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Entries in Slavery (5)

Tuesday
Aug072018

Putting on the "New Man" at Home  II

Colossians 3:22-4:1.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 5, 2018 and is the 2nd part of a sermon that was preached on July 22, 2018.  If you haven’t read or listened to it first then please do so.

Today we pick up where we left off several weeks ago.  In summary this section is about believers in Christ taking off the “old man” and putting on the “new man.”  Of course the old man that we put off is our own nature with its thoughts, feelings, and desires.  The New Man that we are putting on is Christ.

When we stopped in part I, we had begun talking about what it means for a slave to “put on the new man.”  This relationship between masters and slaves was very common in those days and could not be overlooked.  Though western societies may be able to say that they don’t have slaves anymore, we must be careful of discounting these words as no longer relevant, or as morally corrupt.  As I said in part I, the western world has simply taken the slave class and added them to the poor class.  Though they are no longer owned as property by another, they still are at the mercy of those around them who have money and jobs in order to make a living.  Thus these words should be seen as speaking to the relationship of the fortunate and the less fortunate, the haves and the have-nots.

Slaves obey your masters

In verse 22, slaves are told to obey their masters.  In fact, they are challenged and commanded to please God by working hard even when the earthly master isn’t looking.  This is to be done out of a sincere heart that fears God.

In case you haven’t spent time thinking about why even the New Testament emphasizes a positive aspect to a fear of the Lord, I will take a few moments to stir your thinking on this.  It is easy to say something that goes like this.  Fear was proper when people were under the Law of Moses.  But now that we are free in Christ we should no longer fear God.  Besides, doesn’t the Bible say that “Perfect love casts out all fear?”  The problem is that this one verse is not all that is spoken in the New Testament about fear.  We cannot ignore all the other verses, like this one here, and others like Philippians 2:12.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” (NKJV)

The perfect love of God casts out all the fear in regards to His heart towards us.  When you recognize Jesus is on the cross for your sins, you no longer fear that He doesn’t love you.  You know that He has laid down His life for you.  However, this is not what the phrase “fearing God” means in verse 22.  There it is talking about the restraint we should have when tempted to sin.  Like Joseph when he was being seduced by Potiphar’s wife, we must shudder at the thought of sinning against The One who was willing to die for us.  When we are walking in harmony with God we are secure in His love and need not fear that He will change His mind.  However, when we are tempted by sin, we should shrink back from the hideous thought of betraying our Lord’s sacrifice, not because He will quit loving us, but because I might quit loving Him and become an adulterer at heart.  To summarize, the fear that is cast out is in regard to God’s love.  The fear that should remain is in regard to sin’s ability to pull our heart away from the Lord and destroy us.

In verse 23, Paul adds that they should do everything as if unto the Lord.  This verse is not only about slaves.  First of all, all Christians are slaves of God and thus this applies.  However, even contextually, Paul is just stating for slaves what he already stated for all Christians in verse 17.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (NKJV)

Now in verse 23 Paul has added the word “heartily.”  It means that we don’t just outwardly perform the duty.  Instead we put our whole heart into doing it. 

It is worth noting that the effect of what Paul is doing here is not a means of keeping slaves quiet and away from revolt.  Paul is not working for the master-class to keep the slaves in subjection.  Rather, he has just helped the lowest people of society, whose lives and duties give them no obvious sense of purpose and meaning, to see that there is a holy aspect to the thankless and abject station that they have in life.  Regardless of how the world views you and your place in it, God sees you as His servant and that is a high position indeed.  Such an idea lifts our hearts out of the muck and the mire, washes it off, and says, “You serve the King of the Universe!”  It is only our myopic and snobbish elitism that cannot see how many slaves came to find hope in the Gospel that they never found in revolts.  In Christ the Christian slave could lift up his head and know that His true Master loved him greatly.  This in no way supports slavery, but rather supports the slave who had no hope of getting out of their situation.

Paul goes on to explain why a slave, or employee for that matter, should obey this command.  First, they will receive the reward of the inheritance.  The inheritance that Paul is talking about is the one that all believers will inherit from God the Father.  Though they have no inheritance in this world, Christian slaves know that they stand to inherit from God alongside of every other station and class in this world.  This life is simply a testing ground.  The life to come is our inheritance.  No one can touch it or separate you from it.  Thus the slave could be faithful to God because God is always faithful and will reward our service to Him in temporal things with eternal things.

The second reason a slave should obey in this matter is because God will repay those who do wrong without partiality.  Now, this sword cuts both ways.  On one hand the slave, who remains in anger and hatred, and refuses in this matter will also be repaid with judgment from God.  On the other hand, the main purpose is to encourage the slave who tries to obey their master and yet is wronged by the master.  Many harsh, unrealistic, oppressive masters have existed in this world.  But here a play on the word reward is made.  Those who wrong slaves will be repaid by God Himself.  How does a person keep doing the right thing when others treat them wrongly?  Typically we become frustrated, angry, and vengeful.  We throw off the altruistic purpose and take the path of our flesh.  We reject Christ and embrace Satan.  These destructive works of the flesh then pull us down into the slavery of sin.  However, when I recognize that even those who abuse me will have their day of reckoning before God, then I can focus on my part of the situation and let go of theirs.  God is an impartial judge.  He does not say, “It’s okay that you were overly harsh with your slave even though he tried his best to be faithful to your commands.”  No.  The Lord of Heaven that sends Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man into the fire will also pay back those who never seem to have to pay for their sins in this life.  With God, no one is ever “too big” to fail and that should be a shot across the bow for all those in this life who have position over others.  By the way, even if society says it is okay to abuse slaves because they are your property, God will then treat you as you treated your slaves.

Masters treat your slaves justly and fairly

Though chapter three ends at verse 25, verse one of chapter four clearly goes with chapter three.  For those who aren’t aware, no part of the Bible was written with chapter and verse divisions.  These were added later for convenience.  In the 13th century AD several chapter schemes were created and then later in the 16th century verse divisions were added.  The point being that we should be aware that the chapter divisions are not always in the proper spot.  Chapter four verse one is the counterpoint to chapter three’s instructions to slaves.

Notice that if Paul was just trying to prop up a hierarchical system, he wouldn’t say what he does to masters.  He would most likely tell them to obey the magistrates and the king.  But instead, Paul tells masters that if they have put on Christ it will affect how they treat their slaves.  This is critical because it is the tendency to treat slaves as subhuman, property, and undeserving of basic human treatment that makes it so odious and loathsome.  It is too easy for those of the higher class of society to look upon those of a lower station as being something less than human.  This dynamic did not cease with the Emancipation Proclamation.  It continues to this day.  The leaders of our governments have come to see certain parts of our citizenry as less of a human as they are.  This is always used to justify tyranny.  In the 1800’s it was common to hear slaves described as less evolved and thus on par with animals.  Throughout all of history slaves had no redress for any “wrongs” against them.  They were simply property.

Yet here masters are warned that God will take note of how they treat their slaves.  Both the slave and the master are equally human and therefore imagers of God.  Psalm 62:9 says, “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”  The point is that those of high estate are not of greater substance before God.  If you buy into the idea that they do, or that they will somehow be treated differently then you are deluded.  Many a king, magistrate, judge, lawyer, politician, business owner, etc. will have their eyes opened on that day that they stand before God and give account for treating others as somehow less than human.  All humans should be respected as human beings created by God for His purposes, and created higher than the animals, yet lower than the angels.

The treatment is qualified by the word “justly.”  James 5:4 gives a picture of the lack of justice in those days when it says, “The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts!”  It is easy for masters, business owners, and their management to have unreasonable expectations for slaves or workers.  When Israel was enslaved in Egypt, Pharaoh gave the unreasonable demand that the Israelites continue to meet their quotas while additionally having to get their own straw (see Exodus 5).  The key here is that historically masters have done what is in accordance with the commands and laws of their country.  Such laws cared little for slaves.  But God does care for them.  Thus the justness of a Christian’s actions toward their fellow man is not determined by what is acceptable in their country.  It is determined by God.  Many people today are spouting and perpetrating injustices in the name of justice.  They believe that the end justifies the means.  All such self-justification will melt when you stand before God.  The question is what does God think is just and righteous?  His word makes it very clear.

The word “fairly” is also used.  This could be seen in relation to other servants, i.e. treat all the slaves equally without partiality.  However, it is more likely meant in relation to how the slave serves the master.  It is only equitable or fair that the master treats the slave kindly when the slave’s life consists of the lowly duty of serving you.  The slave’s task is not easy.  It is only fair that the master not oppressively add to that task out of selfish concerns.  In fact it begs the question, “How harsh of a task master is God to the master?”  It is intended to make the master realize that he will be held accountable for how he treats his slaves.

Verse one ends with the reminder to masters that they have a Master in Heaven.  We are all in subjection to God.  Clearly, He is not like we are.  But He will hold all men responsible for their actions in this life.  The ultimate principle here is to focus on your side of the relationship, and do it in a way that pleases God despite what others do or don’t do.  We are serving Him in this life not self or society.  If we can righteously work for a change in society then that is good.  But the end does not justify the means.  The goal does not justify the path that we take to get there.

This is the new man: a person who is not trapped in the constructs of today, whether hopelessly furthering them or vengefully rebelling against them.  Even if your flesh and heart wants to identify as homosexual, transgender, white nationalist, black power, ad infinitum, we are called to identify as simply a follower of Jesus.  Instead of seeing ourselves as a 99%’er we are called to see ourselves as a follower of Jesus.  Whatever the distinctions that this world tries to put on you, or you want to take upon yourself, today Christ calls you to drop those things and come follow Him.

New Man II audio

Thursday
Jul262018

Putting on the "New Man" at Home

Colossians 3:18-22.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 22, 2018.

I understand that the imagery used in Colossians three of the “new man” may seem to emphasize gender.  But we should not let our sensitivity to gender issues fog our understanding what Paul is saying here.  The new man is in reality Jesus, and both men and women are to put off their old self and take on a new life that is modeled and led by Christ.  Thus when I use this phrase for how we act at home it is a directive for men, women, and kids of both genders.  We are to all put on Christ live out his directives rather than remaining in our old way of thinking, feeling, and living.

Now, it is important to recognize that the concept of a family or home was instituted by God at the very beginning.  It is he who designed humans with split sexuality that required the union of a man and a woman.  When a man and a woman come together in marriage, they create a unit or a unity before God.  Typically, they will raise up children for the next generation, and in so doing they continue the cycle.  Their children will grow up, find a person of the opposite sex with whom they leave their parents and create a new home together, a new unity before God.  Yes, there are people who identify as homosexual etc. and who reject this.  But this is not the purpose of our time together today.  Here we are listening to what God has to say regarding how each member of the household should approach that unit.

Humanity has often warped this institution of God for its own ends.  In fact, in the fall of Genesis chapter three, God warns Eve that her sin would impact her relationship with her husband, and that effect has echoed throughout each generation.  It is not just humanity that is the problem, but rather humanity in its fallen state or sinful state.  In fact everything that people would point to as bad within marriage and family, can be directly attributed to sinfulness in the hearts of those doing it.  The answer is not to throw aside God’s institution, but rather to become better husbands, wives, parents and children.

In our passage Paul deals with three relationships that were very hierarchical in those days.  They were husband over wife, parents over children, and masters over their house-slaves.

Modern man often judges the Bible and its writers because they did not battle against these hierarchies.  However, they often do this because they do not understand that God calls us to a different battle.  As long as there are humans on this earth, hierarchical relationships will continue to exist.  In tearing down one system, we only find another hierarchy imposed upon us.  The systems of this world use envy and strife as the energy to keep the system moving forward.  As long as everyone is busy trying to destroy the hierarchy or become it, we lose sight of the true battle that will destroy us all; the battle in our hearts and minds.  If we toss aside the system of today and replace it with another system, we will only find another form of tyranny and hierarchy because people have a sin problem.  So instead of stirring up a slave riot, Christianity taught slaves how to break free of the slavery in their hearts and minds, a slavery to sin.  The purpose of this life is to overcome sin’s hold on our heart, regardless of where your place is in the current system.

Wives take your place with your husband

Paul speaks first to the wives in verse 18.  The women of Colosse in the first century were considered to be under their husband’s dominion.  There was a clear hierarchy.  I know that this is heresy in today’s environment.  It sounds like the Bible is supporting the hierarchy and dominance over women.  But that is a corrupt view of the verse and others like it in the Bible.  Instead of focusing on whether the hierarchy is good or not, wives are encouraged to submit to their husbands.  The term “submit” was actually a military term and referred to taking your place within a military hierarchy.  This does not mean a home should be run like a military organization.  Rather, it is a metaphorical usage.  The wife should take her place, whatever that may be (under or alongside) her husband.  I say this because there is more going on here than what this verse implies.

Look back at verse 11 in this chapter.  Paul had just established the reality that the old distinctions of this world are irrelevant in Christ.  “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”  He doesn’t mention male-female in that verse.  But the same argument used in Galatians 3:28 does.  The point is that those distinctions that the systems of this world use to place one side over the other are to become meaningless to believers.  Not meaningless in the sense that we pretend they don’t exist, but meaningless in the sense that those distinctions do not drive our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  That is part of the old life.  The new life looks to Christ to lead us in what we should think and what we should do (of course feelings go up and down all the time).  Thus Paul is not saying that the hierarchy is good.  He is simply telling the women that Christ wants them to take their place (whatever it may be) in the home.  In that day it was clearly a place under the leadership of their husbands.  In 21st century USA it would be to take your place alongside your husband.  Notice this is Christ’s instructions to individual wives, not an instruction to societies or nations on how they should view the wife-husband relationship.  Thus cultures have a variety of expressions of this relationship, though a male-dominated model has been the most predominate.  We should not let our gender, race, economic status, class, or any other distinction drive our life.

Though our society has embraced the reality that the Bible is actually elevating the status of all underprivileged, it makes the mistake by promoting and inflaming those distinctions.  This only divides us further and keeps us from walking in the unity that God is trying to give us.  Instead of fighting their husbands for dominance, wives need to do their best to work with their husbands as a unit.  Our different gifts will allow for a diversity of expressions for how this would play out.  Today, we do not live in a cultural system with rigid, precise roles.  Husbands and wives have to work out together, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to run the household.  Even if your husband isn’t the Christian that he should be, a wife needs to focus on her obligation before God to work for unity in the home.

In each of these relationships you will find that we are told to do what would be the hardest thing for us to do.  Women had been under a dominance of men for millennia.  With the Gospel’s teaching that those distinctions no longer mattered, it would be easy to “throw off the yoke.”  Instead wives are told to take their place under their husband’s leadership.  Today, women are not in the exact same boat.  But, they still have had to deal with the dominance of men in relationships.  Instead of fighting men for dominance, go into the marriage and ask Christ how to bring peace and unity to it, at least for your part.

Before we move to men, I want to comment on the phrase, “as is fitting in the Lord.”  Again, we can interpret this to mean that it is fitting for women to be under men.  But that is a huge assumption.  He is telling women that it would not be fitting for a follower of Christ to try and take over.  The act of taking your place is what is fitting.  Voluntary submission neutralizes the hierarchical system by refusing to play the game of this world system.  Jesus epitomized this virtue in his life.  He submitted to the leaders of Israel and allowed himself to be crucified.  However, in so doing we are told that He overcame the world.  Thus if we are really following Jesus as our model, and He really is leading us, we will reject the rebel approach and adopt the humble servant model.  It is only fitting that Christians, men or women, who find themselves in a similar situation, should focus on honoring Christ rather than getting something for themselves.  Thus what is fitting in the Lord is to use the power and gifts that we have for others at the direction of Jesus, rather than for our own selfish purposes.  In Christ we voluntarily give up power in order to serve others.  Christ is the power.  When we adopt this attitude we neutralize the attempt of the spirit of this world to play us off of one another.

Husbands love your wives without bitterness

Husbands are also given a command, but notice that the command is not to make sure your wife is taking her place.  Instead husbands are told to love their wife, regardless of whether she “submits” or not, without being bitter.  It is easy for a person to become bitter when they don’t think they are getting what they should.  Christ tells husbands to drop that kind of attitude and instead simply love their wives.

In Ephesians 5, Paul gives the same command, but adds to it that husbands are to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the Church.  Think about how much Jesus loved the Church.  He loved the Church so much that he laid his life down for us.  This is true physically, but also metaphorically.  Instead of using the power system of this world for His own ends, Jesus used his power for the sake of the Church.  So husbands must not use their power of position, physicality, or cultural standing for their own ends.  Rather, whatever the place of a husband in society, it should be used for the sake of the wife, period.  Love her, not love yourself by telling her how to best serve you.

In fact, Paul takes this one step further in Ephesians 5 by saying that the marital relationship is supposed to be a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church.  How well is my part of this marital relationship reflecting Christ?  Christ doesn’t verbally abuse the Church, or manhandle the Church.  He isn’t forcing himself upon the Church and overpowering it.  Historically the Church and husbands have muddied the waters of what Christ has called us to do.  But we cannot let the failures of the past direct our actions today.  We must look to Christ and ask Him to teach us how to love. In fact if we insert the concept here about what is fitting in the Lord, we would end up with a statement like this.  It is fitting in the Lord for a husband to use the power and gifts that he has for the sake of his wife at the direction of Jesus, rather than for his own selfish purposes!

Children obey your parents

Children are simply told to obey their parents.  Yes, Jesus expects children to reject the path of their “old man” and put on the “new man.”  Yet, instead of obeying parents because, “I said so,” they are to obey their parents in order to please Jesus.  Some parents cannot be pleased regardless what a kid does.  But kids, take heart.  Your job is not to please your mom and dad, but to do your best to please Jesus.  This can make all the difference and protects our hearts against the poison of rebellion.

It is God’s design that puts children in a loving home of a man and a woman who are working in unity for the good of that child, as directed by Christ.  However, it is our sin that messes up every aspect of that last sentence.  None of us should use the sin of the other people in the family to justify rebellion against the commands of Christ.  This world does its best to stir up kids against the leadership of their parents.  It also demoralizes parents to the point that they either give up trying to train their children, or they buy into the lies of this world system and neglect them.

Let me just say that no kid deserves to be abused by their parents or any guardian for that matter.  It is up to the other adults in their life to be a help when abuse happens.  However, we are headed to the place that to teach your child to serve Christ is labeled as child abuse.  So we need a balance here.  Kids have a need to learn to follow the leadership of their parents before they can take on the leadership of their own life as an adult.

Fathers don’t stir up your children

Though this is addressed to fathers, it would apply to both parents.  In the child-parent relationship, the kid has no power.  Some of that has been moderated with education and CPS, etc.  Here Christ commands fathers not to purposefully stir up their children, or exasperate them.  The word translated here has the idea that you are provoking them to the point that they are angry and wrathful.  Parents should always be monitoring the heart of the child because our job is not to force them into a hierarchical system, but to help them grow up and become like Jesus.

The caution is further defined by the fact that if we go too far, we can discourage the child.  The term translated “discouraged” in verse 21 basically means to break the spirit of the child.  Each child is an image-bearer of God who is destined to take their place in the ranks of God’s people.  In that sense they are your little brother or sister.  Instead of correcting and teaching out of hurt and exercising dominance, we are to correct and teach children out of love and in order to help them become like Christ.  All parents should learn to use their power and gifts, not to spoil a child rotten, but to prepare them for life and help them to become like Jesus, without breaking their spirit and discouraging them away from Him.

Slaves obey your masters

Though I mentioned this earlier, I must reiterate that it is easy to be angry that the Bible doesn’t tell us to throw off slavery and all masters.  However, Christ calls slaves to a different battle.  Over the process of time, Christians were able to see the truth of the Scriptures and come up with a system that removed these social inequities.  However, let us not lose the point of the Scriptures.  What does it profit a slave to be emancipated within society and yet still be in chains to sin on the inside?  Yes, his few years in this world may be happier, possibly.  But, he will be in a world of hurt when he stands before God.

We must recognize that the world’s system always has slaves, whether they are called that or not.  In fact, there is still slavery going on in the USA today.  It has just been swept under the rug and exists in seedy places, where women, children, and men are trafficked in order to satisfy the cravings of wicked people.  We should continue to do our best to remove this blight from our society.  However, that societal battle cannot save a person’s soul.

We should also take note that this passage is not talking about those who are pressed into slavery illegally. 

Slaves are given a hard command just as husbands, wives, and children; obey your masters.  First of all we should notice the qualification that these “masters” are master in regard to the body only.  Men have often bought and sold the bodies of other humans.  But it is up to the slave whether they have also purchased their soul.  A master cannot control your heart and mind unless you let him.  They cannot control your ability to worship God in the holies of holies of your own heart and mind.  Thus slaves can serve their masters as an act of worship to their true master in heaven.  I don’t have time to go into all the ways that the slavery that happened throughout the United States of America, and elsewhere, was actually breaking the commands of Scripture.  But please hear the heart of Paul’s message.  The answer is not in breaking out of the situation, but in first, breaking free from the sins of your own heart.

Secondly, two words are used to challenge how Christian slaves served their masters.  The first word is “eye-service,” and the second is “men-pleasers.”  Eye-service refers to the fact that a worker will tend to be lazy when the boss is not around, and then start working hard when the boss is looking.  This is how the flesh is when we are focused on pleasing people in order to get what we want.  Christians are called to reject being a “man-pleaser.”  Instead we are to please God.

Technically the Bible emancipates all Christian slaves from their masters and tells them to serve their earthly masters as a service to Christ.  Now they are to be the best slave possible, working hard even when they are not being watched.  They are to do a sincere job in the fear of God, not their earthly master.  This may seem to be a heartless command on one hand.  However, how much more heartless is it to encourage people to rebel, and yet leave them in shackles to their own sinful hearts?  Only the Holy Spirit can help us to see the radical call of God to break the hold that the system of this world has on your heart.  Even in choosing the path of the rebel, you are only satisfying the systems need to energize for the next developing system.  Meanwhile people go on not dealing with their own hearts.

In our society we have technically taken the slave class and moved it into the poor class.  Today we are tempted in our jobs to be pit against our employers.  Yes, many employers of this world are taking advantage of their employees.  But, as a Christian it is not my job to rebel against the employers of this world.  Rather, it is my job to give an honest day’s work out of respect for Christ.  The rest is between Christ and my employer.  Christians should be the best employees that the world can hire because we have learned to use our power and gifts for the sake of others, regardless of what we get from them in return.

Let me close this by challenging us today.  Don’t let the world dictate what you believe and what you will do.  Instead serve Christ with your life.  Let Him teach you how to quit this system of pitting one group against another.  Let Him teach you how to use your power and gifts to bless others in your life, starting at home, and working outward from there.  Let Christ teach you how to root out those hurts and that bitterness, which keeps you circling the same drain over and over again.  Let His Holy Spirit lift you up out of the bondage to which this world seeks to chain you.

New Man at Home

Thursday
May242018

O, How We Need the Holy Spirit

Romans 8:12-17.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Pentecost Sunday May 20, 2018.

Today we are celebrating the truth that God has given the Holy Spirit to those who have put their faith in Jesus as His Anointed Savior for the world.  But, even more than this, we celebrate the truth that the Holy Spirit wants to fill the believer’s life in order to empower us to follow Jesus.

Over the years the Holy Spirit has been compared to nearly every power source you can think of: a battery, gasoline, dynamite, and the list goes on.  These things are good as far as they can go.  Yet, the Holy Spirit is more than just a power source.  He is a genuine personal being who can be grieved, and yet who is sent to teach us, lead us, comfort us, help us, and spiritually gift us in order to serve God.  Just as the first disciples found out that they could not follow Jesus without the help of the Holy Spirit, so we too cannot follow Jesus without the help of the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament we see the apostles and other believers listening to and following the Holy Spirit.  They were a people who were daily being filled with the Holy Spirit, and so it must be with us today.  I pray that you will be encouraged to be a person who is listening to and following the Holy Spirit, a person who is daily being filled with the Holy Spirit, as those early Christians were and as countless Christians worldwide are giving testimony today.  We need the Holy Spirit!

We are in debt to the Holy Spirit and not our flesh

In Romans 8:12-17, we are reminded that we don’t owe anything to our flesh, but rather to the Spirit of God.  Do you tend to pay bills that you know you don’t owe?  We might be tricked into paying such a bill, but in the end we tend to only pay bills that we properly owe.  Of course this is a metaphor.  Following the metaphor, our flesh is like a scammer who keeps telling us that we owe it something, when in fact we do not.

Paul next says that if we follow the flesh (i.e. give in to the things our flesh says we owe it) we will find death, but if we follow the Holy Spirit (i.e. give in to the things that we properly owe the Holy Spirit) then we will find life.  So what is exactly meant by “the flesh?”  In this passage it is clear that Paul is not just talking about bodily needs such as: food, clothing, and companionship.  Yes, we do need to eat and sleep.  But Paul connects “following the flesh” to the “deeds of the flesh.”  The deeds of the flesh are truly physical deeds, but they refer to the tendency of our fleshly desires to lead us into sin and thus ultimately death.  Galatians 5 further explains this concept of the “deeds of the flesh,” and says that they are obvious.  “The works [deeds] of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you  beforehand, just as I told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” 

The believer is a person who has come to see that the flesh hasn’t done anything for them.  In fact, it has been a pipeline of sorrow, pain, and death.  Moments of pleasure and ecstasy are followed by years of pain and sorrow.  However, when the Holy Spirit opened our eyes to Jesus, we not only found the way to life, but we found life itself and have a relationship with it.  It was the Spirit that led us to Jesus, and we owe a great debt to Him for opening our eyes.  Jesus is life, and those who follow Him will find life in many different ways every day, until we open our eyes in His presence and we fully experience life everlasting.  This is all the Holy Spirit’s doing.

It is important to recognize in verse 13 that the deeds of the flesh can only be put to death through the help of the Holy Spirit.  The believer has to learn how to live within a body whose desires continually try to wrestle control of our life from that part of us that has become spiritually alive to the Spirit.  This “old man” and “new creation” battle within us as we follow Christ.  Thus, Christ truly does expect those who follow Him to put to death the lusts of their flesh, every day.  If we obey the flesh, it will only bring more pain and sorrow (i.e. the seeds of death).  But, if we obey the Holy Spirit, we will find life even in the midst of the pain and sorrow of this world.  We do this not because we are slaves under a system that rewards those elite who are capable of doing it.  Rather, we do this because we have been saved and placed within the family of God.  We do this because we want to be like the our Father in heaven.

We are children of God because of the Holy Spirit

In verses 14-17 we see that the Holy Spirit is an important part of being a child of God.  In first century AD Israel, they believed that they were children of God because they had been born into a particular genealogy.  Of course the Old Testament prophets had made it clear that this was not the case, but the first century Israelites were generally not listening to the prophets.  When the Holy Spirit lead people to follow Jesus and put their faith in Him as God’s Anointed savior of Israel and the world, many of them refused to believe.  Jesus challenged Israel with the truth that those who rejected Him were not children of God.  God’s children are not those who are naturally born, but rather those who are spiritually born again by putting their faith in Jesus.  John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Here Paul reminds us that it is those who are following the Holy Spirit who are the children of God.  The Holy Spirit is faithful within every generation to be working every day to lead people to believe in Jesus and to follow Him.  It is easy to think that the Holy Spirit has become less and less active, as we see more and more people rejecting Christ and living for their flesh.  However, this is a misunderstanding that has to do with where you are.  We need to have our eyes opened to the reality that the Holy Spirit is always working to convict the world of sin, judgment, and the need of salvation.  Many people are believing in Jesus Christ every day all around the world.

Paul also points out that the Holy Spirit leads God’s children to adoption rather than into slavery.  Those who come to Christ are not being led into a legalistic system.  The first century Church had to wrestle with the reality that they were not being saved by their great ability to keep the Law of Moses.  The Holy Spirit was leading them to keep the spirit of the Law, not in order to be saved, but because they had been saved through Jesus.  Thus the Holy Spirit teaches us the truth of our adoption by God to be His sons.  He leads us to become like the Father and to join Him in His work of saving people.  This is as opposed to being slaves who try to curry God’s favor through our good works.  Instead of the cry of a slave who is fearful of the master’s wrath, we are filled with the cry of a child saying, “Daddy!”  That is an amazing truth, yet, it is the work of the Spirit in our life, not an accomplishment of our flesh.

A follower of Christ should never be deceived on this matter.  The Father is not a sinner and He does not want His children to be sinners.  Similarly, Jesus is not walking in sin or walking towards it.  If we are following Him then we will be leaving sin behind.  Praise God that He has given us His Holy Spirit to lead us in becoming like the Father, not out of slavery, but out of the fact that we are His children.  Many who claim to be Christians today have believed the lie that God is no longer concerned about sin in their life.  Thus they live each day obeying the lusts of the flesh and denying the very Lord who saved them with His blood.  It is not enough to slap a thin veneer of good works over the top of a life that is lived for self and the lusts of the flesh.  Today, hear the Holy Spirit calling you to life and freedom from sin’s destructive hold and influences.

Lastly, Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God.  In fact, He is not the only witness of this fact that we have.  We have the person or people who have led us to Christ.  They are witnesses to us that we belong to God.  Also, we have the Word of God that is written in black and white, which tells us so.  When you add the inner witness of the Holy Spirit it can seem strange that we ever doubt we belong to Jesus.  The spirit of this age has a vested interest in trying to undermine your confidence in Christ.  We need to listen to the Holy Spirit daily, as He tells us that we are children of God.  And, as a true child of God, we need to desire to be like our heavenly Father.

Let me close by reminding us that we cannot follow Jesus in this life without the help of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore let us wake up every morning and pray that God will fill us with His Holy spirit so that we can be enabled to become like Christ, and to seek and save those who are lost in this world, those who are in bondage to the lusts of their flesh.  We can only do this as we let the Holy Spirit set us free.

We need the Holy Spirit audio

Thursday
Jul272017

Slaves to Righteousness

Romans 6:15-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 23, 2017.

Last week we looked at the first half of this chapter and focused on how our water baptism symbolizes and highlights the new life that we are given in Jesus Christ.  This new life is not a life that is exactly the same as the world, yet covered by “Jesus Insurance.”  It really is a new life where we grow in our ability to walk away from the unrighteousness of the world and our own flesh. 

Now in this passage the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of slavery to make a point.  Now, I know that such imagery can be offensive to many, but please recognize that Paul is not advocating slavery here.  So, instead of letting this become a red herring, let us try to focus on the Paul’s argument that Christians should not continue in a life of willful sin.  Simply put, he reminds believers that they have been freed from sin so that they can follow Jesus.  May God help us to truly follow Jesus and experience the new life that God has for us in Christ.

Our change in status is put in terms of slavery

In verse 1 Paul contemplates a sort of “godly sinner.”  Clearly this is an oxymoron, but what I mean by it is a person who does not claim to reject Christ, but instead have come up with a religious argument why it is okay for them to continue in sin.  They see nothing wrong with sinning because it is covered by the grace of Jesus.  Paul answers the person who thinks their continued sinning somehow glorifies how great God’s grace really is with a very strong rejection of such a thought.  The phrase is literally, “may it never be!”  It is a categorical rejection of such an idea.  Thus in verse 15 he contemplates this same issue in relationship to our status as a slave under the law versus a free child of God under grace.  Paul does not give a fully explored and neatly outlined theology.  But, he does give us enough to understand what is right in this area.  The people to whom Paul is writing were well acquainted with slavery.  It was around them every day.  Paul uses this imagery to speak in a powerful way to both free and slave alike.  No free person desires to be a slave, and most slaves want to be free.  So what about the person who treats God’s grace as a license to be able to do anything?  Paul’s answer again is, “May it never be!” 

Now this is a very important concept because there are some in Christianity who are so afraid of legalism that they push grace to the point that Paul is talking about here.  I would call this a hyper-grace theology.  Christians have truly been set free, but not in order to keep on sinning.  Instead we have been set free to fight against sin without guilt and fear.  This is the proper understanding of grace.

In verse 16 Paul reminds us that we are a slave to that which we obey.  Notice that Paul uses an interesting turn of phrase.  Though he is saying they are becoming slaves, he expresses it in a way that emphasizes their freedom, “to whom you present yourselves.”  The picture is of a slave presenting themselves to their master for instructions.  A Christian is no longer a slave to sin, but they can still make the mistake of presenting themselves to sin.  Don’t be deceived.  If you do this you will become a slave to sin all over again.  To obey sin is to present yourself to it, receive its instructions, and then do it.  This always leads to death in the end.  Such “obedience” is actually disobedience to Christ.  We were not raised up to plunge into the same old life of sin.  How can a Christian be a slave to sin?  The answer is simply because they use their freedom to rebel against the command of God, and love themselves above all else.  Let me use the example of the Pharisees who confronted Jesus.  Their problem was not that they wanted to be righteous before God and their fellow man.  Their problem was that they refused to listen to God’s message through the Law- you fall short and need my grace.  Instead of seeking a righteousness from God by grace, they clung to the self-righteousness of their own making.

In verses 17-18 we see that the Gospel has freed us from being sin’s slave so that we can become slaves of righteousness.  The Gospel comes to all of us when we are slaves to sin and our flesh.  The “form of doctrine,” or teaching that they received, was the teaching of true righteousness, which can only be found in Jesus.  Paul continues the slavery terminology by saying that they were delivered from sin to this new master of the Truth of Christ, and his true righteousness.  When they believed the Gospel, they then obeyed its instructions: they repented of their life of sin, and confessed Jesus as their Resurrected Lord.  Sin no longer had dominion over them, but that does not mean they are “free” from the Gospel that set them free.

Now in verse 19 Paul makes it clear that he is using terms from the human situation of slavery because of their weakness of understanding, and their weakness towards sin.  They needed to stop serving sin and start serving the righteousness of Christ.  It is clear that Paul is uncomfortable in couching this teaching in these terms.  Grace really is about freedom.  It is the freedom to actually be able to follow Jesus, and live out the true righteousness by faith.  Anyone who teaches that freedom means you can sin if you want to do so is lying.  Sin is bondage.  So even though Grace is truly freedom and not slavery, he uses those terms for the sake of understanding.  Ultimately he is reminding us all that we are not our own.  We have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus.  Christians are those who refuse to serve sin anymore, and begin serving Jesus.  If we continue to serve sin it will just lead us to more sin, until eventually we are destroyed by it.  But serving the righteousness of Christ will lead to holiness; a person that is set apart by God and by their life for His purposes, not sin’s.

What does our slavery produce?

In verse 20 Paul points to the reality of what our slavery produces.  When Israel was in Egypt, their slavery produced bricks for Pharaoh’s glory.  But when they served God, He led them to the freedom of producing life for themselves, and to God’s glory.  Imagine being set free by God, but then turning around and going back to Egypt in order to make bricks.  Paul is challenging us to think about what our choice in this matter leads to.

If I obey sin, it will only lead me to shameful things and then death (vs. 20).  When we were sinners we weren’t worried about what Jesus thought.  We were too busy sinning and pleasing our master, sin.  This implies that Christians should be too busy serving the righteousness of Christ that we no longer give thought to pleasing sin.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  Why go back to shame and death?  There are some who believe that a Christian is somehow immune to the effects of sin.  Even if you repent and are forgiven, sin still produces death in our lives.  If you are unfaithful and your wife leaves you, she may not come back just because you repent.  However, Paul’s emphasis here is not on the singular consequences of a particular sin.  It is on the end product of living our life in service to sin.  It leads to physical and spiritual death.  Remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  Grace does not make us immune to the effects of sin.  Rather, it provides a way out from under its tyranny and dominion.

In contrast to this, to serve God produces holiness and everlasting life.  God wants us to follow Jesus by the help of the Holy Spirit.  This is what produces everlasting life.  Think of all the grace that God has given us.  He has freed us from sin and its dominion.  He has shown us the True Righteousness that is found in Jesus.  Yes, His righteousness saves us and sets us free.  But then His grace enables us to live out his righteousness too.  Thus, serving God is like a tree of righteousness in our life producing the fruit of holiness and a new life that is eternal.

So what is the conclusion of the matter?  Verse 23 lays it all out in a succinct statement, but we should also notice the change in his terminology.  When speaking of sin, he keeps it in terms of Law and slavery.  If you work for sin you will be paid death, period.  But, if you are under grace Paul drops the slavery terms.  The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Slavery terms are very appropriate for a person who is living for their flesh and sin because that is exactly what it is.  But they are not the most appropriate terms for our New Life in Christ.  We really have been set free in Christ to now produce the righteousness of God.  So the choice is before us.  Will we choose death or choose life?  Let’s choose life by voluntarily presenting ourselves to God, through Jesus.  He will set us free from sin and give us eternal life!

Slaves to Righteousness audio