Lenten Devotionals, Week 4…March 8-14

Monday, March 8… Romans 6:1, 2

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

The apostle Paul is saying that the key to victory over sin is to preside over our own funeral, as my friend Dick Burr used to say. In other words, victory over sin comes when we see ourselves as dead men/women walking. 

Perhaps we might respond by saying that if Paul wanted to challenge us to overcome sin in our lives, he might have done it in a more positive way. However, Francis Schaeffer once said, “True spirituality does not stop with the negative, but without the negative…we are not ready to go on.”  

Many people do not like Paul because he always sounds pessimistic. We like Jesus much better; he was so kind and positive. Yet we forget that the first words that Jesus preached were the same as that fire and brimstone crazy guy, John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17) Repentance is an acknowledgement of our sinful condition and a turning away from our self-centered life, not just as a one shot deal but one a daily basis. Jesus also said to those who claimed to be his disciples, “If anyone would be my follower, he must deny (say “no”) to himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24) Argh! So much for the positive; for self-affirmation and awareness! Perhaps that is why there are so few followers of Christ compared with those who claim to be Christians. Just as we are to be engaged in on-going faith and trust in God, so we need to practice on-going repentance. 

God almighty, eternal, and merciful; I confess that I have sinned against you in thought word and deed, especially (be specific about what the Holy Spirit brings to mind). I repent of these things and pray that you would take the practice of them away because they are interfering with my love and honor of you, my Father. I understand that repentance does not magically eliminate the consequences of my sin and in some cases I will need to make restitution. But I bask in the thought that you will no longer hold these things against me for the sake of my crucified savior, and that you have promised to place them as far from you as the east is from the west. I am humbled and amazed and ask that you would use me to help others find their way back to you again. Though Christ, I pray. Amen.

Tuesday, March 9… Romans 6:3-5

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?      

It is my understanding that the New Testament teaches that faith in Christ is the key to acceptance with God and water baptism is an external symbol of this internal faith. This is why many of us do not baptize infants who are incapable of faith (although there are fine believers who do baptize their infants because they see baptism as the NT counterpart of circumcision; a covenantal rite by which these children become a part of the believing community). 

However, in this passage Paul claims that baptism is more than a symbol of faith; it is also a symbol of the union or personal relationship that we have with Christ because of our faith. Note the linking phrases:  baptized into Christ…baptized into His death…buried with Him…united with Him in His death…united with Him in His resurrection.  Faith so connects me to Christ that his history becomes my history. Thus, from God’s perspective, whatever happened to Christ has happened to me, and whatever will happen to Christ will also happen to me. For example, if I slip a piece of paper into the book I am holding, and close the book, whatever I then do with that book I also do with the paper inside.  If Christ is the book and I am the paper in the book, then whatever happens to Christ happens to me. When Christ died, so did I; when Christ was buried, so was I; when Christ rose to newness of life, so did I. My old identity has changed and now Christ is my new identity; when God looks at me, he sees his beloved son. His history, my history: His future, my future. Praise be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! Amen. 

O my Lord, how can I live a morally indifferent life, as if little has changed? Grace forbids it, because the life of grace is a life of profound spiritual union with you, my crucified, buried and risen Head. You have taught me to expect new holiness to emerge from within my character, for the life of grace includes sanctification no less than justification. After all, you rose just as much as you died and were buried. So how could your grace fail to lift me to a new life? Make your grace for me not an excuse for sin but a power for obedience, I earnestly pray. In your holy name. Amen. (R.C. Ortlund, Jr)      

Wednesday, March 10… Romans 6:6-10

For we know that our old self (identity) was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away…

My old self, the old (I mean, the really old) Dave McDowell, who was as guilty as sin before God and dominated by the power of sin, was crucified with Christ when the savior died on the cross as my substitute – to what effect?  …. that our body of sin might be done away with (katargeo– defeated, disabled, deprived of power), that we should no longer be slaves to sin.  The body of sindoes not mean that our bodies are sinful.  Rather, it means that my old sinful nature, which used my body to express itself (as an instrument), has now been deprived of its power to enslave me.  Now, because I am in Christ, I am free (not to live as I please, but) to use my body as an instrument of his righteousness.  Sin’s power to accuse me, to condemn me, to control me has been broken.  Although sin still has an influence, over me it does not have the right or the power to enslave me. 

“Dead to sin as meaning dead to the influence and love of sin is entirely erroneous.  Paul is not referring to a death to the power (influence) of sin but to a death to its guilt, that is, our justification.” (Haldane, Commentary on Romans, p. 251)]

Even so, consider (reckon, regard, look upon, count) yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Jesus Christ. (Romans 6:11)  In other words, “think about this very carefully: even though you don’t feel dead to sin because some of the old software has been showing up on your new computer, you are to regard yourself as dead to its authority over you.”  The key to holy living is found in the way you think rather than the way you feel. Let me repeat that: The key to holy living is found in the way you think rather than how you feel.

May the mind of Christ my Savior live in me from day to day; By his love and power controlling all I do and say. May the Word of God dwell richly in my heart from hour to hour. So that all may see I triumph only through his power.  (Kate Wilkinson)

Thursday, March 11… Romans 6:12, 13

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  

This is the conclusion to Paul’s thought that flows out of what he has already said in Romans 6:1-11.  Therefore, since Christ died to sin and lives to God, and because we also died to sin and live to God in union with Christ, this should motivate us to take action in order to be victorious over sin: we should refuse to let sin tyrannize us to obey its lusts; we should stop presenting (present tense) our physical bodies as instruments (hopla-weapons) of unrighteousness; we should present (aorist tense, indicating a deliberate commitment) ourselves to God as the result of our new lives and use our bodies as weapons of righteousness.

Paul concludes with this powerful affirmation of victory in v. 14, For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  He doesn’t say, “sin might not be your master” or “sin need not be your master?” But “sin shall not be your master!”  Why? Because you are no longer condemned by God as a sinner, rather you stand before Him in an environment of grace because you are connected by faith to His Son, Jesus Christ.**

True spirituality means that the basis for my identity is who I am in Christ, not who I used to be.  I am dead to my past, but alive to God.  The truth of this still hasn’t hit my feelings but it must govern my mind as I daily consider who I am in Christ.  This leads me to recognize that I no longer owe anything to my former identity and should not be deceived into thinking that I have any other obligation than that of living a life totally dedicated to serving the One who saved me. Have you died yet?  

Master and Lord, you have given me no choice. If I want to be a Christian at all, I must serve you with a holy life. So how may I “enslave” myself more fully and more particularly to you? Put your finger on the definite attitudes, habits, perceptions, feelings and desires which displease you. Identify them for me and root them out of me. I cannot take my sins to heaven with me, and I have so little time now to become holy. So let me work out my salvation, as you work in me. Take my sins, one by one, and build a new me out of the wreckage I offer you. I open my heart to you now. In the holy name of Christ. Amen. (R.C. Ortlund, Jr,)

Friday, March 12… Galatians 2:20

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This is the next element in true spirituality: a belief that Christ lives in us by his Holy Spirit.

In Romans, Paul spoke much about the believer being in Christ. Here he speaks of Christ being in the believer. Christ is central in this verse, not the believer. In the Greek text the sentence begins with Christ. Christ through his death has freed me from the penalty of my sin and from being on a performance treadmill in my relationship to God. Christ has also placed his own resurrected life within me. It is not an ego-centered life but a Christ-centered life. Some people think that because Paul says it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me that he is advocating some kind of passivity…just let go and let God. I disagree; I’m not just an empty pipe through which the life of God flows. Paul means that the old principle of my life that drove me, fed my ambitions, created a system of performance whereby I could make myself acceptable to God, is no longer alive. Instead, the principle of life that exists within me and uses my skills, talents, resources, my opportunities, and even my disease is the very life of Christ. 

Does this seem too mystical? Are we supposed to feel this life within us? Paul says, this life I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Just as I believe that I died in Christ and that in Christ God has accepted me into his family, so I believe that I’m under new management and Christ is living out his life through me. I began to practice this when I worked in Young Life while in Seminary. I would often visit kids in the high school in order to build relationships with them. I carried a picture in my mind every day of what I wanted the kids to see and experience in relationship with me: NOT I, BUT CHRIST

It would constantly be my prayer that in all my contacts and in all my conversations these kids would not just see Dave McDowell, but they would experience the life of Jesus Christ through me. This is still my desire. Is it yours? Cultural spirituality puts the emphasis on the “I” and not the “Christ.” True spirituality says the opposite; “Not I, but Christ.” How is your spirituality defined?

Saturday, March 13… James 1:27; 2:15-17

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The final element of true religion that we want to meditate on is contained in this powerful verse. It is a dual element: care for widows and orphans, and personal purity. God is revealed as a father to the fatherless and a judge of the widows (Psalm 68:5). He expects those of us who have his nature to be like him. If we are truly spiritual then we will be people who care for those who are most vulnerable; those who are being oppressed; those who need a voice and who need justice. The parable of the Good Samaritan graphically teaches us that true religion does not get in the way of compassion, but motivates it. James takes this so seriously that he paints a powerful picture of this in 2:15-17. If someone comes to you and asks for clothing and food and you substitute religious jargon for real help, your faith is dead. What an indictment! Even the loving disciple John asks, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? (1 John 3:17)

James concludes with the second element of true religion, that of personal purity. In our attempt to influence the world and to help right the wrongs we see, we must be careful not to let the world press us into its mold so that we justify our behavior at any cost . Our activism should not be a covering for unholy habits nor should involvement with the world be a cloak for worldliness. 

O thou Father of compassions, give to us such tenderness and melting of heart that we may feel deeply the miseries and calamities, outward and inward, of our brethren, and diligently remember them in love. Grant that we may not only seek our own things but also the things of others. Let this mind be also in us which was in Christ Jesus that we love the brethren, that we may be pitiful and courteous, and may endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace; and may the God of grace, mercy, and peace be with us all. Amen. (St. Thomas a Kempis, 1399-1471)

Sunday, March 14… Psalm 42:1-5

The psalmist feels that he is separated from God. He feels it so intensely that he describes it in physical terms- like a thirsty deer trying to find water in a dry and arid land.  The psalmist is both spiritually and emotionally desperate for the presence of the living God.   

Have you ever thirsted for God?  David mirrors this desire even more vividly, “My soul thirsts for you, my flesh yearns for you” Psalm 63:1. What do you think that means? I think we all have thirsted and yearned for God, but have not known it. I believe that a desire to be personally related to God is the basic human drive, the reason why we have been created. (Isa. 55:1; Jer. 2:13) Robertson states, “There is a desire in the human heart best described as the cravings of infinitude… We are made that nothing that has limits satisfies.” 

The problem is that this hunger for God is often masked behind human desire.  This can be proven by showing that the fulfillment of every human desire does not lead to permanent satisfaction. In fact, such desire may actually cause us to hate the very thing we thought we loved.  You will see this graphically illustrated in 2 Samuel 13, by the example of Amnon and Tamar. In v. 4 Amnon said, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” He mistook love for lust and after he forced her to have sex with him things changed. In v. 15 it says, “Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” 

The reason why the thing that we crave most does not satisfy or even has the opposite affect is because our ultimate desire is not for ice cream, or sex, or tobacco, or alcohol, or money and fame. Our ultimate desire is for God.  We were not created for these things, we were created for God.  “If I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, I must conclude that I was made for another world.”  (C.S. Lewis)  

St. Augustine put it like this: “I sought for something to love, for I was in love with love. There was a hunger within me from a lack of inner food, which is none other than Yourself, my God.” Amen.

**For those of you who have my Romans commentary, “The Just Shall Live by Faith,” there is a very help illustration of this point on page 64. If you would like to obtain a copy, it is available on Amazon. If you would like to buy multiple copies to use as a group Bible study, I can provide them at a reduced rate.