Posts Tagged ‘Not Conformed’

More Thieves!

More Thieves!

© C. O. Bishop 9/29/18 Cornell Estates 9/30/18

Colossians 2:16-23

Introduction:

Last time, we saw that we can be robbed of our Joy, Peace and Security, by those who want us to return to legalism, rather than resting in the Grace of God, poured out upon us through Jesus, at the Cross. We were warned against conformity to Man-made “rules for piety,” when what we are called to do is allow God to change us from the inside. In verse 16, Paul specifically addressed the issues of dietary laws, the keeping of the Jewish feasts, and the Sabbath.

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Romans 10:4 says: “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.) The result, then, of the final setting aside of the Law, for righteousness, is that we are also free from the trappings of the religious law adhered to by the Jews. There are people who do place themselves back under the Law, though God warns to not do it, right here in this passage.

And the troubling thing is that we humans tend to condemn anyone who isn’t “like us.” Paul warns us to not allow others to “guilt” us into going back into that slavery. We are easily fooled, and easily coerced through shaming. We are social creatures, by nature, and society around us commonly uses the fear of rejection to make us “conform to the group.” Children learn early, to make the threat, “I won’t be your friend!” in order to coerce another child to do their bidding. When people try to shame you into conformity, away from the freedom in Christ, they aren’t your friend, anyway!

Remember that all the things of the Law were only to “point us to Christ.” Don’t allow them to be used to turn you away from Him.

Remember that the Reality is Christ

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Paul points out that the things of the Law were only a shadow, or a “picture,” at best, of the coming reality of righteousness in Christ. Jesus is the Reality! Since Jesus is the reality, turning to anything else, no matter how pleasing, or solemn, or awe-inspiring—whatever it is that attracts us—is ultimately turning away from Christ.

I do not mean this in the sense of “falling away to perdition,” necessarily: for example, I may have a photograph of my wife, which I especially like, perhaps from when we were first married, and when she was perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two years of age. Her hair was thick, dark and glossy, and she was filled with the vitality of youth. But the woman I love today is not a photograph. She is the real person, and lovelier in person than ever before, though no longer as young. If I were to dote upon that photograph, to the neglect of the real person, can there be any doubt that she would be hurt? It would be turning away from the real woman who is my favorite person and the joy of my life, to gaze at a paper representation of someone I knew nearly forty years ago. I would be turning away from my beautiful wife and attaching myself to a dead image. Our relationship, obviously, would be severely damaged.

All the regulations and rituals of the Old Testament Law, were a picture, or a foreshadowing of the reality to come. Jesus is the reality. If we insist on turning back to the Law, we need to realize that, in so doing, we are turning our hearts away from Christ, with all He has done, and concentrating on the things that we can do.

More Thieves!

There are all sorts of ways through which we can damage our freedom in Christ, and thus, our walk with him. Rituals, self-flagellations, self-humiliation, and over-emphasis of angelic intervention in human experience, along with self-conceived visions (as God called the visions of the false prophets in Jeremiah’s time) all tend to lead us away from a simple, day-by-day walk with Christ. The whole point of our life in Christ is that it is to be Christ-centered.

I have read that there was a teaching at the time this was written, which denied the deity of Christ, and relegated him to the status of an exalted spirit, but claimed that angels had somehow brought us salvation. They denied the value of the blood of Jesus at the Cross, and substituted their own ideas for the Truth of the Gospel. They drew people away from the Gospel and in so doing, destroyed their walk with Christ. Paul warns that such false teachers can ultimately trick us out of the reward that is offered to us for simply walking with Him.

18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

To “beguile” means to “trick.” You remember that Eve’s only defense, in the Garden, was that the Serpent had tricked her—beguiled her. Don’t let people trick you into giving up your reward. (Remember: Salvation is a gift: rewards are earned!)

People may claim to have seen visions of some sort (and I do not deny the possibility): but the visions have to be in agreement with the Written Word of God, or I am deeply suspicious of their source. There is something in the human psyche that demands self-aggrandizement, even if it is some sort of “I am more humble than you are!” type of boasting. God told the false prophets who were Jeremiah’s contemporaries that they had caused their “visions” or dreams, themselves, and that the visions were not from God. (Jeremiah 29:8) Believers easily get drawn into a mystical “experience-driven” faith, as opposed to simply believing God. I remember a fellow-pastor relating to me how he had attempted to share scripture with a woman, who responded angrily, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” Our experiences may or may not be interpreted rightly, and may or may not be “messages from God.” While it certainly is possible to misinterpret God’s Word, at least it is there to be re-read and understood by anyone who cares. Our experiences are not so secure. (Compare 2nd Peter 1:15-21) The Word is our Light.

The Body needs the Head

All of our rituals and pious grandstanding do not impress the Lord. Most of them are weak attempts to emulate parts of the Jewish experience: the feasts, the dietary laws, the Sabbaths, etc., even to the extent of attempting to re-create some of the temple vestments and furniture. There was a man, for a while, who had made a copy of the altar of incense, and who had a religious television show of praying before the “Golden Altar of Incense Prayer!” That is blasphemous, as his work was certainly not the altar of incense. It was false teaching, too, as in the New Testament there is no such altar, and no directive to pray in a particular place, posture, or manner. Such things look attractive, and sound pious, but they do not draw us closer to God. They only result in a return to legalism, not a free, wholesome walk with the Savior.

19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

Notice that the Head is Christ…and the Body is the Church, proper. The Head is to be the only source of nourishment and guidance for the Body. And the Body is to respond to the Head, not to all the misdirection of the World. Give this some thought: we are dependent upon the Head for all things, whether we know it or not, and whether we choose to do so or not. He still is the ultimate source of all our sustenance, and care. But he asks that we choose to depend upon Him; and, that we choose willingly, not by default. Choose to respond to the Person of Christ, and not to the temptations and pressures of the World, and your perspectives will begin to change.

We are to abound in the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the Law: the result is that the Church flourishes, and the increase is from God, not human effort. A friend of mine visited a number of churches, not because he was looking for another church, but because he had been grieving a loss, and was deliberately “going where no one knew him”, so as to avoid the sympathy and comments that sharpened his grief. He returned, later, and said how relieved he felt to be in a church without the distracting, rock-and-roll music, light-shows, etc. and with a calm, Christ-centered service, where the teaching was plain, Bible-centered, wholesome “sheep-food.”

I recall a church, years ago, which boasted a huge “youth-group”…but it was because they had a rock-and-roll band, basket-ball games, and free pizza, every week. It was a party! And, lest you think I am condemning some particular style of music (I am not) or (heaven forbid!) condemning basketball or pizza; the warning in Ezekiel 33:30-33 is clear, that even when you are preaching the “straight word of God,” there will be those who only came for the entertainment value, with no intent to draw near to God, nor any desire to see their lives transformed. We can’t fix that, but we can try to make sure that we only offer the Word…clean “sheep-food,” as it were, along with simple worship, prayer, and fellowship, so that if people are coming, and staying, it is because that is what they want, rather than some sort of emotional boost, or social “buzz.”

So, Why are you Doing This?

Paul’s conclusion of this topic is a very logical, pointed question: “Why are you doing this?”

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

Paul reminds his readers that they are dead with Christ (Specifically, dead to those “rudiments of the World”), and complete in Him (without those things), and that they have been permanently separated from the World. So, then, he asks, “Why are you subjecting yourselves to legalism?” He used ceremonial “cleanness vs. uncleanness” for examples: “don’t touch this, don’t taste that, and don’t handle this other thing.” He points out that ALL those “things” (clean or unclean) are temporal, and are, by their nature, destroyed in the very using of them. He also says that such rules are according to the teachings and commandments of men (as opposed to being from God.)

23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

In the Old English, this sounds strange: But, the Living Bible paraphrase renders this verse: These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

A “show of wisdom” is not the same as real wisdom: people who practice ritualistic religion, and solemn observance of feasts and pageantry, or who practice strict self-denial, fasting, vows of poverty, etc., all tend to look quite holy and righteous. But, as we saw in the previous verses, these practices do not come from God, and also fail to change the heart, with its sinful desires, so that the person is neither satisfied, nor transformed.

God’s Answer

Over in Romans 12:2 Paul says that we are to not be conformed to (or, “pressed into a mold by”) the World, but rather we are to be transformed…how? By all sorts of self-works, and ritualistic maneuvering? No! We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds! And how can that be accomplished? I very seldom refer to the Living Bible paraphrase, but this, too, is a good rendering, and quite appropriate:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

We are constantly pressed to be “more like those around us”, for a variety of reasons; some good, some bad. God does not address all the individual reasons the world claims to be worthy. He gives us a different directive: Allow God to change you from the inside, by changing your thought patterns. The only way I know to do that is through the direct application of God’s Word, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and walking in constant fellowship with Him. (Psalm 119:9-11; 2nd Peter 1:4)

Lord Jesus, draw us along, by your Holy Spirit, to walk with you, in obedience to your written Word. Teach us to love You, above all others, and to choose to believe you above all others, even our own hearts. Allow us to serve with you, and to be empowered by you as we go.


Christian Living and relationships–Part One

Christian Living and Relationships (Part One)

© C. O. Bishop 5/5/16; THCF 5/8/16

Romans 12:1-3

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Romans, fairly rapidly…one could spend years going through this book verse by verse, word by word, and never exhaust the material…but I want to get whole contexts, not just a microscopic examination of each phrase. So we have been travelling fast enough to appreciate the “landscape”, and stopping often enough to appreciate the key passages. In chapters 9-11, Paul addressed “What is going on with Israel.” Now, however, he turns his attention to “What is going on with YOU.” How should we live, as Christian people, whether Jew or Gentile?

Most of the content of the epistles, by volume, address this issue. Much is said, of course, about our position in Christ…all those things that are true of all believers whether they are alive or dead. But, remember that the majority of the Church is already with Christ…there have already been 2000 years’ worth of believers who have lived and died. However: all the portions of the epistles telling believers how to live are addressed to living believers. All the warnings about the enemies who desire to enslave the souls of believers are to living believers. All the admonitions regarding sin are to living believers; we are the only ones who need the warnings, commands, admonitions, etc. Those who have died in Christ have no sin nature with which to contend, and are forever beyond the reach of all enemies. That is our hope; to join them in that happy eternity.

But for now, we have the present realities of the Christian life with which to contend: We have three enemies, one of which actually lives within us: the Adamic nature, completely unrepentant and completely unsalvageable. We also have to deal with other believers who are in the same boat. They have the same enemies, including a sin-nature, just as we do. The problem is that we tend to be confused as to who our enemies really are. We begin to view with animosity our own brothers and sisters, whenever they offend us or hurt us; and then we are in trouble. Jesus said that we would be recognized as believers by the (Agapé) love we express toward one another. But we don’t always live that way. Paul addresses that point, here in Romans 12, as well as other passages. He points out that we no longer have the right to simply serve ourselves. He reminds us who the enemies are, and begs us to not join forces with the Enemy.

A Living Sacrifice: Our Reasonable Service

1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

 

“Beseech” means to plead—to beg. This is not a harsh command, but an appeal, by the mercies of God, from God, through Paul. He asks that we reconsider who we are, and not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. In fact, he says that we should willingly present our bodies to God, as living sacrifices. We are to make ourselves physically available to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this life. To serve Him, and not ourselves. To choose His will and not our own. It is OK for me to be uncomfortable.

Paul says, “I beg you, therefore, brothers…” Is it still a command? I think so. This is God’s Word, and this is in the imperative form, a command form. Paul pleads with us, as believers, on the basis of the already established Mercies of God, to offer ourselves, our bodies, as living sacrifices. One of the problems with a living sacrifice is that it tends to “crawl off the altar”. But we have a command to present ourselves as a “living sacrifice”.

The point is that our lives are to be holy so that God can use us as a vessel for His Grace. The contrast is given, here as well. It seems that, like so many other arenas in the Christian life, there are essentially only two choices. We can either be transformed by God, or we will inevitably be conformed to the World.

So how does all of that equate to a “living sacrifice”? A dead sacrifice no longer has choices. The deed is done, so to speak. A living sacrifice, voluntarily on the altar of God’s service, has to continually make the choice to continue serving…or quit. If we decide, even for the moment, to quit serving God (Peter said “I go a fishing.”) then we immediately begin to be conformed to the World. The choice for self-will is the most consistent thing present in the sin nature.

Be Transformed: not Conformed

But how does God say that we are to be transformed? By the renewing of our minds, which happens as we feed on God’s Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to teach us. Remember that you have a new nature, created in you the moment you first trusted Christ as your savior. That new nature needs to be fed. How? Here are five practices that will contribute to feeding the new nature.

  1. A regular practice of confession of sin, as it happens, (not “saved up ‘til Sunday”)
    1. That’s how we maintain fellowship with God, so that we can be renewed.
  2. Feeding in and on the Word of God,
    1. We have to be in the Word to feed, and the Word is the food.
  3. Prayer (both private and corporate),
    1. This is something we are exhorted to do constantly.
  4. Fellowship with other believers,
    1. This means partnership: “having in common”. It means being in agreement with, and in partnership with, other believers in our obedience to Christ. It does not mean “chatting at church.”
  5. Willing service to God.
    1. One could say we are all “draftees”—called to service by a holy God…and that is true. But He wants our service to be voluntary. Jesus said “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His Work.” That is our example.

I believe that these practices, carried out in conscious submission to God, will produce a constant “renewing of the mind” as is described here, and will prevent our being “squeezed into the mold of the World.” (That is what “conformed” means.)

Please bear in mind, too, that the World is one of your three deadly enemies: why would you even want to be like the World in any way? And yet, because of our indwelling sin nature, we do have a constant desire to be like those around us. This is not peculiar to us: Israel had the same problem: Remember when they demanded that Samuel choose for them a king, they specifically stated that they wanted to be like all the nations around them. They did not like being different, in spite of the fact that all those nations were their deadly enemies, desiring their destruction.    1st Samuel 8:19, 20 says they refused to obey Samuel when he pleaded with them to not demand a king. They said “We will have a king over us that we may be like all the nations…” They wanted to be like the World…just like us. Notice that the use of the word “will” is in keeping with the root problem. Our will is so frequently in conflict with the will of God.

Prove the Perfect Will of God

We use the word “prove”, in science, math and law, to indicate “positive demonstration of truth against all argument.” In some ways that makes sense, here, too, because the best proof of God’s Word is to live it, and demonstrate the truth of His promises, and His presence. But the other use of the word means to “test” something or someone. In industry, one form of quality inspection (also used for safety inspection) is called a “proof test”. We deliberately load a structure beyond its rated capacity by a specified amount, and measure the deflection of the structure under that load. If the deflection does not exceed a pre-specified range, then the structure has passed the inspection by “proof”: it has been “proof-tested”.

We cannot know the extent of God’s Grace and strength in our lives if we never “load the structure”…if we never step outside our fleshly “comfort zone” to see His supply. If we step out in obedience to do what we know to be His good and acceptable, and perfect will, then we will have “proved” it by testing. He says that we are to “prove” the perfect will of God.

I knew a missionary couple, Vernon and Joyce Bartlett, who had come from Yuba City, California and ended up serving in harsh circumstances in Brazil, on the upper reaches of the headwaters of the Amazon jungle, on the Tototobí River. Before they left California (he told me), if a June-bug was in the garage, Joyce could not bring herself to enter the garage until Vernon had gone in and squashed it. But, within six months of their arrival in Brazil, she was swatting tarantulas with her slipper, and considering them a minor annoyance. She had tested God’s grace by “loading the structure”…she had gone far outside her comfort zone, and was rewarded with strength beyond her expectations.

He told ne of a later example when a Fer-de-Lance viper was in their yard, and, knowing how deadly they were, he was trying to keep it corralled by throwing sticks at it, while she ran to get his shotgun. By the time she got back, the snake was angry, and was chasing him in circles around the yard, so, as he ran past the porch, she handed him the shotgun, and, as he said, “then I turned and dispatched him.” (So much for the viper.)

Both Vernon and Joyce had grown since leaving Yuba City. And God used them in that environment for 25 years before taking them elsewhere. But do you know what Vernon Bartlett said about his status as a veteran Missionary? Whenever he spoke in churches, he said very plainly, “I’m nobody!” God is the one who does the work, and chooses his tools with which to do it. Mr. Bartlett did not become vain, nor overly impressed with his own piety. He simply chose to serve.

Don’t Get Big-headed

As Mr. Bartlett demonstrated, we must not become enamored with our own virtuosity. The fact is, we are nothing special. Paul agrees.

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

 

Paul says that none of us are anything special…we are to learn to think soberly about ourselves; neither more highly nor more critically than is appropriate. We are not to grovel in the dirt whining about our unworthiness; frankly, that is a “given,” and God does not need us to remind him of it.

But we should be clear that God has equipped us in certain ways, and not in others. We should know what our gifting inclines us toward, and choose to serve faithfully in any area to which He calls us. By the way, choosing to serve is how we find out our gifting, as well. I remember hearing about a missionary who had left home as a single man, and he never found a wife, but served faithfully for many years in Venezuela, ultimately completing singlehandedly, an excellent translation of the New Testament into one of the many tribal languages there. Later, some academic folk, linguists by training, were examining the translation, and pronounced it superb. They then asked him “Where did you get your linguistic training?” He looked at them for a moment and simply said, “I never finished high school.”

God had gifted him in that area, and he simply chose to serve. But he never would have known of his gifting, unless he had stepped out to serve. God said “Whom shall I send”, and he answered “Here am I, send me!” He didn’t claim any special ability or talent, or credentials…he simply chose to serve, and made himself available to an almighty God. That is how you present your body a living sacrifice to God, daily. There is no way to predict the results. You have to walk with God to see where he will take you.

But, What about Today?

How does this affect life on a daily basis? How would it affect your relationships with other people if you lived this way? There is another place where Paul uses nearly exactly the same phrase: “I beseech you therefore…” In both cases, the “therefore” referred to what went before: the mercy and grace of God manifested in the lives of the hearers. The passage I am thinking of, of course, is Ephesians 4:1-6, 29-32 (read it.) There, Paul urges the believers to get along with one another: he says they have a responsibility before God to “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. They do not have the right to squabble. They do not have the right to continue in anger, even if another believer hurts them.

In the first part of that chapter, he says that I am to “walk worthy of the vocation” (the calling) to which I am called: I am called to be God’s holy vessel. I am to live in accordance with that calling, in all lowliness and meekness. I do not have the right to think that I am always right, or that my needs should always be met. He says I am to serve with utmost patience; longsuffering; and to forbear (put up with: tolerate) those around me in love. (Not gritting my teeth in frustration and hanging on by sheer determination.) We are to Love one another.

He lists seven foundations for the Unity of the Spirit, in verses 4-6, and the implication seems to be that as long as those foundational unities are in place, I have no right to break fellowship with another believer.

Further, in Ephesians 4:29-32, he states that my words and behavior are also to reflect my calling: he says “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good for the use of edifying, that it may minister Grace to the hearers.” If I were to consider my words by those standards before speaking, how likely would I be to hurt feelings or cause offense? How likely would I be to say things I ought not? This passage is not limited to cursing, by the way: it includes cruel humor, snide comments, harsh accusations, and gossip. None of those things minister Grace to the hearers.

He goes on to say that I no longer have the right to be angry…or at least to continue in anger: He says, “Let ALL bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice…” That pretty well wraps up all the “righteous indignation” I might claim to have, or “justifiable resentment”: God says I am to put it away. All of it.

Conclusion

Paul completes his comments by saying that we are to “be kind to one another; tenderhearted; forgiving one another as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you.” If you think that it is OK for you to limit your forgiveness to others to only apply when you feel like it, then you must think it would be OK for God to treat you that way…to only keep forgiving your sins when you are in obedience to Him, somehow earning His approval. That is the core belief of legalism: the idea that I can earn God’s favor. Remember that Grace is “unearned favor.” If we know that God is not offering us a conditional forgiveness, then we need to follow His example, and offer that same unconditional forgiveness and love to those around us.

Minister Grace to those around you. They need it as much as you do. Present yourself daily as a vessel of God’s Grace…a living sacrifice, daily choosing to serve. Allow God to transform your life, and re-shape you to the image of Christ.

Lord Jesus, by your Spirit, please transform us to your own image, by the daily renewal of our minds, through your Word, by your Grace. Make us able ministers of your Love to the World around us, not only to our Brothers and Sisters in Christ.