurt. It seems fair to guess, both from anecdotal and statistical knowledge, that the men who originally abused these men were at one point abused themselves. The majority of people who were abused as children do not go on to abuse others themselves, but it is estimated that 80% of those who do abuse their children were themselves the victims of abuse. A person who suffered abuse is more likely to abuse others than a person who was not, and any person who abuses others was likely abused themselves.
This does not mean, of course, that we can simply write off a person's culpability for abusing others simply because they once suffered the same treatment. As humans, we are given free will and are responsible for our actions.
None of this is really the point that I am hoping to make, though, or the lesson that I am learning. What I am learning is that severe ramifications follow our actions. So many of us (myself included) are incredibly individualistic. No matter what we say, we see the world revolving around ourselves and are motivated by selfish ambition. We behave foolishly and sinfully and claim that at most it hurts no one but ourselves. We fool ourselves into thinking that we live in self-contained little bubbles, so that our actions never affect anyone but ourselves. Either that, or we simply do not care how our actions might affect others. The truth is that our every action, including private and secret actions, actions done within the privacy of our own homes and our own families, have consequences for the whole world that we cannot predict.
When my friend's mother first started experimenting with drugs in high school, she was only hurting herself, or so she thought. Now, years down the line, as a result of her addiction her son has to be raised by extended family members who cannot allow her to come by the house because when she does she steals from them in order to buy her next high. His father, too, made the selfish decision to fornicate at one point, which was just between him and my friend's mother. It was just between them except that she conceived and gave birth to my friend who now struggles to find any value in himself because he was raised without the father who abandoned the mother of his child.
In the end of Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie struggles with the revelation that he had been abused by his Aunt Helen as a young child. His words speak well to these situations:
"It's like if I blamed my Aunt Helen, I would have to blame her dad for hitting her and the friend of the family that fooled around with her when she was little. And the person that fooled around with him... And I did do that for a while, but then I just couldn't anymore. Because it wasn't going anywhere. Because it wasn't the point." (p. 211).
It is a biblical truth that sons are not to be held responsible for the sins of their fathers and that fathers are not to be held responsible for the sins of their sons. At the same time, it is also clear that the sins of the fathers are likely to reappear as the sins of their sons. I do not know why sins tend to passed on. Whether something is transmitted from soul to soul, whether there is some genetic predisposition, whether the enemy tends to tempt father and son in the same way, whether the sins are a learned behavior, or whether parts of all of these are true, it does not matter. It is simply true that the same sins tend to be repeated generation after generation.
What does that mean for you and me? Among other things, it means that our every action has serious consequences. Our little indulgences, our secret sins, our vices that we think impact only ourselves and those closest to us have the potential to cause enormous harm. Little does a young man beginning to enjoy drunkenness realize that he may be on the path to one day having four generations of alcoholics following in his footsteps.
Galatians 6:7-8 says,
"Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life."
Our thoughts, words and deeds are always sowing some sort of seed. We cannot remain neutral. We are either sowing sin or righteousness, one which will one day reap a harvest of destruction and one which will reap eternal life. Our current deeds will return later on in the midst of our careers, marriages, families and relationships.
Up until this point, this (very long) post has focused mainly on the negative, but there is hope. We might ask, "How can we escape this cycle of sin, abuse, pain and death?" Or, we might echo the question of St. Paul, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
Thankfully, he answers that question in the next line: "Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
When we come to Christ and put our lives in His hands; when we accept both His salvation and His lordship in our lives; when we recognize that we have no righteousness of our own and accept His as He offers it; when we hand Him the broken pieces of our lives and ask Him to make them into something beautiful; when we ask Him to take the seeds of destruction that we have sown and to somehow transform them into a harvest of life; when we ask that His righteousness be planted within us in such a way that we will become truly righteous, it is then that we can be set free from this cycle of sin.
Titus 2:11-14 says,
"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good."
The grace of God brings us salvation and teaches us to live godly lives!
Exodus 20:4-6 tells us that while the sins of the fathers may be passed on to the third and fourth generation, God shows His love to a thousand generations of descendants of those who love Him and keep His commandments. We have the severe potential to bring great harm to the world, but by placing our lives in the hands of the Son of God we have the glorious potential to do immense good for the whole world.
Joel 2:25-26 gives this promise to those who repent of their sins and turn to God:
"I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed."
Up until this point, we may have been sowing sin for a harvest of destruction. Up until now, the years of our lives, so full of potential, may have been devoured by the locusts of sin and folly. But God is far greater than our sins and has dealt with them on the cross. He can, and will, restore those years to us, producing a harvest of life far greater than what has been destroyed.
Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!