Tag Archives: Sanctification

Becoming a Yes Man

Recently, I made a decision: I want to be viewed as a yes man. By “yes man,” I don’t mean a person of unquestioning, mindless obedience or a sycophant. Instead, I mean a man who says yes when his neighbors ask for help. Or, when God reveals a need to me, I say yes to Him and offer to help. I want my neighbors—yes, my physical neighbors who live less than 40 yards away from me—to know that I am willing to serve them. I want the 88 year old widow to know that I want to help her rake her leaves. I want the 70 year old, technically-challenged retiree to know that it’s not a problem for me to help her set up her new laptop and printer. I want the older, single man to know that, in a weird way, I enjoy climbing on top of the roofs to blow the leaves off of everyone’s roofs in my little neighborhood. I want the young family, with the dad that works 16 hour shifts, to know that I don’t mind stacking wood with him in the rain. Why? Because if Christ lived as a servant (Mk. 10:45), then I want to live as a servant. Not only that, but it’s an incredibly practical way to obey the second half of the Great Commandment. Consider these two passages:

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, emphasis mine)

Now, these are different occasions, but they both talk about our top two priorities when it comes to loving: God first, neighbors second. The second account, Luke 10:25-29, introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. Take a second and re-read the last verse of that Luke passage, noting especially the portion I italicized.

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, emphasis mine)

Here’s my question: how did he plan on justifying himself? It says that the lawyer asked “who is my neighbor” because he was desiring to justify himself. What does that mean?

Well, I think the passage gives us 4 clues:

  1. He was a lawyer (i.e. he was highly respected in his community).
  2. He wanted to test Jesus (i.e. make Jesus look bad).
  3. He wanted to justify himself (i.e. make himself look good).
  4. Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.

Here’s my guess: when it came to loving his neighbors, this lawyer probably thought he was doing a great job. The only way he could justify himself is if he thought Jesus was about to give him kudos for being a shining example of loving his neighbor. After all, would it make sense to ask this question if the neighbor wasn’t loving his physical neighbors? But Jesus shatters his definition of ‘neighbor.’

In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who falls is passed up by a priest and a Levite but helped by a foreigner. While not certain, it’s possible the priest was the local priest for this man; perhaps the Levite knew the man as well. Jesus finishes the story by forcing the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell (in Luke 10:36-37). Why do you think Jesus did this? Why do you think Jesus forced the lawyer to admit that the foreigner was the neighbor, and not the priest or Levite who were actually his physical neighbors?

I think it’s because the lawyer already loved his physical neighbors and was becoming prideful about it. However, in America, we’ve got it reversed: we might sponsor a child in Africa—and know her name—but not know the names of our own neighbors who live less than 40 yards away. Sponsoring a child is a great thing; not knowing your neighbors’ names is a bad thing.

The lawyer thought he would justify himself because loving your physical neighbors was a no-brainer in Jesus’ culture. Of course you’re supposed to love the people that live right next to you. Jesus expanded his perceptions. Our problem is that we need to start taking the second half of the Great Commandment more literally. We need to love our neighbors.

So here are my two challenges for you:

  1. Be interruptible. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take 5-15 minutes, say yes on the spot and help them. The odds are good that you have 15 minutes to spare (if you don’t, then don’t beat yourself up). But, in light of the fact that the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, I think we can all make time to help our neighbors for less than 1/8 of our TV time.
  2. Be intentional. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take a large chunk of time, like an hour or two, challenge yourself to sacrifice that time to serve them. In fact, make it your goal to serve them within a week of them asking. Once again, knowing that the Average American watches 34 hours of television per week, I think we can all find a couple hours of our week to spend helping our neighbors.

So, why this push to love our physical neighbors? Because I think American Christians are completely ignoring the second half of the Great Commandment (which makes me wonder if we are also ignoring the first half of the Great Commandment). Can you honestly tell God that you followed the Command to love your neighbors if you don’t even know your neighbors’ names? Do we think God is pleased if we listen to dozens of sermons and can discuss in depth all our favorite Christian preachers and authors, yet don’t know the names or needs of the people God has placed in our immediate physical vicinity? I think it’s time to turn off the TV, spend less time reading about Christian living, and start spending some time living like Christians. Let’s start taking intentional steps to know, serve, and love our neighbors.

“…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Romans 8: Bridging the Gap Between My Failures and God’s Grace

Romans 8

Before we get started, here are four things you need to know…

  • I attend Colossae, where I currently serve as an intern.
  • We are preaching our way through Romans. We focus on the ‘big thoughts’ of the letter instead of diving into the subtle nuances of each verse or phrase.
  • The pastors and interns gather weekly for a sermon prep meeting (my pastor has written about on his blog here, here, and here).
  • At Home Depot, I usually spend about 2 hours alone stocking the shelves before the store opens at 6. During this time, I’ve started listening to the Romans section that we’ll discuss in our next sermon prep meeting. For example, if we’re meeting to discuss chapter 6, I’ll listen to 5-7 to get the feel for what the letter said before the passage, what the passage says, and what the next passage says. I feel like this helps me think about the passage in the larger context of the entire letter of Romans. Also, I’ll listen to it mostly in the English Standard Version, but will listen to the New American Standard Bible, the New Living Translation, the New International Version, and sometimes the Holman Christian Standard Bible. I feel like this helps me see it from multiple perspectives and forces me to actively listen because each one is subtly different.

Okay, now that we’re all caught up…

For the last few weeks I’ve been obsessing a little bit about Romans 6-8. I used to think I loved Romans 8, but not compared to how much I love it now. You see, in Romans 6, we’re taught that we who have died to sin (Rom. 6:6) are now alive to God (Rom. 6:11). Furthermore, we are now slaves to Christ (Rom. 6:18) and follow a path and process that leads to eternal life (Rom. 6:22). In the same way that a woman is no longer legally married to a man after he dies but can freely remarry, we are remarried to Christ so we can bring glory to God (Rom. 7:4).

The only problem is our death to sin is a spiritual reality that has not yet been physically manifested; that doesn’t happen until after our physical death and resurrection (Rom. 8:23). We’re stuck in an in-between state; the check has been written but it hasn’t been cashed yet. This is why we still sin (Rom. 7:14-15); because there is a tension that exists within us (Rom. 7:25).

But!!! Even though we make mistakes, there is no condemnation for Christians (Rom. 8:1) because Jesus condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3). We may be influenced by the flesh (Rom. 7:20), but we are not dominated by the flesh (Rom. 6:6; 8:11). This means we battle the flesh by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 7:13) because we have been adopted (Rom. 8:16). We have a new identity that isn’t determined by our actions or even our failures but who God says we are. The fact that we are part of God’s family means that we are heirs with Christ and will be glorified with Christ, but we will also suffer with Him (Rom. 8:17).

However!!! The suffering we endure in this life pales in comparison to the glory awaiting us (Rom. 8:18) and we wait patiently to meet the Father who has adopted us because we understand that it will be worth the wait (Rom. 8:25). This is the check that has been written but is not yet cashed. In fact, the Holy Spirit helps us (Rom. 8:26) as we continue to be transformed to look more and more like Christ so that, when we ‘go home,’ we’ll fit in the family of God (Rom. 8:29).

In fact!!! Because Christ is on our side, no one and nothing in all creation (Rom. 8:38-39) can stand against us (Rom. 8:33). We have been irrevocably adopted by God; He chose us before the creation of the earth (Eph. 1:4-5).

So here’s what I’m realizing. Chapter 7 spends about 17 verses talking about our failures and our inability to be perfect. But this is bookended by Romans 6 & 8 where God spends almost 70 verses assuring us that we are free from sin (Rom. 6:7), and are now slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:18); that we have a new identity and belong to Christ (Rom. 7:4); that we face no condemnation (Rom. 8:1, 33-34); that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26) and that even Christ intercedes for us at the right hand of God (Rom. 8:34)! Romans 9 continues this line of thought by explaining that God’s choice cannot be revoked by any mortal (Rom. 9:16).

So, my question for Christians is this: why do you let your failures haunt you and condemn you if God does not? The whole ‘if God is for us, who can be against us?’ idea applies to you, too! If God is for you, how can you be against yourself?

Who will condemn you? You? Christ Jesus is interceding for us. Will you condemn yourself? Do you really think your guilt outweighs the power of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ interceding on our behalf? Do we think our failures revoke God’s choice to adopt us? Who do we think we are? God? If God is for us, who can be against us? Our failures don’t define us in God’s eyes; Christ’s finished work and resurrection define us. God doesn’t look at our failures; He looks at our new identity as His slaves/children (seems weird to us, but that’s what the text says; think of us as adopted slaves).

During Christmas time, all these thoughts swimming around in my head help me appreciate the lengths to which Christ was willing to go to make sure that I could be adopted into God’s family. I praise God that, despite my failures, He chose to adopt me. I praise Christ because He chose to come and bridge the gap between sinfulness and God’s mercy. I praise the Spirit for helping me as I await the redemption of my body. God was willing to bridge the gap so that I could be adopted into His family; for that I am eternally grateful.

holiness won’t be our aim

Sin is falling into grace and disappearing from our concerns… When we don’t see the gravity of sin, we won’t be reliant upon God for the grace of sanctification and transformation, and holiness won’t be our aim in life. So, let’s look at what sin is, where sin wants to take us and what sin does to us.

Scot McKnight, Why Doesn’t Anybody Talk about Sin?

Kill Sin. Grow in Grace.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… (Romans 8:28-29a)

All those whom God foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s a mighty big undertaking: from sinner to saint; from wretched to righteous; from villainous to virtuous. It almost seems impossible! No wonder it takes a lifetime. But if you’re like me, you probably know the ultimate destination—to be conformed to the image of Christ—but aren’t sure what the path looks like. Well I think Colossians 3:5-14 provides some highly practical advice.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

There are two simple–simple, not easy–tasks in this passage!

  1. Putting off.
  2. Putting on.

While incredibly simple, this is a challenging process that, by the Grace of God and with the power of the Holy Spirit, will take you the rest of your life. In Christ Formed in You, Brian Hedges calls this two-step process ‘mortification’ and ‘vivification.’ Hedges devotes an entire chapter to the concept of mortification, and he defines it by saying, “Simply put, mortification is killing sin. This includes putting to death both sinful actions (deeds) and the sinful motivations (passions and desires) which produce them” (Pg. 135). He also devotes an entire chapter to vivification, but he very simply defines it as “a lifelong, active, imitation of Jesus” (150).

Thus, the idea is that we mortify—or put to death—everything that has to do with the flesh and we vivify—or bring to life—everything that is of the Spirit. With those two categories in mind, look at this list from Colossians 3:5-14:

  • Mortify or put off:
    • Sexual immorality
    • Impurity
    • Passion
    • Evil desire
    • Covetousness/Idolatry
    • Anger
    • Wrath
    • Malice
    • Slander
    • Obscene talk
    • Lying
  • Vivify or put on:
    • Knowledge of God
    • Compassionate hearts
    • Kindness
    • Humility
    • Meekness
    • Patience
    • Forbearance
    • Forgiveness
    • Love

Now, here’s where the idea of putting off/putting on actually gets practical. It starts with a simple realization: For every vice, there is an equal and opposite virtue. Here are a couple examples: lust vs. purity; greed vs. generosity; selfishness vs. serving others; gossip vs. discretion; anger vs. patience, etc.

A common problem is that many Christians only focus on their vices. We try over and over to ‘put off’ those vices only to find ourselves discouraged and backslidden. They become frustrated because they seldom (if ever) focus on the corresponding virtues, which is why they fail to see progress and become discouraged.

It’s as though their goal is to “not be fat.” They focus their complete attention on “not being fat” all the while forgetting that they should instead focus on proper diet and exercise. Jesus told a parable about this that used to really confuse me. Both Luke 11:24-26 and Matthew 12:43-45 record this parable and essentially Jesus tells the story of an unclean spirit that a person kicks out of their house. The spirit later returns to find the house has undergone some home improvement projects but is still empty. So he settles back in and the house is in a worse state than it was in the first place. This is how it is when we try to just kick out a vice without filling our house with the corresponding virtue.

So here’s a two-part challenge:

  1. Instead of only focusing on putting off impatience, also focus on putting on patience. Instead of focusing only on putting off lust, also focus on purity. Instead of focusing only on putting off being greedy, focus also on putting on generosity. Take the time to write down the name of a specific vice you’re struggling to put off, and then write down the specific virtue you hope to put on to replace it.
  2. Confess that struggle to a fellow Christian and seek their accountability. You have nothing to be ashamed of because we all struggle with our own sins. If you believe you’re the only one struggling, you are believing a lie. Destroy the power of the flesh by bringing it out into the light.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:15).

The Gospel

The Gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life, it’s the fuel that keeps Christians going and growing every day. Once God saves us He doesn’t move us beyond the Gospel, He moves us more deeply into the Gospel.

Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything Sermon