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Archive for the ‘sanctification’ Category

You who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ  (Gal 3:27)

I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you  (Gal 4:19)

Christ put on me

Christ formed in me

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Christ surrounding me

Christ birthed in me

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Christ already

Christ progressing

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Christ: My status

Christ: My stature

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I in Christ

Christ in me

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feather duster… in the southern hemisphere anyway.

But as the weather turns decidedly Fall-en here, I’m still thinking about Spring cleaning.  The reason being – I’ve just preached on Exodus 12 tonight.  In preparation I was thinking about the Feast of Unleavened Bread (I speak about it some more in my 1 Corinthians 5 sermon).

Basically the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins with Passover and then continues with the purging of yeast from Israelite households. (see e.g. Exodus 12:15) What’s wrong with yeast you might ask?  Yeast kept a person in slavery.  If, when the other Israelites were eating and fleeing in haste, you’re waiting for your bread to rise, it’s clear where your heart is.  (Ex 12:33-34)  You’re not really committed to the LORD’s deliverance.  You’d rather live it up in Egypt.

So then every year after Passover, the Israelites were to purge their households of any sign of this compromise.  It was a cleansing symbolic of a spiritual spring clean (see how Paul applies it in 1 Cor 5:7-8).  Cupboard examination pointed to self-examination.  Am I really on board with the LORD’s redemption, or is my heart still in Egypt?

What’s interesting to me is that we have a Christian festival of self-examination.  It’s called Lent.  But when does it come?  Not after Passover (Easter) – but before.   Unfortunately in our calendar we have a spiritual spring clean before Jesus dies for us.  In the Hebrew calendar – Passover was the very first thing (Ex 12:2).  

In the bible, we are redeemed as helpless, enslaved sinners.  In fact nothing can happen before the LORD’s salvation.  Later we consider compromise in our lives. 

So much of our church experience teaches the Lent then Easter pattern.  We clean ourselves up and then God helps those who help themselves.

Reminds me of the worst sermon I ever heard.

But maybe that’s for another post…

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This is a long one but I won’t be posting for a while so read at your leisure…

 

crisis1) This is the occasion for change not the reason for change.

It’s great if you’ve come to some sort of crisis moment.  It’s good that you want to change.  But you ought to know that this is the struggle of your life.

I don’t mean: This is the struggle of your life.  I mean: This is the struggle of your life.  Welcome.

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Struggle2) If you’re not struggling, you’re losing.  Or worse, you’re not even a Christian.

Christians struggle.  We are the product of two births.  Our flesh is from Adam, our Spirit from Christ.  If you’re not struggling then you’re simply gratifying the cravings of your flesh (however respectable you may look).  And perhaps you don’t even have the Spirit.  Let the comfortable be disturbed.  And let the strugglers be comforted – your battle is a sign of the Spirit’s work.

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 Fruitful-Tree3) If you are struggling, you have a Power within you to live new creation life.

If Christ is in you, you have the power that called forth the universe and He is determined to bring supernatural change.  Mark 4 comes to mind – the power of Christ’s word can and will produce 30, 60, 100-fold growth but of course it will be as gradual and organic as the growth of a seed.  Nonetheless this is what you are aiming for – not simply the correction of some annoying habits but the transformation of your character through Christ’s word.  Be encouraged by your struggle – it means that an other-worldly Power is at work and will transform you in ways you can only begin to imagine.

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prodigal son3  4) Your righteousness is entirely outside and above you.

These problems do not define you.  Your success at handling these problems does not define you.  Christ defines you. We don’t say ‘My name’s Glen and I’m an alcoholic’ (or insert your problem of choice).  We say ‘My name’s Glen and I’m a saint clothed in Christ… I also happen to struggle with…’  We don’t struggle for but struggle from freedom.

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community5) You must deal with this struggle in community

All the real action happens outside of you.  You need the word of life to come from outside.  As Bonhoeffer says ‘The Christ in the word of a brother is stronger than the Christ in my heart.’  At the same time you need to put words to your darkness and, again, bring it outside.  Sin thrives in the dark, you must bring it into the light.  1 John 1:5-10. James 5:16.  Find someone.

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David confessing6) The person you reveal yourself to be in the midst of these sins is the person you’ve always been. 

We tend to think that we’re generally righteous and these problems have been a blip.  David knew better.  When he committed adultery and murder he realised that this was the person he’d been ‘from birth – sinful from the time my mother conceived me.’  (Ps 51:5)  These problems are just you with the hand-brake off.  Ugly huh?

But know also…

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prodigal son27) The person you reveal yourself to be in the midst of these sins is the person Jesus loves and has forgiven.

Jesus did not die for ‘me-on-my-best-behaviour’.  ‘While we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8).  ‘God justifies the wicked’ (Rom 4:5).  Which ‘me’ does Jesus love?  The cleaned up me?  No.  Jesus loves the me I showed myself to be in my worst moments.  When we grasp that Jesus is committed to us even and especially as we stink of sin it’s a hundred times worse but a thousand times better.  We must grasp the depths of this love for me the sinner – this is fundamental to real change.

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Jesus looking8) With 4-7 in place – you can learn to hate and hope appropriately.

Focussed in on ourselves we tend either to lose hatred or hope.  Either we don’t really hate our sin because we’re too attached to the ‘me’ who committed it.  Or we don’t really hope for transformation because we can’t imagine such a ‘me’ changing.  The problem is that we’re too attached to ‘me’.  Number 4) is the truth that releases us from that attachment and number 5) is the practice of it.  We then learn how to address this ‘me’ the way we’d address a brother or sister in sin.  As another addresses you in your sin with appropriate hatred and hope, learn to see things from this much healthier perspective.

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solutions9) Your problems are really your ‘solutions’.

You’ll be tempted to think…

“I have a recurring personal problem with X.”

Don’t be so sure.  Probably the truth is something much closer to…

“X is my solution to its insufferable alternative – Y”

X is a chosen strategy to avoid what you consistently reckon to be an even worse state of affairs.  You need to be thinking about what is Y, and why Y is so unbearable that you’d choose X.  Your deep fears (of Y) may be completely irrational and out of control.  But your chosen strategy, X, is not.

Therefore…

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strategy10)  Even the most seemingly compulsive and irrational ‘personal problems’ (non-organically caused) are, on deeper examination, chosen and intended strategies.

It might take some digging (Prov 20:5), but you will find volition at play.  This ought to reinforce the hope and hatred mix.  Hope because you’re not bound to sin like this.  Hatred because you’ve consistently and deliberately chosen these sins in defiance of Jesus and His way.

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nothing-but-the-blood11) Until you’ve diagnosed your problem as one for which Christ is necessary, you haven’t defined your real problem.

Your problem is not low self esteem or negative thoughts or panic attacks or over-eating or self-harm etc etc.  None of those require the blood of God.  Until you do the hard work on 4-7 and get to the heart issues – your angry defiance of your Father, your petrified mistrust of Christ, your obdurate resistance of the Spirit – you’re treating your wound lightly.

Jesus had to die.  Divine wisdom and heavenly encouragement have never been enough to address the human problem.  You don’t just need a bible study and a pep talk.  You need bloody, wrath-bearing atonement on your behalf, while all you can do is watch aghast.  Until you see your problems in that light you won’t be appropriately humbled and all your efforts at change will be a re-arranging of the flesh.

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resurrection12) Until you’ve set your hopes on a change for which Christ is necessary, you’re not aiming for Christian growth. 

It’s tempting to aim for a re-arranging of the flesh.  For instance, you may struggle with pornography and therefore make your resolution to be porn free from now on.  Well, ok.  But Ephesians 3 tells you that resurrection power is available to effect in you far above all you can ask or imagine (Eph 1:19-20; 3:20).  To aim for a clean internet history is not really to aim for Christian growth.  To aim for a pure heart that knows God and a burning zeal for Christ that takes you out of yourself and into the world – that’s your prayer.  And it’s impossible.  You can’t do it.  Only resurrection Power can.  But that’s where you aim if you want Christian growth.  And kicking pornography is just a little part of that.

Putting 11) and 12) together you get this:

Christ’s cross tells you to dig deeper,

Christ’s resurrection tells you to reach higher.

Therefore

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prayer13) Pray

The cross drives us down so that we call out in desperation, the resurrection lifts us up so that we ask for that which is humanly impossible.  There is therefore a gospel shape as well as a gospel power to our prayers.  Perhaps use the Lord’s Prayer as your guide.  Every line of the prayer calls us to change.  Don’t move on in the prayer until you’ve prayed through the issues that each line is raising.  Here is the really hard work of change, but only because it’s so powerful.

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Scheming14) In your desire to change there will be both flesh and Spirit at work.

Your flesh wants you to change to gain control, look better, escape guilt feelings, avoid the need for dependence, achieve a righteousness of your own, etc, etc.  Bring these false motives before the Lord and repent of your repentance strategies.  True repentance comes from a brokenness that realizes even our tears of regret need washing in Christ’s blood.

At the same time be aware that there is a true yearning from your new nature – a deeper desire to know Christ and be conformed to His image.  Get in touch with the Spirit’s stirrings here through prayer and conversation with others.  Figuring out why you want to change and having this answer come from the right place is priceless.

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entitlement14) Address your entitlement spirit?

The flesh is ever desiring to establish its own righteousness.  How, specifically, are you seeking to make a name for yourself?  According to your flesh – what are you trying to earn?  What do you feel you are owed?  What do you have to do to earn this?  What has blocked your goals?  Having thought about this, try to articulate the shape of your entitlement spirit.  How does the gospel address your entitlement spirit in general?  Specifically, how does the gospel address the specifics of your entitlement spirit?  Real change is happening when the Gospel demolishes your flesh-strategies.

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15) You already have the solution

Not within you!  In Christ.

4Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.  (John 15:4-9)

Allow these words to live in you and allow yourself to live in Christ.

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fat cat16) Some or all of these things are true of you:

You have little joy, take yourself too seriously, don’t have the friendships you need and are not sleeping/eating/exercising as you should.

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Some found my bible study on Ephesians 4 helpful.  Here’s another on Mark 4:1-20:

four soils

Verses 10-12: Jesus promises that those who are outsiders to Him will never understand His word, only be hardened.

Do you come to Jesus in dependence to understand His word?  Do you read it with Him at the centre?

Meditate on this: Diligent bible students are not changed but hardened when they don’t read to receive Christ. (cf John 5:39-47).

Verses 4 & 15:  Satan is active in snatching away the word that lies on the surface.

Do you realise the height and depth of this spiritual battle?  Do you pray accordingly: ‘Deliver us from the evil one’ (probably the best translation of Matt 6:13)?

Are there ways you could receive the word more deeply?  Communion?  Community?  Meditation on Scripture?

Verses 5-6&16-17: There is a shallow reception of the word that fails when trouble comes.

Are you ready for the ‘when’ of v17, or do you only look for quick joy?

How do you respond to trouble and persecution?  Does your entitlement spirit get enflamed?  What sorts of things do you start to tell yourself?  How can you counter such thinking?

What does it mean to have a ‘root’? (v6). 

Verses 7&18-19: Where the word is received along with other competing allegiances there will be no fruitfulness.

Name your worries.  Write them down.

How is wealth tempting you?  How is it deceiving you?  Write it down.

What are the ‘other things’ that you are desiring?  Articulate how they’ve captured your heart.  Write it down.

Think through how all these are choking you.

Now consider what is promised you in Christ’s word.  Write it down / draw it / sing it / speak it out to others.

Imagine what fruitfulness is possible if you do the necessary weeding.  Talk to Jesus about it.

Verses 8&20:  Supernatural fruitfulness is promised to those who ‘hear the word and welcome it’ (literally).

What would it mean to ‘welcome’ Christ’s word in your life? (Look up other uses of the word: Prov 3:12; Acts 15:4; 1 Tim 5:19).

Daydream about what 30,60,100 fold growth would look like in your Christian life.  Think about 5 years from now.  Think about 20 years from now.  As you imagine this remember to think gradual but to think big.  Seeds grow slowly, but exponentially.  You’ll probably overestimate the change you might see in a year but underestimate what’s possible in 5. 

Meditate on Col 3:16-17 and think about ways you can have the word of Christ dwelling in you richly.

Now trust Jesus’ words about Jesus words.  Though weak looking, though slow growing, they really are that powerful!

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 Here’s a sermon of mine on Mark 4

Here’s a kids song on it.

 

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Some questions to ask of Ephesians 4:22-24 (and context) – preferably with a friend, preferably with some personal struggles in mind:

22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

What are the desires of your old self?  List them in as much detail as possible.

How are they deceiving?  What do they promise?  Why is that attractive?  How is it a lie?

How are they corrupting?  How are they affecting you?  Describe their ugliness to the Lord and others.

Spend some time feeling the power of these desires, lies and corruptions.  Realize that you cannot redeem yourself.

Now consider – what has happened to this old self?  (cf Rom 6:6)

Meditate on this: Christ loves and redeems not your new self but your old self – in all its lusts, lies and ugliness.

Meditate too on the oldness of this former self – crucified with Christ.

Describe the new self.

Are you the one to ‘create’ this new self?  Where does it come from?

How is the Lord making you new in the attitude of your minds?

How is this new thinking different to your old thinking (v17-19)

In what ways can you meditate on this new ‘truth in Jesus’ (v21)?

Come up with opposing statements to counter the desires and promises of the old self.

 

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From Watchman Nee’s Sit, Walk, Stand.

“An engineer living in a large city in the West left his homeland for the Far East. He was away for two or three years, and during his absence his wife was unfaithful to him and went off with one of his best friends. On his return home he found he had lost his wife, his two children and his best friend. At the close of a meeting which I was addressing, this grief-stricken man unburdened himself to me. ‘Day and night for two solid years my heart has been full of hatred,’ he said. ‘I am a Christian, and I know I ought to forgive my wife and my friend, but though I try and try to forgive them, I simply cannot. Every day I resolve to love them, and every day I fail. What can I do about it?’ ‘Do nothing at all,’ I replied. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked, startled. ‘Am I to continue to hate them?’ So I explained: ‘The solution of your problem lies here, that when the Lord Jesus died on the Cross he not only bore your sins away but he bore you away too. When he was crucified, your old man was crucified in him, so that that unforgiving you, who simply cannot love those who have wronged you, has been taken right out of the way in his death. God has dealt with the whole situation in the Cross, and there is nothing left for you to deal with. Just say to him, ‘Lord, I cannot love and I give up trying, but I count on thy perfect love. I cannot forgive, but I trust thee to forgive instead of me, and to do so henceforth in me.’

The man sat there amazed and said, ‘That’s all so new, I feel I must do something about it.’ Then a moment later he added again, ‘But what can I do?’ ‘God is waiting till you cease to do,’ I said. ‘When you cease doing, then God will begin. Have you ever tried to save a drowning man? The trouble is that his fear prevents him trusting himself to you. When that is so, there are just two ways of going about it. Either you must knock him unconscious and then drag him to the shore, or else you must leave him to struggle and shout until his strength gives way before you go to his rescue. If you try to save him while he has any strength left, he will clutch at you in his terror and drag you under, and both he and you will be lost. God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before he can deliver you. Once you have ceased to struggle, he will do everything. God is waiting for you to despair.’

My engineer friend jumped up. ‘Brother,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen it. Praise God, it’s all right now with me! There’s nothing for me to do. He has done it all!’ And with radiant face he went off rejoicing.”

 

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What’s this verse about?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory…  (2 Cor 3:18)

Is it about enjoying private devotional experiences with Jesus so that we become like Him?   That’s a popular interpretation.  And it’s half right.  But it’s really not the full story.

The NIV footnote says that ‘reflect’ can be translated ‘contemplate’.  But I think ‘reflect’ is a better translation.  It’s a word that means ‘showing like a mirror shows’.  The question is this – Is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the beholder looks at the mirror?  Or is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the mirror itself reflects outwardly?

My guess is the latter.  Our faces are like mirrors reflecting outwardly to the world the glory of Jesus.

This fits the context.  Paul has been reminding us about Moses’s face-to-face encounters with the Lord (2 Cor 3:7,13).  He put a veil on to stop the Israelites seeing this fading glory.  We though (as v18 says) have unveiled faces.  And so what happens?   Others see the glory of Christ as we reflect it out to the world.

So this verse does indeed depend on our having devotional experiences with Jesus – just as Moses did (e.g. Exodus 33:7-11).  But that in itself will not transform us into Christ’s likeness.  Reflecting Christ’s glory out into the worldthat will transform us.

Which is what the next two chapters of 2 Corinthians are all about.

Too often we think of holiness as one thing and mission as another.  Really they are mutually defining and mutually achieved.  Just as God’s own being is a being in outreach, so our Christian character is a character in outreach.  To divorce the two is disastrous.

One of these days I’ll write some posts on holiness in mission as parallel to God’s being in becoming.  One of these days…

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