Off I Went to Church Today

It was 1991 or so when we walked out of the morning service of the charismatic church we called home, knowing that our relationship with this church and the organized church was over. For some time our growing understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ Jesus was increasingly in conflict with what we hearing and experiencing in the church experience.

Before going on, I should clarify that for us, teaching is an important and indispensable part of any church experience. That should go without saying but with so many conflicting opinions coming out from under the banner of Christianity, attitudes have developed that what is taught really does not matter as long as we all call upon the name of Jesus as our Saviour. Yet ultimately doctrine has to do with knowing the One we call Saviour. Jehovah’s Witnesses, to use the extreme, call upon Jesus as their Saviour too, but according to their teaching, He bears little resemblance to the One we call upon. When talking about the qualifications of those overseeing the church, Paul wrote to Titus:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” Titus 1:9

Of course, the reality is that we, as the church, are never going to be completely in agreement concerning what we understand to be the truth of Christianity, yet even in this Paul expected that we would press on towards that goal. Again he wrote:

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Eph 4:11-14 ESV)

A lot has transpired since those days some twenty-two years ago. We have never regretted following the only path that seemed open to us, even though at times – especially in the early years – it was often a lonely journey. The journey itself might be a story to be told someday but today’s story is about the visit I made to an organized church this morning, why I chose to attend and what I found.

As I have begun writing this, I have recalled a couple of times a few years ago when we did attend a church to hear a particular speaker. As well, we did attend a church for a couple of months because we had heard that the teaching there was consistent with what we had been learning up to that point. We did not last long as the organizational structure of the church still seemed to be working against the Truth they were proclaiming. Other than that, I do not recall attending any other churches.

For the most part we have fellowshipped with small groups over the years with an emphasis on the essentials of the Gospel or Good News of Jesus Christ. The focus has always been “relation based on Truth” – relational with our God and Saviour and relational with each other with the broad view of sharing the fruits of that fellowship with the needy in the world looking for a Saviour.

Most recently we had spent three or four years with a precious group going through the basics of the Gospel of Grace and watching the positive effect it was having on those who had been searching. But for a number of reasons the time came, for me at least, to move on.

Last summer I became aware of church in a nearby town that devoted much of its resources to helping the needy and lonely of the city through meal programs, financial assistance and so on. I visited that venue a number of times and the heart of this church towards the folks of the city core reminded me of the Spirit of what James wrote:

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (Jas 1:27 ESV)

So having “moved on” from our last fellowship, I am quite honestly wondering what to do next. I have been entertaining the idea of getting involved with an organized church once again, mostly for the fellowship. But quite frankly I am not sure I can do the organized church thing again. So this morning’s visit was a bit like sticking my toe in the water to feel the temperature. In any case, because it is not located in our city, it would not be a place we would visit weekly, so it seemed like a safe experiment.

So off I went alone this morning (Joy is nursing a cold) and it was an interesting experience. First off, when I got there, it seemed that everyone was eager to make me feel welcome and show me around. They do a neat thing in that coffee and water is made available before, during and after the service. The people there were of all ages, social status and so on. The only uniformity I noticed among the attendees was their evident love for Jesus and their benevolence towards one another. The songs were a mixture of old and new. Then there was the sermon which deserves its own paragraph, given my emphasis on the importance of what is taught.

While I will not get into the specifics, I thought the sermon was that mixture of truth and error that seems to plague almost all organized church teaching. That comment does not for one minute disparage the heart of the pastor who preached, as his love for the flock entrusted to him is abundantly evident. His comments also reflected a healthy attitude that his flock is part of THE flock whose Shepherd is Christ, who assured us many years ago that HE would build His church.

All in all it was a great experience for me and I hope to attend again in a month or so with Joy. However, it still leaves me with the dilemma that I may have to face again as I try out the organized church scene in our area. The dilemma is this: how do we deal with major doctrinal differences while at the same time having a heart to be with those who simply are our brothers and sisters in Christ. In part, the current house church phenomena came about as the answer to this dilemma but for two reasons that seem obvious to me, have failed. First, recognizing the natural as opposed to the Spiritual origins of the organized church, there seemed to be the impression that the answer was to simply model the church on what was perceived to be the model of a “phantom” New Testament church. I use the word phantom because the New Testament church experience was driven by the changed hearts of people born anew into the Kingdom within their culture and not the other way around. In other words, the New Testament church was a result not a cause. Secondly, not recognizing that the problem of the organized church was its natural origins because the Spiritual discipline in our life of Union in Christ was neglected, the house church movement for the most part has itself neglected this Spiritual discipline.

We are for every brother and sister, every church, every pastor and every work that looks to Jesus Christ as the answer. Where we will end up probably is wherever God gives us the opportunity to share and learn about what it means to live our lives in Union with Christ.

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He Teaches Me

And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth…..I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you….the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things….(John 14: 16-26)

How loving are the ways of our God and so infinitely personal are His ways of teaching us, for He knows us completely.

He has made Himself known to me in different ways throughout the many years that I have been His.  I am certain that His revelation to you will be the same in its outcome, yet so different in method and experience from mine.

Because He knows you.

Just as He knows me.

Many years ago, after a long period of hungering and thirsting to know and experience more of our Saviour, when the time was just right for Fred and I to learn more of Him and His Grace and His Life, Jesus didn’t set about teaching us both with the same method, although the message was the same.

At that time there weren’t any amongst the Christian family and friends that we had, who had sojourned this part of the journey before us, or who were even interested in journeying with us as the Lord lead the way.

This did not limit God from teaching us.

Fred had only read one book, in all his growing up years, from cover to cover. God chose books to speak the words that His Spirit quickened into revelation and a changed life.

As Fred struggled along with the Lord, wrestling with life’s circumstances and the baggage still carried from a life lived independent of Him, the Spirit lead him to a bookstore; puzzling since Fred did not read books, and yet that is where He took him.  As we searched the shelves, Fred picked up a book and both his spirit and mine confirmed within us that we had found the one to which God was leading him.

And then the man who could not, who simply did not read, read and read and read and Jesus was revealed in grace and truth as His Spirit made different words come alive to him: a miracle in so many ways that was repeated over and over during those years when we had no one else from whom to learn.  He truly speaks to us through His Body, whether present with each other physically, or through the blessing of words written in obedience to the Spirit.

I, on the other hand, had lived my life in books from the time I had learned to read. God did not lead me there now to teach me of new Life: He had, in fact, taken reading books away from me several years before, and had told me to lay down the writing I did as well, until one day, I would write for Him. I did not know the day He spoke this to me, but it was necessary preparation to change the world, the distorted reality in which I lived….

So, He now taught me through snippets and phrases of the Bible He made come alive for me as it had never been before.  It was a miracle of miracles that what was once closed to me became so open that one day, while dusting the table where our family bible was kept, I glanced down at it as I moved it out of the way and it fell open to words that immediately leapt into my heart.  It was as though His written word was speaking to me an unceasing revelation.

Thank you Father, for those days and months and years, and the revelation of your Life that has continued to grow and sustain us, and pour out in hope and truth shared with your body…..

Joy

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Judging & Loving at the Same Time

A simple description of the believer’s history and experience is found in two easy to remember verses in the bible – both written by John. The first is familiar, John 3:16 which reads:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

And the second is by Divine coincidence 1 John 3:16 which reads:

“We know love by this that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

Jesus is quoted as saying in John 13 that we would be known by our love for one another. That is the long and short of our life together. In fact Paul wrote that without love we are nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (cf. 1 Cor 13:1)!

We live by the indwelling Life of Christ who is Love. God IS love (1 John 4). God doesn’t love because it’s what He does. God loves because Love is who He is and we love because He is our life. So why do we have so much difficulty with it – especially when it comes to certain people – those who are less than lovable! For the answer to that we need to go back to the beginning in the Garden.

“The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen 2:8-9)

“In the midst of the Garden” means “in the centre of the Garden” and this is significant as it is the centre of Adam’s world. Of this centre, God said:

“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:15-17)

At this juncture man was faced with a choice of how to live. If he chose to eat from the Tree of Life he would have come into union with God – for Christ IS the Tree of Life – and God who IS Love would have been the source and centre of Adam’s being. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God would have manifested His love to all of creation thus fulfilling his created destiny. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was of God also but was strictly reserved for Him.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-5)

And there you have it: “You will be like God!” Adam had taken it upon himself to discern good and evil, no longer having to look to God for such discernment. Two significant things happened when Adam and Eve did this. First they experienced death, not immediate physical death, but spiritual death because they no longer had the option of the Tree of Christ from which to draw Life (cf. John 1:4) thus leaving a gnawing emptiness within them. Second, having taken it upon themselves to know good and evil, they became self-conscious for the first time.

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” (Gen 3:7)

So with their new-found knowledge, the first thing they did was make the decision to cover themselves. Then they thought it also might be an idea to hide from God!

“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen 3:8)

So Adam and Eve had set mankind on a course of forever having to find ways to deal with the fallout of their God-like knowledge of good and evil. History records just how well they have and are doing. And God in His mercy said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”. The LORD God sent him out from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:22-23).

And what of love? Man no longer had any hope of loving God or his neighbour because his capacity to contain the very Life of God which is Love had been replaced by a dark void. Instead, man was left having to try to fill that void as best he could out of his own knowledge of good and evil. Unlike God who wanted to share Himself as Love with man and creation, man instead had to determine how to use his fellow man and creation to satisfy the dark void within himself that in reality, only God could satisfy.

Instead of living out of Love with God as his centre, man became the centre of his world with only his knowledge of good and evil to guide him. In reality, the knowledge of good and evil is only beneficial if used in conjunction with knowing all things. In other words, it is impossible to make a right judgement using the knowledge of good and evil without first knowing all the facts and it is only God who is omniscient. That is the reason we have the saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Indeed it is but man has no choice outside of God except to work with what he has.

So we have a world with people who are incapable of loving one another yet are driven to judge one another according to each person’s own knowledge of good and evil, trying to fill the emptiness within. Having no objective benchmark of truth, in our self-consciousness we compare ourselves with one another striving to mask the pain of emptiness in order to feel good about ourselves according to whatever standards and values we live by.

Without being able to see the inside of a person we content ourselves with judging by appearances, sometimes feeling good about ourselves and sometimes feeling disappointed with ourselves. “I wish I was as slim as that person but at least I am not as fat as that person.” “He has a beautiful home but I’ll bet he has a huge mortgage! At least I’m debt free!” “I don’t see anyone else doing all the works
“I” do for God and they think they are good Christians.” And on and on and on it goes. But where is the one mark of a true believer? Where is God’s love for one another?” Again:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” (1Co 13:1-8)

Only God who is Love is able to judge another rightly because he knows what is in a man. We do not, so cannot both judge and love at the same time. For us they are mutually exclusive. Paul writes in Romans:

“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” (Rom 2:1-2)

And:

“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:1-4)

And:

“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” (Rom 14:10-13)

In conclusion John records Jesus as saying:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Joh 13:34-35)

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The Problem Stated

Very early on in my Christian experience, having accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour as a child, followed by water baptism in my teens, I became painfully aware of a separation or gulf between God and myself. As much as I understood, I had done what was required to attain salvation but peace with God just plain eluded me. The collective effect of observing other Christians, listening to sermons and teachings and trying to be a good Christian, left me with a deep sense of alienation towards God because I just could not imagine being acceptable to Him. I knew the un-Christian kind of life I lived when not being watched as well as the impure thoughts and imaginations that constantly plagued my mind. Quite frankly there were a lot of things in the world that attracted me more than the charade of Christianity that I was involved in. Eventually I just became angry with God and told Him I wanted nothing more to do with Him. It was not that I wanted to go and be evil. I just wanted Him to simply leave me alone and let me live out my life.

Well I did my part in the world very well from what I can remember but God must not have heard me because He never seemed to really leave me alone. While others seemed to be able to have a good time in the world, my good times were always tainted by a vague awareness of His presence. I also must give Him credit as I am well aware of the many times during those dark days when He saved me from serious life-threatening disaster.

Eventually in my early to mid-thirties I was reconciled to God, like the prodigal returning home. As joyous as that time was, it was not long before I was again feeling like a square peg in a round hole, reminding me of that early Christian experience that caused me to turn my back on God in the first place. The difference this time was that I had no desire to abandon God again.

In His mercy the Spirit began to deliver my thinking from those thoughts and impressions of what it meant to be a Christian which were really keeping me from truly understanding Christianity. You see, the only understanding I had ever had of Christianity was essentially legalistic, notwithstanding that salvation was a free gift. I had accepted the free gift but from there on I understood my relationship to God in terms of my performance. If I did well, He was pleased with me and if I did not do well, He was not so much pleased with me. In other words, my relationship with God was always dependent on actions which “I” initiated to which He responded one way or another. Needless to say, I had good days and I had bad days, and more bad days.

Eventually the Spirit opened up my understanding to God’s grace towards me in a way that I understood. He had done all that was required and nothing more was required on my part to gain His approval. I can still remember that experience very clearly. However it was not clear sailing from then on as my mind, despite being enlightened about God’s grace, was still largely unrenewed. While I had a certain understanding of grace, I was still haunted by a sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with me . Regardless of how much I understood, I was not experiencing God with an attitude of expectancy.

By the grace of God, those days have largely passed, but it took time. First God had to miraculously reveal to me that there was nothing wrong in me that could or would ever end our relationship. Then He also revealed to me that since becoming His child, the separation from Him that I felt was directly related to believing certain untruths originating from an erroneous understanding of certain key Bible passages – passages that to this day are largely interpreted by the enemy of our souls in a way totally inconsistent with the Gospel or Good News of what Jesus Christ, our Saviour has accomplished on the Cross for us. The enemy of our souls will stop at nothing to keep believers from experiencing the fullness of Christ as their life as Paul expressed in Galatians:

“I no longer live, but the Messiah lives in me, and the life that I am now living in this body I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20 ISV)

There are three passages in particular that I believe the enemy has used successfully to keep scores of believers in bondage to sin when they should be walking in freedom, experiencing the fullness of the indwelling life of Jesus Christ . They are Romans 7, Galatians 5 and 1 John. We will tackle each one of these (and maybe some others) in the following writings. As always, keep in mind that we believers can only proclaim and explain. It is the Spirit only who gives understanding and separates the wheat from the chaff.

God bless!

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Challenging Names

I can still remember the frustration I felt when the Lord started telling me that whenever I had a problem with someone, it was really I who had the problem. It meant that every stinkin’ time someone made me miserable, through no fault of my own (seriously), I WAS THE PROBLEM! Is there no justice I wondered?

Since that initial realization there have been many “challenges with names” and the Lord keeps increasing my understanding. When I need more understanding another challenge with a name shows up. Can’t seem to avoid them but I do try hard…

Christianity is not a difficult concept to grasp. It is simply loving others as Christ loved me. But easier said than done. In fact, quite impossible. Without God I am a self-serving creature with no idea of what it means to love. Even as a believer the thing seems to elude me so much of the time.

There is a very good picture of what love is in the sacrifice of Jesus for me. I see how He was treated and how He reacted and what became of Him and it scares me. I instinctively know that it WILL cost me my life. I am not eager for this.

I am faced with a dilemma because I want to love but am not willing to be sacrificed. I can solve this dilemma quite creatively through a variety of Christian beliefs and activity that serve to prove to others and myself that I am okay with God. I think it’s called carnal Christianity (Christianity without love). Isn’t that what Paul was addressing when he wrote:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

So what do I do? Well since God IS love it might be an idea to seek to know Him. But don’t I know Him? Well John wrote: “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

There does not seem to be any wiggle room in all this. So I ask God “to cause” me to love others. Doesn’t happen. How about loving others through me…while I attend to other things. Doesn’t happen. What does keep happening are those “challenging names”! Where do they come from?

They come from God to the end that I might know Him and they will keep coming until HIS love is perfected in me. Again from John: “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”

This ability to love others is really the litmus test of my spirituality. It doesn’t matter how much I “know” or how long I have been a believer. “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

In fact, loving others should be the natural outflow of my life in Christ. Not loving just some others but all others especially the challenging ones! The only thing I know in my life that will block this loving is carnality. That is, those attitudes in my mind which are not yet renewed. Paul calls them strongholds or fortresses:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

Carnality is my insistence on living among these fortresses. I have an enemy that prefers that I live among them because they are the only places where he can overwhelm me. He continually tries to lure me there because as long as I’m there I cannot experience God and His love for me and for others. So this is a serious business with the enemy and I need to be aware of his schemes.

What makes this even more challenging is that for a long, long time I called theses fortresses home. And there’s no place like home! It is where I feel most comfortable. To ask me to move out of them for the unknown, no matter how glorious, is akin to my death. We’re talking about my mind here and with out it I am dead!!! Indeed it is here that “I” exist and am the centre of my universe.

I have realized that I am not alone in this struggle to leave these fortresses behind as there seem to be many forms of Christianity that have been crafted with the intent of allowing believers to remain among them. Even exchanged life union life teachings are robbed of their effectiveness when I make the choice to remain among the fortresses.

Fortunately it is not hard for me to recognize when I am experiencing God’s love for another. Paul writes that I will be patient with them, that I will be kind to them, that I won’t brag or be arrogant with them, that I won’t be indecent with them, that I won’t put my own interests first, that I won’t be provoked by them and that I won’t keep a record of the wrongs they do against me.

But none of this will occur when I insist on living among the fortresses. Instead I will live as the centre of my world and measure all things as they relate to me. Were my feelings hurt? Was I taken advantage of? Was I slighted? Was I ignored? Were my rights violated? Was my self-righteousness condemned or approved of? Do I now feel better about myself? Or worse? And all the while we are trying to answer these questions our friendly adversary sympathizes with me and gives me many more reasons to justify how I am feeling. Yech!

I realized that when I dwell on the land of carnality, refusing to deny myself, refusing to take up my cross and move on that although I can teach grace, I couldn’t know it! Although I can speak of the wonders of union life, I can’t experience it. And worst of all…I am not knowing God.

Carnality is a world unto itself and I must choose where I am going to live, whether there or in God’s love. Choosing God’s love means that I no longer have the option to wander among the fortresses if I expect to grow up in the faith.

Paul writes: “do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God”

And a little further on “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Yesterday I needed to make a purchase in a store that can be intimidating to me. Well guess who served me. That’s right, a challenging name (no-name in this case). I made my purchase and left mumbling to myself about this guy. I get home and have second thoughts about my purchase and decided I might have to exchange it. Of course, I hoped “that guy” wouldn’t be in! Anyway I fretted about this somewhat until this morning until I realized that I was moving about fortresses again. I started to pray, giving that fortress of “needing others approval” up to God. I asked not because I wanted to feel at ease but because I wanted this guy, if the opportunity arose, to know the love of God. Just like that the Lord lifted me out from the fortresses into His love that casts out all fear (intimidation). I was free again.

What a liberating thought to know that people are not my problem and that I am free to speak the truth to them in love and to do all things out of love.

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The Bondage of Romans 7

Romans 7 is one of the most debated passages in our Bible, especially verses 14-25. Some say that these verses describe the experience of an unregenerate soul, perhaps even one under conviction just prior to salvation, but not necessarily so. Others believe they describe the struggle of a new believer not yet free from the effects of the law. One author I read recently insists this is the experience of the mature believer who is most sensitive to the sin in his life.

Then there are those who say that whether the passage describes the unregenerate or regenerate is not really the point. The passage is simple describing anyone trying to live under the law be it the regenerate or unregenerate. This probably comes closer to the truth but I do not think it is the answer either.

While this writing is not going to end the debates that have gone on for centuries, I do believe that this passage is one that has kept many, many believers in bondage to sin because of an inadequate understanding of why Paul wrote in such away. Perhaps in what follows some will find a greater measure of freedom in the same way I did when the scales were removed from my eyes.

Before tackling this passage directly it is necessary to look at what Paul wrote before and after it. Consider the following passage:

“For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

This passage from Romans is quite clear in stating that just as sin reigned in death so now grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. That is, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death. The interesting thing about this passage is that it is actually the end of Romans 5 (5:17-21 NASB) followed immediately by the beginning of Romans 8 (8:1-4 NASB). Actually if you read from Romans 4:4 through Romans 5 followed by all of Romans 8 (see Appendix) you will quickly see that there is a natural flow in explaining the way of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ while leaving out chapters 6 and 7.

Of course, the immediate question then arises – why chapters 6 and 7? Many have seen in these chapters, including chapter 8, an experiential sequence of growth in the believer. After identifying with his co-crucifixion with Christ, he must pass through the frustrating experience of Romans 7 before entering into the victory of Romans 8. This has been the traditional teaching of much of Christendom since the time of Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries. Without going much into Augustine’s influence on Western Christianity, it will suffice to point out that he strongly put forth the Platonic/Gnostic idea that the flesh or humanity of man was essential sinful before AND after conversion.

Because of Augustine’s understanding, it was not difficult for believers, new and old alike to identify the struggle of Romans 7 as normal Christian experience. Further support to this idea was found in Galatians 5 where it states: 

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” (Gal 5:17 NASB)

In another writing we will address this major misunderstanding of Galatians 5. We only mention it here to acknowledge its complicity in perpetuating the idea that our flesh is inherently sinful and continually at odds with the Spirit.

Again, what about Romans 6 and 7? In effect, these two passages are parenthetical to Paul’s major point, addressing two issues that Paul knew would be on his reader’s mind, that of sin and that of the law. The first half of Romans 6 deals with the sin question. The fact that Paul was indeed anticipating a question by his readers is evident in the first verse of Romans 6 where he writes:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1 NASB)

His immediate reply assumes that his readers should already know the answer to this when he writes:

“May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Rom 6:2-3 NASB)

He is really saying that if his readers really knew the Gospel message, they would not ask such a question. He then goes on to explain our co-crucifixion with Christ and resulting freedom from sin.

In verse 14 Paul gives another reason why we are free from sin. He writes:

“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Rom 6:14-15 NASB)

Paul has emphasised our freedom from sin as a result of our crucifixion with Christ. Now he says that it is also because we are not under law but under grace! This theme is carried on in Romans 7 which starts:

“Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?” (Rom 7:1 NASB)

Here he connects our co-crucifixion with Christ as not only a death to sin but as a death to the law. This is significant because “the power of sin is the law” (1Co 15:56b)! The power of sin is the law and believers have died to both! Something else is very significant in this verse and it is the parenthesis. He writes …brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law). He is speaking to his Jewish brethren which undoubtedly included Gentile proselytes to the Jewish faith. This is to be expected as Gentile believers were never under the law!

So having written that we are free from sin because we are under grace and not under law, Paul takes a few moments to further explain to his Jewish brethren the purpose and importance of the law:

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.” (Rom 7:4-13 NASB)

Let this soak in because it is on the heels of this passage that the contentious verses follow and in these verses Paul identifies with his Jewish brethren in describing their struggle under the law and what it ultimately revealed. We must remember that the Old Testament is full of examples of believers who sought to do good even though the gift of the Spirit had not yet been given and union with Christ was yet an unfulfilled promise. Abraham looked forward to the promise of the Spirit. David delighted in the law of God all through the Psalms yet committed some of the most horrendous crimes a man can commit. It is of these that Paul writes:

“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” (Rom 7:14-25 NASB)

Right off it must be noticed the wording: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin”. This is the man being described. It is not the man of Romans 6 for “for he who has died is freed from sin” and it cannot be the man of Romans 8 for he is “not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in him”!

For further emphasis let’s quote a few verses from Romans 6 (2, 6, 11, 12, 14, 18) and Romans 8 (1,2) followed by several from Romans 7 (14, 18, 19, 24).

May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? … knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts… For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. …and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

Compare that with these verses in Romans 7:

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

Does it not seem significant in that the central character in Romans 7:14-25 is “I”. There is no help of the Spirit here and the whole thing harkens back to the lie first believed in the Garden of Eden that man could be an independent being in knowing good and evil for himself. Paul does not argue that point but is frustrated at his inability to do the good he knows and avoid the evil. In fact he finds out in retrospect that the reason he was powerless was because he was not that self-determining individual he imagined himself to be but rather that there was another living in him thwarting his good intentions – SIN!

Really, can it be that Paul is describing his or anyone else’s Christian experience? Was Paul the believer, in bondage to sin? Was he continually practising sin? Is this the same Paul who made the following statements:

“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,” (2Ti 1:3 NASB) 

“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” (Php 3:17 NASB) 

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1Co 10:13 NASB) 

“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.” (1Co 4:3-4 NASB) 

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1Co 6:12 NASB)

Even Peter and John never speak of this struggle as normal Christian experience. Peter writes:

“Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” (2Pe 1:2-3 NASB)

John writes:

“No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.” (1Jn 3:6 NASB)

Finally, how can Romans 7:18 be reconciled with Philippians 2:12, 13?

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.” (Rom 7:18 NASB)

or:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Php 2:12-13 NASB)

It seems to me that Paul everywhere makes it abundantly clear that he does not expect this Romans 7 experience in the life of a believer. He is simply describing the life of trying to do good under the law. But he is describing it from the perspective of a mature Christian. He sees that it is indwelling sin empowered by the law that is our source of grief before coming to Christ. “For the Gentile without the law they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” (Rom 2:15).

This being the case, why then do so many believers accept this as normal Christian experience. First and foremost they have been taught that such is the case. Secondly, their experience seems to confirm it in their struggle to resist sin. But the truth is that for the believer “whatever is not of faith is sin.” We sin because of unbelief NOT because we are still slaves to sin. This is an important distinction because if we accept Romans 7 as the reason we sin, we will have no recourse but to plead with God to deliver us – something He has already done and is not about to do again for that would be to crucify Christ anew. Instead freedom from sin eludes us because we refuse to believe God’s way of deliverance in our death, burial and resurrection with Christ.

If we accept Romans 7 as normal Christian experience, then we will experience that imagined struggle for the rest of our lives as it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are in effect denying the truth of the Gospel and will struggle with sin because of unbelief in a way not known by those who turn to Christ and accept in faith their death to sin and resurrection to righteousness. Consequently it is our unbelief that confirms Romans 7 as our normal experience and we will function accordingly.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2Co 5:17 NASB)

A quote from Paul Anderson-Walsh is a fitting way to begin to draw this writing to a close:

“In reversing the Apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 7:18-20 …we… can say, “For I know that nothing evil dwells in me, that is, in my spirit. For I have the desire to do what is wrong, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the evil I want, but the good I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but Christ that dwells within me.””

The point is this: that we no longer have to fear ourselves as we are safe in our Saviour. We only stumble when we look at ourselves like a toddler trying to walk while watching her feet! But as we keep our eyes on Christ we will walk in freedom. Let’s not bind other believers by affirming the struggle of a sinner as their normal Christian life!

Appendix – Romans 4, 5 & 8 

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.” Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore IT WAS ALSO CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. (Rom 4:4-25 NASB)

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom 5)

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8)

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Miss Olive Green

Olive Green was a woman I met over twenty years ago. I met her as part of the visitation program of the church we were attending at the time. Olive did not attend that church but had phoned in requesting a visit which was “assigned” to me.

I met Olive in a nursing home. She was a frumpy, elderly, single woman confined to bed because she could no longer walk. One of the first things she asked me was if I believed James 5:14-15: “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” I don’t remember what I answered at the time but ironically I myself was ill with what was eventually diagnosed as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

Olive let it be known from the start that a bunch of useless ministers had visited her over the last few months, none of whom had the faith of James! I think she was a little more tolerant of me because I wasn’t the official clergy, so I got to know her a bit before she passed on.

Olive was a spinster and had spent most of her adult life in Toronto working as a nanny. She had “sat under the teaching of Oswald J Smith” of The People’s Church in Toronto. She had become a bitter woman who could not understand why God did not heal her after “all her years of faithful service.”

In the course of our visits, I suggested to her that maybe God had wanted her in this particular nursing home as a help and testimony to others who were hurting. She would have nothing of that and remained cantankerous with staff and residents alike. I once commented to her that she was being rather hard on a nurse who was doing her best to make Olive more comfortable, to which she replied that it was the nurse’s job and she was getting paid for it! Ironically Olive too expected her pay or reward from God!

During this period I was just starting to understand God’s grace in our lives and as best I could from my limited understanding, I tried to explain to her that all we have is from God and that He was never obligated to bestow mercy or blessing on any of us. She did not receive that well, commenting that all I was telling her was the same thing “that other girl” who came to visit her was telling her! I never knew who that other girl was but it seemed to me that God was presenting the Gospel to this woman who, in her thinking, could not get past focusing on what she felt God owed her for her years of service.

Finally out of exasperation I asked her why she had accepted Christ as her Savior in the first place and I will never forget her answer. She looked at me and without hesitation stated: “Because I had the good sense to!”

Shortly after that she called our house one night and I was not able to take the call. She passed away a few hours later and I’ve often wondered what it was that she had called about. I expect to find out one day, because despite her struggles, I believe she trusted Christ as her Saviour as best she could and “no one who puts their hope in the Lord will be put to shame.”

I suspect that unless I succumb to dementia or worse, I will always remember Olive Green as the sad example of that form of Christianity that believes that our receipt of blessings from the Lord depends on us first doing our part in serving the Lord – i.e. if we tithe we will prosper financially or conversely if are sick or poor we must not be pleasing to God.

In Luke we read: “The tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” God help us from being like the “Pharisee who stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” What do we do that makes us better in God’s eyes and more deserving of blessing than others?

As for God “what is it that God needs from us that He cannot do Himself?” Does He need us in order to save others? Does He need us to worship Him? Does He need our financial support? Really, what does He need that He cannot provide for Himself? Perhaps we think too highly of ourselves!!!

Friends, brothers and sisters, the blessing is, and only is, Jesus Christ! It is not health or wealth or any of the many things the world judges as worthwhile. The blessing is Jesus Christ and He is enough! We experience all the promises of God IN union with Christ. It WAS GOD in His mercy who placed us in Christ!

Yes God engages us in His work of saving and blessing others but let us not ever think that we are doing something “for” Him. In all things HE is doing something for us in His kingdom. We are His family by His mercy, and being His family He graciously includes us in HIS endeavours! We are blessed beyond measure.

As many of you know, the CFS of twenty years ago morphed into what my neurologist diagnosed as “chronic debilitating migraine”. Of course there have been those that attribute this to a lack of faith on my part or to persistent sin. And yes, I have asked God why He doesn’t heal me -have I really crossed the line that bad!

Paul wrote an interesting bit in Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”

This passage had always caused me pause because I wondered how Christ’s sufferings could be lacking! But I do not think that is what the passage is talking about. It is talking about what is lacking in OUR lives to conform US to the sufferings of Christ!

My dear spouse reminded me after I had written the first draft of this story, that back in the day, I would leave to visit Olive hardly able to move or function but would come home excited, exclaiming to her how I had experienced the very strength and wisdom of God! By the time I returned home the grace for the journey was no longer required and I was back to experiencing the normal weakened state. But to have witnessed and experienced His Life in such a real practical way was beyond anything I had imagined up to that time!

“He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” HE has rescued us!!! It is time we quit working for God as if He will be beholden to us and instead humbly thank Him for our cooperation IN HIS PURPOSE! It is time for us to stop thinking that He can ONLY accomplish His purpose with us! Instead let us be overwhelmed with the thought and love of God, who embraces us and works through us, making us part of the expansion and building of His Kingdom, the Kingdom that He conceived in eternity past, long before there was even a you and I.

In the past few weeks we have witnessed among our friends, God’s dynamic interference with the normal course of their lives, and have been encouraged and hopeful that we are experiencing His moulding discipline, further conforming us to the image of HIS Christ. A few are noticing that the experiences are not without a little pain.

I experienced a bit of an emotional meltdown this past weekend that originated in a migraine taking hold Thursday which as of today, Sunday, has yet to fully release its grip -they usually cycle a little more rapidly. Joy and I even contemplated ending, at least “my” part, of our business this very weekend. For those of you who are wondering how I’m even writing this letter, I can only mention that deep in the heart of the Amazon there exists a rare herb… What God purposes He enables!

Part of what prompted this writing was the sad witnessing of two types of believers in our field of vision. First are lowly ones, those who see themselves forever as “sinners saved by grace”, forever hoping to be at least of some acceptance and use to God, but at the same time not really expecting much. Then there are those, being strong in the faith, who are determined to storm the gates and get “their” blessing. They are strong in the word, strong in prayer and strong in worship. They fully expect, even demand that God bless them and chide us weak believers for our lack of faith and even choice.

For the first group there is good news! He has done it all, continues to do it all and will finish it. We walk in His Kingdom, saints, co-heirs with Christ and we share in all that HE is. For the second group, I’m not sure, not having been there. I suspect they must join hands with the first group!!!

Can I conclude for now by saying that God through Jesus Christ has been, is and will continue to build His ekklesia, His kingdom, and will include each of us in the way He has determined best suited for us in ways limited only by His creativity. The “big picture” is very exciting.

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