What to Do When You You Lose the Battle: 7 Key Truths

A few months ago I wrote a two part series on “Killing Sin.” In Part 1, I laid the foundation for killing sin; that is, fixing our eyes on Jesus. In Part 2, I gave practical steps on how to realign our value system so that we can successfully make war on our sin.

My brothers and sisters, I want you to know that from time to time, we stumble. Sometimes we lose the battle – and the weight of our grief can be tremendous.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. [. . .] For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 22-25a)

Several weeks ago, I was before the Lord with this very passage open – my heart sinking into my chest, and my eyes overflowing with tears. Like many of you, I’m just a man – learning to walk the Christian walk day by day. And sometimes, often more times than I care to admit, I stumble (James 3).

You see, several weeks ago I felt the pressures of life mounting against me. In the midst of this hardship, my heart became preoccupied with the affairs of this life and my time with the Lord became cold. What resulted was a prime opportunity for the roots of anger and irritation that reside in my heart to lash out against those whom I love the most: my wife and my children.

Therefore, I want to address a very important question: What do you do when you lose the battle? We’re told to fix our eyes on Jesus and to wage war against our sin, but what happens if I fail?

How you respond to failure (because the bible guarantees that we will fail) can mean everything. It can either mean crushing, final defeat or it can be a new opportunity to see God as the Glorious One who saves sinners. So I want to deal with that very question: What to do when you lose the battle . . .

James teaches us to confess our sins to one another, and to pray for one another, in order that we may be delivered from the power of sin in our lives. In the spirit of James, let me share a few words of encouragement and some of the lessons I’ve (re)learned.

1. Remember the Gospel – Sometimes, for various reasons, we lose sight of the experiential magnificence of the gospel: “But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Grasp that with your mind and your heart! Our experience of the sin cleansing power of the gospel is not “once done.” There are reservoirs of grace that have already made covering for all of our wicked thoughts and deeds, made available by the sacrificial death of God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. Let us behold that wondrous mystery every moment that God gives us breath.

2. Repent Quickly – When you lose the battle, do not be slow to repent. God has forgiven you, but your unrepented sin still prevents intimacy with Him. The Holy Spirit resides in us, in part, to convict us of sin. However, shame makes us want to resist or hide from His conviction. But trying to hide from God is foolish, impossible, and will only prolong your sense of agony, for “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” (Psalm 32:3-4)

I urge you that if you are aware of your sin, to quickly confess it to God. His heart is inclined such that He desires to restore intimacy with us. The first chapter of 1 John reminds us that, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

3. Godly Grief v. Despair – One of the jobs of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin. However, there is another who desires to convict us. Satan aims to entice us so that we act on our sinful desires (James 1:14), and then haul us before God and hurl accusations against us. In fact, his name, which comes directly from Hebrew, literally means, “the accuser”. In Revelation, Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren.”

So how do we know which is which? Paul tells us, in the seventh chapter of 2 Corinthians, that the aim of the Holy Spirit is “godly sorrow that leads to repentance.” God’s “end-game” is always repentance, restoration, and renewed intimacy with Him.

Satan’s end-game is to see the opposite: to see you either totally unaware of your sin or so crushed under the weight of your grief that you are crippled, ineffective, and afraid to run back to your Heavenly Father.

4. Eternal Security – Every time we sin, we provide ammunition for our accuser. It’s sort of like a boomerang that he can use against us again and again. Even weeks, months, or years after a sin – indeed, even after repentance – the accuser will speak accusations into our ear: “I know what you’ve done.” “Do you really think God could forgive or love you?” “You make God sick.” “You will never be able to master this.”

Do not listen to him. Do not fall back into despair. He is not known as the father of lies without cause. He is on a hell-bound path and he knows it. Like a child throwing a temper tantrum, he’s breaking as much as he can in his path, just so someone else can’t have it.

We have one – Jesus Christ – who stands before the father making intercessions on our behalf. And He has promised that he will save those who draw near to him – no one, not even the accuser of the brethren, will be able to pluck you from His hand.

5. The Refiner’s Fire – God knows our hearts even better than we do. He knows what thoughts and desires corrode the walls of our hearts, and he loves us too much to allow us to peacefully co-exist with them. To that end, God permits circumstances that are trying, hard, or painful in our lives. Malachi describes God as a “refiner’s fire” or “fuller’s soap.” God turns the heat up in our lives because he knows that those impurities and inconsistencies will make their way to the surface. It is the only way for us to be able to see them, and to be able to deal with them accordingly. It’s a painful process, but allows us to draw closer to God as a result.

6. Know Thyself – Socrates is often given credit for the quote, “Know thyself.” Whether or not he actually said it, I’m borrowing a page from his book. The truth is that God has been incredibly gracious to mankind. He has woven into our human natures, certain “barometers” or “tests” so that we can read the condition of our souls. The things we say (or the things that we do), tell us about the condition of our hearts. In fact, our Lord, in the book of Luke, said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

In other words, he’s telling us that we don’t have to wonder what’s lurking in our heart. We don’t have to wonder if we have angry hearts, or jealous hearts, or lustful hearts. All we have to do is look at the things we say and do, and diagnose the problem. It really is a blessing to us!

So what’s the application here? Recognize your own sinful tendencies – which will vary from person to person. Don’t rationalize them! Instead, be honest with yourself about your tendencies! What drives you? Be specific! For some, it’s pride, for others it’s anger, or jealousy, and so on. Knowing which sinful tendencies are more prevalent in your life will be useful in your battle against sin.

7. The Grand Scheme – Do not waste your sin. By no means am I encouraging you to dismiss your sin, or to revel in it. Nor am I making the argument that Paul famously rebuts in Romans 6, “Let us sin so that grace may increase!”

No. What I am saying is do not waste the bitter taste for sin that God graciously provides in repentance; do not waste the lessons your war against sin – both successes and failures – will teach you.

Perhaps, most importantly, do not waste the opportunity to see the grand scheme: Our glorious God has chosen – out of the multi-faceted goodness of his character – to make his name the most glorious by providing himself as the means of loving, rescuing, and redeeming sinners like ourselves. That thought should move our hearts toward worship!

I am reminded of the exchange between Lucy, Susan, and Mrs. Beaver in the Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy and Susan asked what Aslan (the Jesus-like character in the story) was like. Mrs. Beaver responded, “He is not safe, but he is good.”

And so it is with our lives as Christians. We face many trials and hardships – some caused by this world, some we cause on our own – but we know from the promise of scripture, and the depth of our experiences of Him, that He is good.

My dear brothers and sisters, our lives are a fight for joy. Fights are hard, but this one is worth it. Keep up the good fight, and remember – one battle does not define your war.

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5 Lessons on Mentorship from the Middle Ages

A few weeks ago, on October 31, we celebrated a holiday. And no – I’m not talking about Halloween. While it is often forgotten about, Reformation Day marks an important date in the life of Protestants. Now for those of you who might have slept through your world history classes in high school, let’s refresh:

For much of the middle ages (500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.), the Catholic Church dominated both the religious and political life in Europe. It wielded incredible amounts of power, money, and influence, and as what often happens with unchecked power, corruption set in. Eventually, the church turned to selling indulgences (pieces of paper promising that your loved one would be guaranteed entrance to heaven) as a sort of fundraising racket. On October 31, 1517, an incensed German monk named Martin Luther responded by nailing 95 objections to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany in an attempt to reform the corrupt practices and doctrines that had become prevalent in the Catholic Church.

What’s important about Reformation Day is not the man, or the fact that his actions were instrumental in spawning the Protestant faith. What matters is that God used Martin Luther in incredible ways to help His people rediscover His Word, and to help His church return to true, biblical Christianity. However, it is not Reformation Day (or even Martin Luther for that matter) that I want to focus on, but Luther’s lesser known mentor, Johann von Staupitz. 

Martin was born to Hans and Margaret Luther in 1483. Hans was a miner by trade and, wanting to spare his son of the same life, encouraged Martin to enter law school. By all accounts, Martin disliked law school and had a natural bent for theology and philosophy, but he nevertheless obliged his father. One day, while on a trip back home, the young Martin was caught in a thunderstorm and was nearly struck by lightning. Terrified that he might die and go to hell, he made a promise that he would become a monk. So in 1505, Martin left everything behind and went to a monastery in Erfurt, Germany to do just that.

It was in Erfurt where Martin Luther met one of the most influential persons of his life – his mentor Johann von Staupitz. Not much is known about Staupitz, but he served as an overseer and superior to young, aspiring monks – including the young Martin Luther. Even though Martin was going through the process to become a monk, it is clear from his own admission that he was still unconverted when he first came to the monastery. Martin was constantly plagued by a guilty conscience and fear of hell. To alleviate his conscience, he frequently made pilgrimages, fasted, prayed, and spent hours in confession.

“If ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk. And yet my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’ The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more I daily found it more uncertain, weaker, and more troubled.” -Martin Luther

For much of Luther’s time in “seminary”, Staupitz faithfully mentored and counseled the troubled young man. Seeing Luther’s obsession with his own sin, Staupitz frequently counseled him to look away from his own sin, and towards Christ who was able to forgive sin and grant a change of heart. It was because of Staupitz’s advice, as well as being washed by the scripture, that Martin Luther was finally converted and tasted grace.

Luther had a great respect and fondness for his mentor. By his own admission, Luther said of Staupitz: “If it had not been for him, I should have sunk in hell.”  It was nothing other than the stirring of the Holy Spirit that saved Martin Luther. Nevertheless, Staupitz’s godly advice, mentorship, and personal investment into a young troubled soul made a critical difference – not only for Martin, but eventually for all of Christendom. Even though history remembers Martin Luther, let us not forget that we are benefactors of Staupitz’s faithful, behind-the-scenes mentorship. That said, what can we take away from their examples?

1. Awareness of our sin is a gift of God

Ephesians clearly states our salvation is a gift from God, and that no one has any grounds to boast. Likewise, an awareness of sin – which is necessary for repentance that leads to salvation – is also a gift of God. Luther, for much of his life, saw the deadly reality of his own sin, but he didn’t know what to do with it. He, like many still do today, turned to doing religious things in order to gain favor with God. But, as Ephesians says, there is no way that man can gain favor with God by doing good things. We must be aware of our sins, repent of them, trust that Christ’s death is the only means for God’s forgiveness, and subsequently lead a life of submitting to the Holy Spirit.

What should I do if – like Luther – I am suffering from conviction and an awareness of my sins? First, recognize that God is showing you mercy. God is opening your eyes and ears and granting you godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Secondly, know that although sorrow and fear from conviction are necessary, they do not comprise repentance and faith. As Jesus said to a number of would-be disciples, you are close to the Kingdom of Heaven, but you have not found it yet. Thirdly, and most importantly, because God is convicting you He is giving you the opportunity to repent and believe. Therefore, in light of His mercy, use the opportunity he is giving you to repent and trust in Christ’s death as the atonement for your sins.(After all, there is no guarantee that you’ll get another such opportunity. Only by repenting and trusting Christ do you find the Kingdom of Heaven.)

2. Wallowing in conviction can become an idol

As I said before, Luther was clearly under conviction of his sin for many years of his life.

Instead of turning to Christ, Luther turned to doing empty (albeit good) religious things such as making pilgrimages, fasting, praying, and confessing as a tool to gain favor with God and make atonement for his own sins – an impossible task.

Religious activity is good. God indeed wants us to pray, to confess, to seek Him, and to do good works. However, when they are used as tools to tray to gain favor with God – without trusting and valuing Christ – they too become empty human traditions.

Therefore, don’t repeat Luther’s mistakes. Do not let wallowing in your despair and punishing yourself become an idol to you. Don’t focus so intently on your own faults and sins that they become an insurmountable burden. Don’t try to make atonement for your own sins. Your sins are indeed grievous to a holy God. However, He is also loving and desires to give you only what He can give you: repentance and a new heart that values Him above all else.

3. Being religious is not the same as being converted

A problem that affects every human heart is that we want to be made much of. For many, that involves giving others the illusion that we are more spiritual and  religious than we actually are. We may even genuinely do religious things, like what I have listed previously. However, such “worship” does not honor God. God frequently addresses humanity’s false religiosity. It is a stench to Him. In Isaiah He says that, “they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Likewise, Jesus frequently rebuked the Pharisees (religious leaders of the Israelites) for being “white washed tombs” – having the appearance of being religious on the outside, but on the inside they are spiritually dead.

What is more important than attending church and fasting and praying is having a converted heart that now values God above everything else, and that trusts in Christ’s death as the appeasement for its sins. And as far as doing religious things? “You should have practiced the latter [religious actions], without neglecting the former [conversion].” (Matt. 23:23)

4. Mentorship matters

People often like to make separate little boxes. One for evangelism, one for discipleship, one for mentorship, and so on. The truth is, regardless of what you call it, they are all part of the same scale. The activity and the end-goal is one in the same: to get people to become more like Christ. And so, if the person you are mentoring is unconverted – we happen to call it evangelism. If the person you are mentoring is saved – we happen to call it discipleship.

Mentorship is incredibly important work. The stakes are high, as it is the difference between eternal life and eternal death. We must be serious about grabbing as many lives as we can – unconverted and saved alike – and faithfully help them to treasure Christ. As you mentor people, you are not affecting just one life, but the thousands and millions of lives that would have been touched by that one life. Little did Staupitz know the effect he would eventually have on the course of history by mentoring that young, nervous, German monk.

5. Behind-the-scenes ministry is not meaningless

Generally speaking, mentoring is a ministry that often goes unnoticed and unthanked. There is no spotlight or adoring audiences – as you might find with the preaching and teaching ministries. Instead, it is often a day-to-day, one-on-one kind of work. But just because there isn’t a spotlight, doesn’t mean that there isn’t joy in it or that the work is meaningless.

Not all ministries and gifts are the same. But all are useful for building up the body. So regardless of what ministry you are involved with – please know that your work is not meaningless. 

3 Observations on Sexting and the Gospel: The Fruit of a Post-Christian Culture

A November 7, 2015, Associate Press story out of Canon City High School in Denver describes how a large number of athletes on the football team are apparently involved in a sexting (that is, sending pornographic text messages through mobile phones) scandal that has caused the school to forfeit at least one game while the investigation of illegal activity is underway. Law enforcement is involved, as sending of nude photos of minor children constitutes child pornography—a felony. When school district administrators discovered the illegal activity, apparently centered in the football team, they asked the coach to do a fast, preliminary investigation to determine how many players were involved. The Friday night game would proceed if reasonable assurances could be made that enough players were not involved that they could field a team. Stunningly, no such assurances could be made. It appears the vast majority of the team is involved in what the law will view as felonious actions. High school students may enter adulthood as felons and be required to register as sexual offenders.

 

Three immediate thoughts:

 

1. Teens are openly, without shame or sense of inappropriateness, engaging in self-made porn. This seems a logical step forward for those who have (A) been told that there are no moral absolutes and you are free to determine what is right in your own mind and heart, (B) have seen unrestrained sexual behavior from their parents, politicians, and purveyors of entertainment, and (C) believed porn use is normal, acceptable, and productive. Welcome to post-Christian America.

 

2. There is a moral crisis occurring on the side of those who promote sexual rights and freedom (that is, the idea that any sexual behavior is acceptable if any individual says it is). It is evident that certain sexual behaviors and ethics are destructive. I’m speaking beyond the obvious biology of disease and physical injury of violent actions—I’m talking about real damage to the human soul that has long-lasting consequences. It further impacts the ability to lead a productive life. I have no thought that this evidence will lead to corrective behavior or change in thinking. These deadly consequences will either be ignored, covered up, or accepted as the cost of doing business in the new market of sexual freedom–or simply denied by the morally blind, as a physically blind man might deny the sun’s light. But as the sun’s heat can be felt and experienced regardless of one’s capacity to see, so the consequences of sexual expression outside of the Creator’s framework will be experienced for a very long time.

 

3. The sexual ethic (or lack thereof) embraced by the post-Christian west in general, and the United States in particular, must run afoul of the law, which itself must be rooted in an objective standard fixed in time, however transient that standard may ultimately prove to be. Legislatures simply can’t meet, debate, and amend laws fast enough to keep up with the speed of our moral freefall. That means teens and younger children are going to find themselves in the juvenile justice system and will be confused about why they are there since they are simply practicing what their parents, politicians, and entertainers are doing with apparent impunity. Further, because of the moral insanity of our culture, there will be no coherent way to explain why they are being punished. This will soon leave the country ripe for open revolt against law enforcement, courts, and government that punishes people without being able to justify why it does so.

 

This deadly moral morass is exactly the target of the Gospel: Jesus came to save morally blind, depraved hearts, spiritually bankrupt dead souls from their sin and give them life in Christ in exchange for eternal death and condemnation. Grace restores and heals those who flee to Jesus in faith and repentance. There is a balm in Gilead that makes the wounded whole. The church is given the joyful, satisfying assignment of calling people from death to life in him.

The parents of these children desperately need Christ. These children desperately need Christ. Our nation desperately needs Christ. This is our watch, and it is no time to fail in fulfilling our assignment. If you are a follower of Christ and your life, heart, finances, schedule, affections, and intellect are not adjusting to proclaim the glories of Christ in our dying world–to broken children, broken parents, broken families, broken society—you’re not following very closely.

 

Source:

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_SEXTING_HIGH_SCHOOL?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2015-11-06-17-35-49

 

Total Realignment of the Heart (Part I)

What things bring you joy when you think about them? What are the things you just can’t seem to step away from? What things do you lie awake in bed thinking about?

For some, they can’t help but think that life is “all about the Benjamins”, and fretting about how to grow their bank account. For some, they value time at home with their spouse and their children. For more than a few college-aged persons, it’s all about maximizing fun-time between (and sometimes instead of) classes.

None of those things I listed are inherently bad: that is, money, sex, family, possessions, or even intangible things like love or fun. In fact, when they are enjoyed in such a way that shows that God is more valuable to us than those things, they are blessings.

However, even for a people whose entire faith hinges on the promise of the resurrection because of the substitutionary death of Christ, I am convinced that we spend far too little time thinking about (read: dwelling on) the new heavens, the new earth, and the glorious God who will govern both. The reason is that we are so prone to becoming bogged down by other concerns – some of which are sinful, and some of which are legitimate. Kids need to eat. The mortgage needs to be paid. You know, stuff like that.

If we are going to live fruitful Christian lives, we must rise above our sinful, idolatrous addictions, and we must rise above our tendency to settle for the here-and-now. How do we go about doing that? Hebrews reminds us to, “lay aside every weight and sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:1b-2).

We notice at least three admonitions from the author of Hebrews: First, lay aside sin. Seems obvious, right? Second, lay aside other stuff (even good stuff) that prevents you from seeking and obeying God. Thirdly, realign your heart to treasure Christ. This third admonition from Hebrews really is the key to unlocking the first two. By fixing our eyes on Jesus – his glory, his goodness, his loving sacrifice, among his other manifold qualities – the things of this world “grow strangely dim.” In other words, not only are we to lay down one set of passions, but we are also to pick up a better passion – namely, God.

 

Our Lord sets the very same example for us when “for the joy set before Him he endured the cross.” What joy is the author referring to? The joy of ascending to heaven, the joy of being returned to his rightful place at the Father’s right hand, the joy of redeeming a people for himself, and the joy of conquering sin and death (just to name a few) were more valuable to Him, and motivated Him to obey the will of the Father.

No doubt this world offers many things that capture our desires and attention. Falling out of love with the world is a hard thing to do. Nay, it is impossible to do on our own. We are creatures that are naturally inclined to seek joy and fulfillment – which is not wrong! What is wrong, is where we choose to fulfill those desires. When we were unconverted, we were dead to God and had no other choice than to seek fulfillment in sin and in the here-and-now. But once God gives us the gift of conversion, Christ frees us from our absolute enslavement to sin. Even though we still have a sinful nature inherited from the fall, Christ now gives us the freedom to tell our sinful natures, “no,” and to seek fulfillment in Him.

We must, therefore, for God’s glory and our joy, realign our hearts to treasure Christ. It is the only thing that will help us – for the long run – to live lives that are pleasing to God. Recognizing that it’s easy to spout platitudes, part two of this blog will provide some practical advice on how to realign our hearts. In other words, what does the process look like? Stay tuned for part two.

Roadkill and Radical Depravity

It’s amazing how quickly we grow accustomed to things. Case in point: Nearly every day, as I make my circuitous drive to work, I encounter the remains of an unfortunate confrontation between a small animal and one ton of barreling steel.

It happens so often that we offer up a quick, insincere prayer thanking God that we avoided getting the mess on our car, and then go about our merry way. Rarely do we ever reflect on the deeper meaning of . . . roadkill. However, this is exactly what I invite us to do.

As I drove past the unfortunate creature, I couldn’t help but think about the implications of what I saw. In what seemed to be an insignificant, every-day occurrence, we see the manifestation of a larger truth: Sin continues to have devastating consequences. It seeks to maim, kill, and destroy everything it touches. It’s a lesson we’re prone to forget, but that we need to frequently remind ourselves.

Genesis teaches us that when God made the heavens, the Earth, and everything that is in the Earth, that He deemed everything to be good. There was no sin; nor was there sickness and death. However, Adam and Eve, in their pursuit to become like God, deliberately ignored God’s warning that moment they eat of the Tree of Knowledge that they will surely die.

Since that first, seemingly “minor” sin, humanity quickly devolved. In just a few short chapters we read about Cain killing his brother Abel out of a jealous heart. Over the course of the remainder of human history, from the fall to the present, we have been exploring and pushing the boundaries of our sinful natures.

Only God knows, precisely, how we inherited Adam’s sin tendency. However, the bible clearly clearly teaches that we inherited his nature nevertheless (Gen. 6:5, Gen. 8:21,Jer. 17:9, Eph. 2:3, Rom. 5:12). Perhaps the clearest case, in my opinion, is Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” In our natural state we are not blank canvasses like some would have us believe, but posses an irresistible bent towards sin. In other words, we do not become sinners because we sin; instead, we sin because we are sinners.

Furthermore, sin has produced far reaching consequences. Physical death was not the only consequence of sin entering the world. Consider just a few ramifications:

  1. Physical – Sin has produced real, physical death. We are reminded of it every time we bury a loved one. During the death of loved one – especially if they were particularly young – we experience a rightful sense that there is something wrong in the universe. Because there is something wrong. Physical death is perhaps the most patently obvious consequence of sin.
  2. Eternal – God’s warning to us, “lest you surely die,” was not only referring to a physical death. Because we have been created with eternal souls, and because sin separates us from a Holy God, without Christ we are objects of God’s wrath, destined for hell. (Rev. 20:14b)
  3. Spiritual – Sin has ravaged our relationship with our Creator. Not only are we born with sinful natures, and not only are we subject to both physical and spiritual deaths, but for what little time we have breath it is impossible for us to please God without the transforming power of Christ at work in our lives. (Rom. 8:5-8)
  4. Mental – Despite living in a supposed, “Age of Reason,” even our minds have been corrupted by the fall. In other words, we are unable to think rightly about God, our minds and hearts have been darkened, and we are unable to experience Godly guilt. Our minds are slaves to our sinful natures, constantly using them to dream up new ways of fulfilling our desires. Therefore, Romans teaches us that we must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This renewing occurs as we expose ourselves to the gospel – and to the whole of scripture – whereby God reveals himself to man. (Romans 12:2)
  5. Relational – Immediately after the fall, we see discord in human relationships. Adam shifts blame for the fall onto Eve. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Jesus teaches that family members will betray one another on account of the Gospel. Lastly, Paul states that as a consequence of the fall, that men and women gave up natural relations for one another, and were inflamed with lust. (Gen. 3:12, Gen. 37:18-36, Rom. 1:18-31)Societal/National – We see the consequences of sin societally and nationally every time we turn on the news. Nations are at war with one another. Cultures devolve into godlessness, and promote every kind of evil imaginable. Homicide and crime rates fluctuate. And, as a general rule, we do not seek to do good to our neighbors. (Prov. 14:34)
  6. Creational – Mankind was not the only being to suffer from the fall. The scripture teaches that all of nature suffered as well. The ground was cursed as a result of our sin, fields produced thorn and thistle, and animals became predatory. Paul confirms this when he writes:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom. 8:18-22)

 

The ramifications of sin extend far beyond the short list I have compiled. The truth of the matter is that something big happened at the fall. Something that has affected nearly every faculty and every facet of our lives.

And so we come back to that poor creature lying on the road. Whenever we see the death of a cat, or dog, or squirrel, or some other kind of roadkill, we are witnessing the far reaching and continuing consequences of our sin. We have become too numb to it. Out of the fall we have adapted and  forged a kind of “new normal.” But it is not natural, nor right, nor normal.

How should we respond, then? Let us cry over spilled milk. There is nothing we can do about our new present state. But we can weep over sin and its destructive fruits. Let our weeping move us to prayer. Let us be moved to share the news of a God who will make all things new – both our bodies and the creation. And finally, let us long for the redemption of our bodies in the age to come. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus!

Our Desperate Need for A New Heart

A Fatal Flaw

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah17:9)

Let me tell you a story:

It’s a cool, cloudy spring afternoon. Rain drizzles outside as the grey light seeps in through window blinds. The fluorescent flicker of the exam room heightens the nervous tension in the room, as a young couple – perhaps in their early thirties – wait anxiously in the corner. At long last, the medical technician breaks the silence, “It’s another boy.”

No, this isn’t a story about Planned Parenthood; nor is this a story about abortion. This is a story about my life.

The excited and anxious young couple are my parents. And at 3:00 pm, on April 6, 1990, they welcomed their second son (me) into the world. Unfortunately, instead of being able to enjoy the moment, their excitement and joy would soon give way to heartache and fear. Something is gravely wrong with their son: his heart has a fatal flaw.

With no time to waste, doctors whisk the young couple’s newborn infant away. More doctors come and go, while shouts and orders echo through the hallway. In the midst of the chaos, the couple is all but forgotten. Finally, a kind, grave-faced doctor enters the room, shuts the door behind him, and sits down across from the young couple. The solemnity of his expression seems to communicate everything long before he even has a chance to speak. Nevertheless, he takes them by the hand and delivers the frightening news:

“Mr. and Mrs. Romine, your son has a very serious heart condition. The major arteries of his heart have developed in the wrong place.”

All sense of time and space seem to warp around the young couple as panic rises in their chests – they can’t think. Pushing through the mental haze, and with tears welling up in their eyes, they manage to ask, “What are you saying? What does that even mean?”

“If we do not act now, your son will surely die . . .”

The Day Their Hearts Stopped Beating

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:5-6)

Truth be told, our diagnosis is not so different. All of us were born with a fatal heart condition. Our sick hearts are pitifully and wretchedly bent to “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the created, rather than the Creator.” (Rom. 1:25)

We weren’t supposed to have sick hearts. We were made for something greater: to be eternal beings that magnify and delight in an infinite, all-satisfying God. That day in the garden changed our fate forever. That day we chose to “become like God” and magnify and delight in ourselves. That day we waged cosmic treason against our Creator. That day we chose death.

By declaring war against our Creator – whose breath is our very life and sustenance – we opened Pandora’s box. Since that day, we’ve been exploring every filthy, cavernous recess we can imagine. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, [and] slander.” (Matt. 15:19) All around us we see the tragic consequences of our natural state: families and lives are broken; we are slaves to an endless list of addictions; children are routinely neglected and abused; we lie, cheat, and steal; our hate has produced an astounding, piling body count.

Sadly, even in the face of incredible brokenness, we still often choose to suppress the truth because we cherish our sin. It’s that simple. It feels so good … at least for a while. Much like the ancient Israelites, we choose broken cisterns and dirty mud puddles over a fountain of fresh, living water.

We are pitiful, wretched creatures indeed.

A New Heart

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19)

In case you couldn’t tell, I didn’t die that day. Gifted surgeons spent hours in the operating room, with my chest splayed open, grafting and cutting and correcting the fatal flaws of my tiny, quarter-sized heart. I still had a long road of recovery ahead of me, but I had new life breathed into my dying body.

Like my own heart, our only hope is radical, invasive surgery; without a new heart, our prognosis is certain death.

However, in His wisdom, God knew that we were both unwilling and unable to initiate peace.  He knows that our hearts are mutinous to the core, and no amount of “doing better” or “right living” can ever fix them – or, for that matter, atone for our crimes. Therefore, out the richness of his love, and in spite of our treason, God took compassion on his enemies. For His glory and our joy He purchased peace with the shedding of His own blood, and thus gave us ‘hearts of flesh.’

On account of the heavy cost of securing for us hearts that are now at peace with God, we must not cheapen the gift by allowing our faith to devolve into shallow, passionless obedience which ultimately has no power to help us to live pleasing lives for God. God rightly demands and desires so much more from us. He desires that we fulfill the greatest commandment: “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all of your mind.” (Luke 10:27)

We must not be guilty of being superficial about God. Superficial love – affections without obedience – does not glorify God, for “if you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) Likewise, superficial obedience – obedience without affection – does not glorify God, for even demons believe and obey Him.

Instead, let us seek to savor, to magnify, to exult, and to delight in everything God is. Let us cultivate deep, rich affection towards God that naturally results in our glad obedience to Him.

C.S. Lewis aptly said, concerning our desires, that, “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The Christian life, then, is not marked by a single heart transplant (which is undeniably necessary). Instead, it is marked by our humble and persistent confession that even though we are now a people set apart for God, our mutinous hearts are still quick to usurp the throne. To that end, let us entreat God to deepen our desires for him and to give us the only thing that will cure us: new, undivided hearts.

Thank God that there is no shortage of new hearts in God’s kingdom.