Evil and death are conquered!

As we approach the time of year when Christians focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we stand in awe of the way God chose for victory over evil and death. 

Take time to reflect on this great quote and the Scriptures and song of worship below:

“Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented” (Henri Blocher).

  • “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21, NLT).
  • Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25, NLT).

Christ appears in Heaven for us!

When the apostle encouraged us to “set our affections on the realities of heaven,” he specifically identified it as the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.” 

“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands… he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24).

 What makes heaven so desirable is not the absence of anguish and suffering (as great as this will be), nor the presence of angels and fellow believers. Heaven is so desirable because it is the place “where Christ sits at God’s right hand.”

The apostle Paul spoke about his death with this perspective. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).

After Jesus finished His mission of bearing our sins and being raised from the dead, He returned to heaven and took the seat of highest honor to appear before God “for us.” These two words “for us” are amazing!

In the highest court, those who know Christ as their Savior are represented. Let these words settle deeply into your heart: “Christ went into heaven itself to appear in the presence of God for us.”

In Colossians 3:3-4, the apostle reinforced his call to focus on heaven by writing: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.”

Reflection

“The Christian’s whole and only status before God is in Christ. True and wonderful though this is, however, the sphere of the Christian’s existence is still here on earth. He is still beset by temptations; he is hampered by weakness and frustrated by failings; he falls short of ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13); the perfection for which he longs is not yet. He needs a holiness not his own, made available to him by the Lamb of God who has made atonement for his sins and who now interposes himself as his representative in the heavenly sanctuary. And this is the representation which Christ fulfills as he appears in the presence of God for us” (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 349).

For deeper meditation on Christ’s representation, see: Romans 8:33-34; Hebrews 4:14-16; 7:23-27; John 2:1-2. The apostle John said those who confess their sin (I John 1:9), have an “advocate” with the heavenly father (I John 2:2). The N.I.V. translates advocate as, “one who speaks to the Father in our defense.” It pictures a legal setting with Christ as counsel for the defense. And His position as advocate is based on His redeeming work (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5-6).

“Our advocate doesn’t plead that we are innocent…He acknowledges our guilt and presents His vicarious work as the ground for our acquittal” (John R. W. Stott, I John, TNTC, pp. 81-82).

We must guard against misguided understandings of representation. We should not picture a dualistic situation where a well-pleasing son is trying to persuade a hostile father to look on us with favor. God was the one who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (II Corinthians 5:18-21).  God “spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32; cf. 1 John 4:9-10).

Reflection

“The intercession of the Son, then, is in no sense a pleading with the Father to change his attitude toward us. Nor does the Father have to be reminded of the full redemption that he himself has provided for us in his Son—the very thought is preposterous! The presence in heaven of the Lamb bearing the marks of his passion is itself the perpetual guarantee of our acceptance with God, who gave his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In ourselves, however, though we have the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ and though we are united to him in love and trust, we are unworthy because Christ has not yet been fully formed within us (cf. Gal. 4:19) and we still sinfully fall short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23). This consideration explains our continuing need of the advocacy and intercession of him who alone is accounted worthy before God (cf. Rev. 5:1-10). It is in his worthiness that even now we rejoice in the blessings of the divine favor, for by the grace of God his merit has been reckoned to us as our merit, his heaven has become our heaven, and his eternal glory our eternal glory” (Philip Hughes, Hebrews).

 Do we need the assistance of saints or angels to bring us to God?

“To imagine that saints or angels can be influenced to intercede for us is not only delusion; it is to cast doubt on the perfect adequacy of the intercession of Christ on our behalf and thus to deprive ourselves of the fulness of the security which is available to us only in Christ. Our Lord clearly taught that no man can come to the Father except by him (John 14:6) and that our requests to God are to be made in his name (John 14:13f.; 15:16; 16:23, 24, 26), precisely because there is no other name which avails and prevails with God (cf. Acts 4:12) (Philip E. Hughes, Hebrews, p. 353).

Christ alone is our mediator, advocate, intercessor, high priest, and way of access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; John 14:6). “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He (Jesus Christ) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2; cf. Hebrews 7:26-27). “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:18). 

Let your heart dwell on these great words: “Christ went into heaven to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24).

Steve Cornell 

 

Deep thoughts on Spiritual maturity

Spiritual maturity is God’s primary goal for our lives. We are beings who have fallen from the greatness of the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Romans 3:23). When we are reconciled with God through faith in Jesus Christ (II Corinthians 5:17-21), God begins to restore us to the greatness of His image (Romans 8:29-30; II Corinthians 3:18).

This is the process we call spiritual maturity. God is far more concerned about changing us than about changing our circumstances.

We must recognize that God’s changes are thorough — affecting every aspect of our being — our thoughts, attitudes, values and actions. His work is a deep transformation of character. Consequently, sometimes these changes are painful (II Co. 1:8-9; Heb. 12:1-11; Ja. 1:2-5).

Spiritual maturity is a process of bringing your will into conformity with God’s will. This involves your intellect (as you use your mind to explore God’s truth), your will (as you increasingly yield to God’s authority), and your emotions (as you cultivate godly affections). A maturing Christian will pursue all of this with increased humility.

“For the Christian, the path of connectedness to God involves the development of a Christlike mind, will, affections (or emotions), character, relationships and actions. When any of these capacities is undernourished, our spiritual growth will be stunted” (Bruce Demarest, Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality).

Salvation

Spiritual maturity must be understood as part of the gift of salvation, for “those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:29). We experience this in dimensional and sequential progress based on the three tenses of salvation. We are saved; we are being saved and we will be saved.

We have joy in what we possess but we wait and groan for its completion. We taste and are satisfied as we go on to hunger for what awaits us.

The gospel is a gift that we receive once for all in Christ and experience in temporal sequence until “by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, Jesus transforms our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20) and then “the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father” — “so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:24-28).

Not passive

Of course, we are not passive recipients but active participants who are “working out our salvation with fear and trembling. But we can only do this because it is God who works in us “to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13). And the gospel reminds me that I am an unworthy recipient who has been made worthy by Jesus.

We need the deep encouragement and confidence that comes from knowing that sanctification is God and the believer at work together, not pitted against one another (Colossians 1:29; Philippians 2:13).

God put his treasure (the gospel) “in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). Yet “we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Grace-based motives

We are motivated to godliness by the fear of the Lord, the consequences of evil, love for one another, the judgment seat of Christ, and other worthy realities.

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:9-10).

A grace-based motivation for godliness will not diminish our need to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” or “the struggle against sin” (Hebrews 12:1-4). But trying to do these things without “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and finisher of faith” will easily degenerate into something unworthy of the gospel.

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

The gospel of grace must always be the primary motivational reality for transformation. And it will be for chest-beating, mercy-pleading, self-confessed sinners who go home justified (Luke 18:9-14). Without this as our motivation, we easily slide toward religion where I must get myself to the place where God looks with favor on me. This is to engage in religious notions of propitiation where I try to propitiate the Deity and ignore the truth of the gospel that our loving God already propitiated Himself by becoming the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:1-2).

“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 3:3; 5:16, 25).

Steve Cornell

Struggle Theology

While reading some feedback on Tim Challies’ post “Desecration and Titillation,” I recalled a quote from a series of messages I gave many years ago. It came from the book, “Flirting with the Devil,” by Bill Pride and has to do with Struggle Theology (an incredibly creative device invented to explain why professing Christians fail to conquer their sins). 

“Struggle Theologians say, ‘Forget that stuff about being more than conquerors in Christ and all things being possible to him who believes. Don’t start thinking you are better than other people. In fact, we’d like you to concentrate on other people. Don’t think about Jesus if you can help it. Think instead about sinners who call themselves Christians. These are your real role models.  Whatever they can’t do, you can’t do either.’”

“If a Struggle Theologian can find one person who professes to be a Christian and also is failing to overcome the sin of habitual drunkenness, he considers that sufficient reason to tell all of us that drunkenness is a difficult problem requiring complex coping strategies and that there are ‘no simple answers’ to this problem. If you try to point out that the Bible says drunkenness is a sin, not a disease, and that we are supposed to live above sin, the Struggle Theologian will accuse you of thinking you are better than other people and of being insensitive to the real problems others face. He may even go so far as to claim that when the church calls sin ‘sin’ and expects sinners to change their ways, we are driving the poor victims of sin even farther from the ‘healing’ that supposedly only occurs when we unconditionally accept them and their bad behavior” (pp. 28-29, Flirting with the Devil,” Bill pride).

Some of the debate on Tim’s blog focused on whether those who profess faith in Christ but remain in habitual sin should question whether they ever really experienced salvation. The passage Tim quoted offers a clear warning.   

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. … Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him” (1 John 3:6,8-10).

On this subject, there is (as with all biblical truth) tension and balance to respect. The early church leader James acknowledged that, “We all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). The book of Hebrews described the christian life as a “struggle against sin” (Hebrews 12:4). The Apostle Paul pointed to the depths of our battle when he wrote, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). 

Yet none of this is meant to ease our conscience toward habitual sin in a way that we accept it as normal to the christian life. We’re called to, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5; cf. Romans 8:12-13).

The point about “Struggle Theology” might seem a bit simplistic or in need of balanced, but it’s worth considering when tempted to abuse the truth that we all struggle. 

“We Christians are supposed to deal with sin at the point of a sword, not to ‘struggle’ with it. Satan had to stroke [Eve] up and down with tempting suggestions before she ate the fruit. This kind of struggling is just a coy way of giving in to sin. You put up the appearance of a fight to fool onlookers into thinking you’re a good person who is trying his best, when really you never intended to permanently reject that sin in the first place” (p. 29, Flirting with the Devil,” Bill pride).

 Steve Cornell

When the past destroys your future

Allowing a painful past to control your present is a sure way to destroy your future.

Yet so many choose to do this. Why? Because sometimes the past is so painful that it’s hard to put it behind you and move on. 

If you feel bound to a painful past, I suggest that you examine the thought patterns and postures of heart that bind you.

Start by clearly renouncing wrong and damaging ways of thinking about yourself, others, life and God. Reject false perceptions, self-blame, guilt; the need to be in control, wrong ideas about all men or all women.

Reject wrong thoughts and distorted perceptions about God by choosing to see how He has revealed Himself in Scripture (see: Psalm 103:8-13II Corinthians 1:3-4).

Give blame and responsibility to those to whom it belongs. Refuse to allow resentment, anger and bitterness to bind your soul to those who hurt you. Embrace forgiveness in a context of worship. Recognize the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.  

Leave your Grudge with the Judge

Address your unwillingness to trust others.

Renounce efforts to isolate yourself in lonely forms of self-sufficiency. Fear of loss and betrayal often imprison hearts in fear of vulnerability and loneliness. Allow your heart to love another person as God loved you (See: Romans 5:8).

Renouncing bad patterns and embracing new ones takes patience and resolve. Identifying destructive thought patterns is a process that usually requires the help of others. Don’t be threatened by learning painful truths about yourself. A change of mind or outlook requires honesty about our feelings and thoughts. It also requires a new way of seeing things — God’s way. This is where the path to healthy and joyful living begins.


Recall these great words: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10, NLT).

God said to His people: “I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” (Jeremiah 30:17). God is the one who can “….restore to you the years that the locust have eaten” (Joel 2:25). Like the Psalmist, we must pray, “Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

Resolve to commit yourself to a renewed mind. Change the way you think by learning to think godly thoughts from Scripture. “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds” (Ephesians 4:23).

The pattern of renunciation and renewal—“ do not be conformed….but be transformed” (Romans 12:2) is essential for overcoming one’s past. It is also a daily practice that yields long-term benefits over time. Change comes through a disciplined practice of renunciation and renewal.

The mind is what must be renewed. The mind is the center of thought, perception, understanding, and consciousness itself.

Change must begin with new ways of thinking. God uses Scripture to work this change in us: (Joshua 1:8Psalm 1:1-3Psalm 119:11;II Timothy 3:15-17Hebrews 4:12James 1:22-25).

Recommit to the confession of Psalm 62:1-2 – “I find my rest in God alone. He is the One who saves me. He alone is my rock. He is the One who saves me. He is like a fort to me. I will always be secure.”

Steve Cornell

See also: Hurt by a broken relationship

Two images of the Christian life

1. A race requiring perseverance (Hebrews 12:1-3)

  “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (v. 1)

2. A son receiving discipline (Hebrews 12:4-13)
          ___________________

  “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (v. 7)

What did you expect?

Paul and Barnabas “returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said” (Acts 14:21-23).
_______________________________________
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything…. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:2-4, 12).

Social idealism or a Savior?

After his horrific experience in the Gulag, the Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn acknowledged that, “The victims hated their victimizers with the hatred by which they were victimized. And as hatred beget more hatred, the whole world became a concentration camp imprisoned and stoked by hatred.”

He then wrote these piercing words: “If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

“According to Genesis 3, sin appeared very early in the history of our race. In this chapter our first parents try to be “like God, knowing good and evil,” and succeed only in alienating themselves from God and from each other. They choose to believe the tempter rather than their Maker and turn their garden into a bramble patch. The good and fruitful earth becomes their foe (Genesis 3:17-18; cf. 4:11-14), and their own sin then rises in a terrible crescendo.”

Adam and Eve’s pride and disbelief trigger revolt, scapegoating, and flight from God (Gen. 3:4-5, 10, 12-13). Their first child ups the ante: Cain resents and kills his brother, Abel, launching the history of envy that leads to murder.  Like his parents and the rest of the race, Cain refuses to face his sin (“Am I my brother’s keeper?”) and is exiled by God to a place “east of Eden.” In a phrase that suggests the restlessness of all who are alienated from God, Cain becomes ‘a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.’”

“The Bible’s account of the human predicament is that from the start we’ve been choosing wrong. We’ve kept on perverting and polluting God’s gifts. It’s not just that each of us commits individual sins—telling lies, for example, or wasting time. The situation is much more serious than this. By sinning we not only grieve God and our neighbor; we also wreck our own integrity. We are like people whose abuse of alcohol ruins not only their liver but also their judgment and will, the things that might have kept them from further abuse of alcohol. The same pattern holds for everybody. We now sin because we are sinners, because we have a  habit, and because the habit has damaged our judgment and will.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. “Not the way it’s Suppose to be”)

Who can reasonably argue with Scripture when it says, “There is none righteous—not even one”? (Romans 3:10). Many thinkers have painted dark but honest pictures of humanity. “Man,” observed Rousseau, “seek the author of evil no longer. It is yourself.” Hume wrote, “Man is the greatest enemy of man.” In “The Devil’s Dictionary,” Ambrose Bierce wrote: “The defining feature of humanity is inhumanity.”  “We talk of wild animals,” wrote G. K. Chesterton, “but man is the only wild animal. It is man that has broken out.”

A prisoner in Auschwitz, the most notorious German concentration camp, gripped by the horror of his circumstances asked, “Where is God?”  To which a fellow prisoner replied, “Where is man?” At the liberation of Auschwitz, an American soldier said, “We knew man was evil but hadn’t suspected he was that evil.”

Upon returning from the Rwanda Massacre, U.S. Ambassador Robert Seiple said, “There are no categories to express such horror. Someone used the word ‘bestiality’—no, that dishonors the beasts. Animals kill for food, not for pleasure. They kill one or two prey at a time, not a million for no reason at all.”

In 1999, a reporter for U.S. News & World Report penned ominous words that today seem to have been prophetic.  But, more likely, her insights were based on unbiased observation of world affairs. 

“In looking back at the past 100 years, one thing stands out: Man’s capacity for cruelty seems fairly constant … As the millennium closes, it seems there are more and more random assaults on the anchors of American life: offices, schools, post offices. Some fear terrorism too, is the wave of the future — the targeting of American fortresses by crazed militia groups or by international madmen seeking redress with powerful bombs. Crime experts worry that someday we might see the frightening brand of overseas terrorism that has so far eluded us: suicidal fanatics bent on destruction” ( Angie Cannon, U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 6, 1999).

I’d like to say that things have changed and the world is a safer place but this simply isn’t true. Each day many dangers affect or threaten all areas of life: physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, and ecological. We live in a world full of unsafe people and dangerous places. We have good reasons for being concerned about our personal, local, national and international security. 

“Peace,” one suggested, “is that glorious moment in history when everyone stops to reload.” 

A Savior is needed

Some still consider it quaint or even antiquated to suggestion that humanity needs a Savior. This view became popular in 1973 with the promotion of the Humanist Manifesto II. The document was signed by scholars from universities around the world — considered the basis for public education. Consider some of the affirmations:

“Human life has meaning because we create it and develop our futures… We strive for the good life here and now.”

“As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith. “Salvationism, based on mere affirmation, still appears as harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.”

The disappointment in Manifesto I and II is the absence of recommendations for this “other means for survival.” The ambiguous language of social idealism only produced statements like this:

“Humanity, to survive, requires bold and daring measures. We need to extend the uses of scientific method, not renounce them, to fuse reason with compassion in order to build constructive social and moral values. “

The events and changes in our world since 1973 make this statement appear to be “an unproved and outmoded faith … diverting people with false hopes.” It seems far more honest and realistic to admit that we need a Savior. We also need to look back to our beginning to understand our deepest problem. 

“Near the beginning of our history, we human beings broke the harmony of paradise and began to live against our ultimate good… As Genesis 3 and Genesis 4 reveal, we rebelled against God and then we fled from God. We once had a choice. We now have a near-compulsion—at least, that’s what we have without the grace of God to set us free (Not The Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.).

      • Something great has fallen from its greatness.
      • Something amazing has lost its amazement.
      • Something beautiful has lost its beauty.
      • Something whole is broken.
      • Something healthy is sick and in need of healing.
      • Something peaceful has been vandalized.

As a result of our fall from our Creator, a sad but realistic set of terms is fitting to us:

      • lost
      • wayward
      • drifting
      • restless
      • fallen
      • broken
      • fractured
      • alienated
      • separated
      • partial
      • dysfunctional
      • incomplete
      •  sinful
      •  dead

Not surprisingly, a vocabulary of salvation is precisely what we need. We need intervention, rescue, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration. We need someone to rescue us from our sins and our hellbent path to destruction. 

The Savior has come

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (I John 4:14). Further, “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe” (I Timothy 4:10). For “this is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (I Timothy 2:3-6). “… to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. … God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’ For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:19-21).

The salvation God offers as a gift of His grace is full and final restoration to the glory of the image of God.  

      • A glory we had at the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27).
      • A glory we fell from in disobedience (Romans 3:23; 5:12; James 3:9).
      • A glory being restored in us (through God’s gift of salvation and the indwelling Spirit, Rom. 6:23; II Corinthians 3:18).
      • A glory fully restored (despite our present suffering, Romans 8:18; Philippians 3:20-21; I John 3:1-2;Revelation 21:1-5).

Steve Cornell

Morning prayer

Take a few moments and thoughtfully offer this prayer to God:

“O God, the author of all good, I come to You for the grace another day will require for its duties and events. As I step out into a wicked world, I carry with me an evil heart. I know that without You I can do nothing, that everything with which I shall be concerned, however harmless in itself, may prove an occasion of sin or folly, unless I am kept by Your power.”

“Hold me up O God and I shall be safe. Preserve my understanding from subtlety of error, my affections from love of idols, my character from stain of vice, my profession from every form of evil.”

“May I engage in nothing in which I cannot implore Your blessing, and in which I cannot invite Your inspection. Prosper me in all lawful undertakings, or prepare me for disappointments. Give me neither poverty nor riches. Feed me with food suitable for me, lest I be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or be poor, and steal, and take Your name in vain. 

“May every creature be made good to me by prayer and Your will. Teach me how to use the world and not abuse it, to improve my talents, to redeem my time, to walk in wisdom toward those without, and in kindness to those within, to do good to all men, and especially to my fellow Christians. And to You, O God, be the glory.”

“Father of Mercies, Hear me for Jesus’ sake. I am sinful even in my closest walk with you; it is of your mercy that I did not die long ago; Your grace has been given to me in the cross by which you have reconciled yourself to me and me to you, drawing me by your great love, declaring me as innocent in Christ though guilty in myself.”

“Giver of all graces, I look to you for strength to maintain them in me, for it is hard to practice what I believe. Strengthen me against temptations. My heart is an unexhausted fountain of sin, a river of corruption since childhood days, flowing on in every pattern of behavior; You have disarmed me of the means in which I trusted, and I have no strength but in you.”

“You alone can hold back my evil ways, but without your grace to sustain me I fall. Satan’s darts quickly inflame me, and the shield that should quench them easily drops from my hand: Empower me against his schemes and assaults. Keep me sensible of my weakness, and of my dependence upon your strength. Let every trial teach me more of your peace, more of your love.”

“Your Holy Spirit is given to increase your graces, and I cannot preserve or improve them unless he works continually in me. May he confirm my trust in your promised help, and let me walk humbly in dependence upon you, for Jesus’ sake.” (From: The Valley of Vision, contemporary adaptation mine)

 

What should you do with your life?

Can a line be traced from your life to the fame of God’s Name, the coming of God’s Kingdom and the doing of God’s Will — on earth as it is in heaven?

  • Are you  pursuing business? Good!
  • Athletics? Good!
  • Marriage and family? Good!

But will you settle for any of these in a way that disconnects from God’s name, kingdom and will? All too easily, we default to life built for our names, our kingdoms and our wills! And, in the end, it always turns out to be a little life shrinking into a final kind of meaninglessness. We were meant for so much more! 

Is it possible to have life-goals that are good without being great?

  • A good business has goals. A great business stretches goals into eternity.
  • A good marriage has goals. A great marriage (as God intended) has more than horizontal goals; it reaches vertically into eternity.
  • A good athlete has goals. A great athlete wants his goals to matter for eternal good!

Have you settled for too little?

When people admit to being frustrated, discontent, anxious and angry. When they express overall dislike of themselves and their lives, I respond by saying,

“I am sure you must have a wrong view of yourself, but the reason you feel as you do is because YOU matter to YOU a whole lot!”

The things that frustrate us, that make us anxious and angry are deeply connected with our most cherished values. More often than not, when we experience these emotions, it should alert us to the danger of settling for far less than God’s intended.

Think about it

“You” is not a big enough thing to live for when (to use Augustine’s line), “God made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him!” We were made “by Him (Christ) and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).  When we live for anything less, we shouldn’t be too surprised that we feel unsatisfied.

I realize that life is a daily routine filled with mundane and demanding things. I also know that we too easily fall into patterns of living that fail to reach with intention into eternity. When we attach our hearts to mundane goals and ambitions, we tend to settle and sour. We were made for more! (Did I say that already?)

Send a memo to your heart

“You were made for more than a sorry little life of self-absorption! Don’t settle; reach!

    • “And He (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (II Corinthians 5:15). Repeat it often: “No longer for me but for Him.” (See: Galatians 2:20)
    • “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).
    • “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
    • “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31)

An ancient and evil strategy:

With brilliant imagery, C. S. Lewis, pictured a senior demon instructing a junior demon about the delicate use of pleasure as a weapon against God’s people:

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s [God's] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God's] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula…. To get the man’s soul and give NOTHING in return–that is what really gladdens [Satan's] heart.” (C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters)

    • Our problem: We live for small ambitions that shrink us and rob the identity, meaning and joy intended for us by God and provided for us in the gospel.
    • Our vocabulary of Security, Identity and Mission reflects our little lives and empty relationships.
    • Our hearts must attach to something greater…something beyond this life! We were made for more than small lives lived for self!
    • Our goals in this life must reach into eternity by anchoring to God’s name, kingdom, and will.
    • The great danger might be that I will live for too little when God intends to enlarge my expectations by shaping them around something greater than my life.
Steve Cornell

Thinking Deeply About Spiritual Transformation

You might want to get another sip of coffee before venturing with me into this post! If you’re brave enough, I am inviting you to think deeply about matters that have been the object of far too much superficial reflection. Far too many believers only think about (and articulate) their faith through clichés about “accepting Jesus into their hearts.” Not surprisingly, our shared life in Christ is not what it could be when our vocabulary for it is not much more than clichés. If we hope to live differently, we’ll need to think more deeply about spiritual transformation. With this goal, (easily facilitated in Scripture) I invite you to join with me. (Did you sip that coffee yet?)

Salvation: one gift, but ….


God’s gift of salvation must always be understood (with deep gratitude) as one completed act of a loving God for undeserving, helpless, powerless, ungodly sinners who are His enemies (Romans 5). Yet salvation is experienced sequentially in three dimensions (Already, In between and Not yet).

The apostle actually explained our salvation as one gift of five completed divine actions for sinners (who are recipients of each, as we did not and could not participate in any of them). What did God do for us?

God:

1. Foreknew: (us) (Προεγνω)

2. Predestined: (us) (Προωρισεν)

3. Called: (us) (Εκαλεσεν)

4. Justified: (us) (Εδικαιωσεν)

5. Glorified: (us) (εδοξασεν)

This one-time divine gift (Romans 8:29-30) permanently united us to God in Christ but is experienced sequentially in time. It’s completely based on a redemption-accomplished by God through Christ but produces in us (in this life) an eager expectation of the final redemption of our bodies (Romans 8; Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21).

The three dimensions of “Already, In between and Not yet” are real – so real that we groan inwardly as we wait for completion. Yet we must be careful not to divide what God has united because understood together, they help us when (in this “not yet”) we wait and groan — to do this with patience and hope (Romans 8).

We are undeserving recipients of everything but we’re called to be active participants during the “not yet.” As we “continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” even this must be done (yes, can only be done) based on the fact that, “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13). God is restoring His image in us by His Spirit (II Corinthians 3:18).

Restoration of glory:


The image of God is the starting point for how we think about humanity. It’s the shared reality of all people without exception or distinction. God singled out humans when He said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” ”So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27; James 3:9).

At the beginning, God “saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). Humans (by God’s intention) had a very good and noble beginning (and, we intuitively know it). But those intended for greatness have fallen. Sin is a tragic and culpable falling short of this glory – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

On this account, we must consider transformation as return to glory.

▪ A glory we had at the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27).

▪ A glory we fell from in disobedience (Romans 3:23; 5:12; James 3:9).

▪ A glory being restored in us (through God’s gift of salvation and the indwelling Spirit (Rom. 6:23: II Cor. 3:18)

▪ A glory fully restored (despite our present suffering, Romans 8:18; Revelation 21:1-5).

The wide lens on transformation:


A focus that has recently captured evangelical vision is transformation or change via cultural and political agents. On this note, we must exercise a degree of caution. Humans need more than social or cultural change, we need ontological transformation— i. e. change of “being” before “behavior”– and this only comes by God’s gift of spiritual regeneration.

God said, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19). We need a recreation or new creation by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) for the restoring of the image of God in us.

We need the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” “to make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6). We need to be reconciled to God to become a “new creation” in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17). And “all this is from God” (II Corinthians 5:18).

From a Christian perspective, this work of God is foundational to any interest in cultural and political agents of change. I am not suggesting that an imposition of salvation on culture and politics. Nor am I suggesting that other kinds of goods can’t be offered unless the spiritual is included. But transformation of human existence (both individually and in community), from a Christian perspective must prioritize the ontological dimension (i. e. transformation of “being,” not just “behavior”).

External mechanisms of change like laws, customs, cultures and politics will not address the depth of the human problem. On a Christian view, these external pressures are necessary (even divinely ordained) but not adequate. So we insist that making external adjustments like putting the “right” party in political office or changing laws and policies will not address our deepest needs.

Looking through the wider lens, spiritual transformation includes a strong teleological focus (a hope and a future beyond the temporal world) (see: Titus 3:3-7; II Corinthians 4:16-18). The teleological dimension is God’s provision of hope and purpose — things that matter at some deep level to rational people.

A Christian understanding of influences like culture and politics must be shaped by a hope centered on God’s redemptive work in Christ. It would an exercise in betrayal for the believer to think of “hope and change” in purely temporal terms. Christian thinking and living simply cannot happen (as intended) apart from the divine telos to which history is directed.

Transformation in community


On another level, humans are social beings by divine creation. We are not meant to be alone (and we know it). Our lives depend on others and we were designed to flourish in community. But human relationships are the source of some of our deepest problems. Maintaining peace is a perplexing and painful project on almost every level. Although we still feel innate endorsement that it’s not good to be alone, it’s complicated, difficult and sometimes even dangerous to be together.

God’s answer for our social and community needs is the Church. The work of Christ on earth cannot be thought of apart from the Church. He’s the one who said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Those who are deeply concerned about transformation must apply their thoughts and concerns to the Church.

The Church (as God’s new community) is not merely an organization but an organism. In some ontologically organic way, each believer in Christ (upon faith) is immersed into a living community or body of believers to form God’s new society.

Each local Church is made up of people who have experienced (and are experiencing) ontological transformation — “though outwardly perishing, yet inwardly being renewed day by day” — with a shared teleological vision — as “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Local Churches:


Should these communities (local Churches) be exemplars of the kind of ideal toward which human flourishing happens at its best? Sound a little too idealistic?

We know that this side of God’s new world (Revelation 21:1-5), we will not experience utopia. Churches (i.e. Church members) have to “work hard to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Part of the reason for this is the fact that spiritual change is not subtraction of the flesh but addition of the Spirit. The flesh is not eradicated but God gives the Holy Spirit – “whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:6-7).

We are told to “walk by the Spirit” if we desire to “not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The Spirit breaks the power/mastery of what the hymn writer called “cancelled sin.” Yet the conflict remains— “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5.16-17).

In Galatians 5:15-16, there is an interesting connection between community relationships (at their worse) and walking by the Spirit as the solution. “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, (solution) walk by the Spirit, and you will not…”

A direct connection is made in these verses between protecting relationships from destruction (bite, devour, destroy: metaphors from the animal kingdom) and the role of the Holy Spirit. To avoid destructive relationship, we must,

  • v.16 –walk by the Spirit;
  • v.18 – be led by the Spirit;
  • v.25a –live by the Spirit;
  • v. 25b – keep in step with the Spirit

Galatians 5:16 says, “so I say”, (or ςέ “but I say”). Here is my advice.” Or, “Here is the remedy for the situation described in v. 15.” (Phillips). To protect Christian community (relationships) from destruction, each member must “live orwalk by the Spirit.”

What kind of community is possible (and should be expected) when ontologically changed believers are immersed by one Spirit into organic life together? Individual and community life of this kind (Christian marriages, families and local Churches) among those who are walking by the Spirit (being kept continuously filled by the Spirit) will be distinguished by pervasive practice of the fruit of the Spirit.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)

“Against these qualities no law is needed.” The external agent of change is unnecessary where the internal work of the Spirit is active. Imagine any relationship where these qualities are flourishing. Each of these qualities (fruit) also appears as a command in the NT reminding us that we are not passive recipients of the activity of God. Unworthy recipients? Yes! But not passive recipients (see: Philippians 2:12-13).

What should we expect in view of such amazing grace?

Steve Cornell