Lenten Devotionals, Week 6…March 22-27

As we prepare for next week, Holy Week, let us do an inventory of our spiritual lives as the basis for personal revival. May we not shy away from a close examination of our own sinfulness before a Holy God. We do all this in the light of God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

March 22, Monday… Acts 2:37, 38 

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven (remitted). And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

So, what is the best thing to do with true guilt?…get forgiven. 

John Calvin wrote, “Justification by faith is reconciliation with God and that consists solely in remission of sins…the only way in which those whom God embraces are made righteous, is by having their [sins] wiped away by the remission of sins, so that this justification (reconciliation) may be termed in one word the remission of sins.” 

The word REMISSION has an interesting meaning. It has the word missio in it, which means to send away. It is used as a medical term- the cancer is in remission (no longer present, sent away); a financial term- please remit (send away your money to us); a theological term- forgiveness- (aphesis, to send away one’s sins).

Psalm 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he (God) removed our transgressions from us.”

Micah 7:18, 19 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread all our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Isaiah 1:18 “ ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be like wool.’”

The scarlet “A” on Hester Prynne’s chest represented the crimson stain of her sin. She cried out, “O to be forgiven, to have this letter taken away!”  And here God says, “Though your sins be as scarlet… No matter how dark the stain of sin in your life, I can take it away and make you clean.” 

Have you cried out to God for remission of your sin? If you are ready, He is willing.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
 (Horatio Spafford)

March 23, Tuesday… Personal Revival

When we properly confess our sins before God, we are essentially agreeing with him that a certain area of our life has fallen short of his glory and we recognize our need of forgiveness. It is important that we are specific about our confession in order to prevent self deception.

Over the next few days, I would like to give you the opportunity to do a moral inventory and to bring specific things before God and agree with him that they are sin and need to be forgiven. These are adapted from Richard Owen Robert’s Twelve Articles of Agreement for Personal Revival. Prayerfully consider each one and the Scripture upon which that agreement is based. 

Lord, I agree that sin in my life has always been and is now a very real problem and that I deserve to go to hell for it [Romans 3:9-23; 7:24; Ephesians 2:1-2; Hebrews 12:1]. 

Lord, I agree with You that the great wickedness of all my sin has been and is against You. “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done this great evil in Thy sight” [Psalms 51:4]. “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” [Genesis 39:9]. 

Lord, I agree with You that repentance from all my sin is demanded, that I must cease taking advantage of Your goodness by failing to repent [Romans 2:4] and that I cannot know the refreshing that revival brings until this accomplished [Acts 3:19].

March 24, Wednesday…

Lord, I agree that public confession of public sin is mandatory [James 5:16] and that private confession of private sin must be regularly practiced. “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there remember that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” [Matthew 5:23-24]. 

Lord, I agree that restitution to any I have wronged is a necessary qualification for personal revival [2 Samuel 12:6; Jeremiah 35:15; Ezekiel 33:15; Luke 19:8], for knowing that I have defrauded another and not to make it right will prevent me from having a conscience void of offense toward all men [Acts24:16] and will leave me with a heart that condemns me and hinders my prayers [I John 3:20]. 

Lord, I agree that you are holy and so must I be (Leviticus 19:2). But Father, I am so aware of my own tendency to wander onto unholy paths that have been well-worn over the years. “Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.” May I be holy, like you. 

March 25, Thursday…

 Lord, I agree that holiness is Your will for my life, “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification” [I Thessalonians 4:3]. 

 Lord, I agree that holiness was purchased by Christ on His cross [I Corinthians 1:30] and is received by faith just as is justification [II Thessalonians 2:13]. 

Lord, I agree that You elected me to holiness [Ephesians 1:4] and this election has removed forever my right to choose to be sinful. I accept as my duty the daily reckoning of myself to be dead indeed unto sin and alive unto God [Romans 6:11]. 

Lord, I agree to guard what I read and what I see: books, magazines, television, movies, women (men) on the street, [“I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?” Job 31:1]. I agree not to look upon another person with disdain or prejudice due to their wealth or poverty, skin color or ethnicity (James 2:1. I also agree that I would be better off without eyes rather than to have eyes that bring me down to hell [Matthew 18:9-10]. 

March 26 Friday…

Lord, I agree to guard what I listen to: jokes, gossip, racist criticism of others, flattery, religious views, suggestive stories, etc., and will regularly heed the words of Jesus, “Take heed how you hear” [Luke 8:18]. “Take heed what your hear” [Mark 4:24]. 

Lord, I agree to guard what I touch and how I touch it — money, goods, sex, etc., knowing the grievous error of sins of greed and lust [Exodus 20:17; Proverbs 15:27; Matthew 6:27-30]. 

Lord, I agree to guard what I taste and smell and the reason related thereto, for I acknowledge that gluttony and drunkenness are evil in Your sight [Psalms 34:8; 119:103; Proverbs 23:2-3; 20-221; Luke 21:34; Romans 16:18; I Corinthians 10:31; Galatians 5:19-21; Philippians 3:19; James 1:13-15; I Peter 2:2-3; 4:3]. 

Lord, I agree to place a guard over my entire body, knowing that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 10:28; Romans 6:12; 8:13; I Corinthians 6:19; 9:27]. 

March 27, Saturday… Isaiah 53:1-6

Early in the nineteenth century, Philip Doddridge wrote his classic work

The Rise and Progress of Religion In The Soul. It traces God’s work of salvation from the point of conviction of sin through conversion, from awakening to the life of God to preparing for death. After a lengthy discourse on the depths of human sin, Doddridge begins his presentation of the good news of the gospel. 

“Look upon our dear Redeemer! Look up to this mournful, dreadful, yet, in one view delightful spectacle, and then ask in thine own heart, do you believe he suffered and died thus? And why did he die? Let me answer in God’s own words, He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace was upon him, that by his stripes we might be healed; It pleased the Lord to bruise him and to put him to grief, when he made his soul an offering for sin; for, the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.  You have indeed been a very great sinner, and your offences have truly been attended with the most heinous aggravations; nevertheless you may rejoice in the assurance, that where sin abounded, there shall grace much more abound…That righteousness, to which on believing on him, thou wilt be entitled, shall not only break those chains by which sin is (as it were) dragging thee at its chariot wheels with a furious pace to eternal ruin, but shall clothe thee with the robes of salvation, shall fix thee on the throne of glory, where thou shalt live and reign forever among the princes of heaven…But I have the authority of God’s Word to tell thee, that if thou this day sincerely believest in the name of the Son of God, thou shalt this day be taken under his care, and be numbered among those of his sheep, to whom he graciously declared, that he will give eternal life; and, that they shall never perish…With this gospel, O sinner, which is my life, and which, if thou dost not reject it, will be thine too.”

My soul confides in your goodness, O God. I adore the patience with which you have carried me for so long, and the grace which now makes me wiling to be yours- on your terms. As I prepare for this Holy Week, have mercy upon me and unite me to yourself so that none of the allurements of this world or the unbiblical perspectives of my culture may draw me back from you and plunge me into guilt and ruin. May I keep my hold upon you until at length I know more completely how sufficient a Savior you are. Through Christ, I pray. Amen.

Lenten Devotionals, Week 5… March 15-21

March 15, Monday…Psalm 42:5 

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why are you disquieted within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him for his help. .  

The mistake we often make is that we look for a source of comfort in ourselves rather than in God. Our hope is in God not what we feel him to be at the moment. For it is only in His countenance or presence (not our own) that our help (salvation) is found. That is why the Scripture is so important to our prayer life. The Word of God reveals to us the being and character of God and encourages us to place our hope and trust in him.  

Notice also how the psalmist here speaks to himself.  Why are you downcast, O my soul?  I think that is one of the traits of spiritual health.  We get into trouble when we listen to ourselves:

Why did God allow this if he loved me?

Maybe I’m being punished for my past sins.

Going back home to God will be such a long process I don’t want to try.

Instead we need to learn to speak to ourselves and utter forth a confession of faith and trust in the Lord.  “Why are you so discouraged, O my soul?  All of your past experience adds up to the fact that God has not abandoned you.  Hope in him, hang onto him, though you may feel no reason to do so, your past gives you full warrant to trust God.”  This is faith at its strongest- believing in God in spite of our feelings and circumstances, because we have remembered his goodness to us in the past. 

My God, my Life, my Love.

To thee, to thee I call.

I cannot live, if thou remove,

For thou art all in all.

Thy shining grace can cheer

This dungeon where I dwell. 

‘Tis paradise when thou art here.

If thou depart, ‘tis hell.

Thou art the sea of love,

Where all my pleasures roll,

The circle where my passions move

And center of my soul. (Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)

March 16, Tuesday… Psalm 42:6-11

Here the psalmist turns from talking to himself to speaking with God in prayer.  Mark that; though he is in despair he is also in prayer.  He also says that God is “my God.”  It reminds me of the prayer that Jesus prayed from the cross, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.”  Most of us don’t even speak to God when we have a crisis of faith. Instead we speak about him, almost like we talk behind his back:  

If he is so powerful why didn’t he do something?

If he is so loving, why did he let that happen?

In addition to claiming God as his God, the psalmist also says that he “remembers God.”  In the face of crisis, he rehearses what he knows to be true about God so that he has a context in which to work out the things he does not yet understand. To put it another way: he is speaking out his strong convictions so that he might have a framework in which to work through his strong emotions.  He goes back to the basics through his remembrance and finds a place for his faith to stand.  Like a calf on ice, he gathers the legs of faith under him.  Look at what he remembers about God:

v. 8- The steadfast love of the Lord. The word for steadfast love is hesed, God’s covenant love to his people.  It is a love that has been pledged by God to those he has chosen and therefore can never be withdrawn.   

v. 9- God is my Rock.  He is unchanging even though life has changed for the psalmist. “I was young and now I’m old but I have never seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging bread.”  God will never change from the time we called out to him when we are children to the time we take our last breath.  God is our Rock.

Do you see what he is doing?  He is rehearsing what he knows to be true about God’s character in order to put into perspective what he doesn’t understand about God’s ways.  This leads to the refrain of hope in v.11, “Why are you cast down O my soul.  Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my savior and my God.”

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

When darkness hides His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;

In ev’ry high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood support me in the whelming flood;

When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay. (Edward Mote)

March 17, Wednesday… Psalm 139:1-6

The intimacy of relationship with God is reflected in God’s comprehensive knowledge of us.  It should be noted that the perfect tense is used throughout this section indicating that God is not some “heavenly deteco-guard system,” continually testing and evaluating us. He already knows all there is to know about us.  

To search for something usually implies some measure of ignorance, some lack of knowledge. However, the Psalmist is saying that He has always known us completely.  As Spurgeon said, “There never was a time in which we were unknown to God, and there will never be a moment in which we shall be beyond his observation.”  

To paraphrase: “He has always known my sitting down and my rising up- my passive and active moments. He has always discerned my thoughts from afar- not merely detected what I’m thinking but has discerned them even before they are fully formed in my mind. He has always comprehended my path (my journey), my lying down (when I stop off at the hotel), and all my ways (the very reason for the trip). He has always known the words I will speak before they are formed. He has set limits on my behavior so that I am not able to ultimately destroy myself. He has always guided me by His hand.”

The Psalmist responds in amazement, “such knowledge is too wonderful,” it is too lofty for his finite mind to comprehend.  How could such a great God take such a personal interest in him? And for the believer in Christ, how can such a great God know me so completely and yet love me so intimately?  As someone has said, “Isn’t it odd, that a being like God, who sees the façade, still loves the clod, he made out of sod. Yes, isn’t it odd?”

Could we with ink the oceans fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and ev’ry man a scribe by trade, to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,nor could the scroll contain the whole tho’ stretched from sky to sky. (Frederick Lehman)

March 18, Thursday… Psalm 139:7-12

The Psalmist considers another characteristic of God’s nature, His omnipresence.  He wonders if there is any place where he can go where God is not present.  I don’t think he is asking this question because he is guilty and wants to run away from God. Instead, the Psalmist meditates on the extent to which God’s presence permeates His creation and he takes great comfort from this.  Probably better to translate it “Where could I go from your presence?” The Psalmist explores the physical dimensions of the universe; its height and depth, its breadth, its light and darkness, and concludes that there is nowhere in the universe that he could go beyond the presence of God. An old poem by Bela Edwards (1802-1852) says it like this:

How from thy presence could I go,

  Or whither from thy Spirit could I flee,

Since all above, around below,

  Exist in Thine immensity?

If up to heaven I take my way, 

  I meet Thee in eternal day.

If in the grave I make my bed

  With worms and dust, lo! Thou art there!

If on the wings of morning sped,

  Beyond the ocean I repair,

I feel thine all-controlling will,

  And Thy right hand upholds me still.

“Let darkness hide me,” if I say,

  Darkness can no concealment be;

Night, on Thy rising shines like day; 

  Darkness and light are one with Thee.

For thou mine embryo form did view,

  Ere her own babe my mother knew.

We could also personalize this section.  “Could I reach any point in my life that would separate me from your presence?  If I experience the heights of success, you are there.  If I am dragged through the depths of failure, you are there as well.  If I fly away from responsibility and live in the land of my own self-gratification, even there you are present and will bring me back to my senses.  If depression and despair come over me like a dark cloud so that I feel you no longer care, I will remember that you are also present in the darkness where you are doing your greatest work.”    

March 19, Friday… Psalm 139:13-18

The Psalmist indicates that God’s knowledge and care of us flow from His creation of us.  It is almost as if the writer sees himself as some kind of masterpiece of God’s design. 

      “You formed my vital parts (literally the kidneys, those deepest organs which cannot be detected, like a heart through its beat) and knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

        “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  We are to consider ourselves so wonderful as to recognize that we have been wonderfully created by an awe-inspiring God. Here we see that the main focus of the Psalmist is God and yet creation takes on significance because of the character of the Creator.  (When we jettison God we also scuttle our human dignity- Romans 1:18 f.)

        “My very frame (literally my bones (our strength and latent potential) was not hidden from God when I was being made, skillfully made in the lowest parts of the earth.”  This is a poetic expression. All of us like Adam come from dust and “the same skill that made Adam makes every son and daughter of Adam.”  (H.C. Leupold) 

         “All of my days were ordained” by God, even before I came out of the oven. God has given us significance by virtue of our creation and a destiny by virtue of his sovereignty. Compare this to Jeremiah 1:5.

Instead of getting caught up in questions concerning foreknowledge and foreordination the Psalmist asserts how precious these thoughts are to him.  Who can comprehend God’s love and mercy?  Who can number God’s thoughts for all his creation? I may at times be unimportant in my own sight or that of the world, but I am never thus in the sight of my God.  

March 20, Saturday… Psalm 139:19-24

There is a surprising turn in the mood of the psalmist which is baffling. He seems to lash out at the wicked for their disobedience and ill-treatment of God.  This is not a New Testament response. We are not told to hate those who hate God, but to pray for them.  However, I do not believe that the Psalmist is motivated by a spirit of revenge (as in Psalm 63) as much as a spirit of grief over the dishonoring of a Holy God who is merciful and gracious.  We may be more tolerant, but are we as zealous for God’s honor and glory?  Do we grieve when others used the name of the Lord in vain? Do we grieve when we see those wonderfully created by God and blessed by His providential care blaspheme that same God, worse yet, ignore their God and live at the level that belies their dignity and significance?

 It is important to notice that the Psalmist finishes his thought not by condemning the sin of the ungodly, but by directing the radar gun on his own life. He asks God to continue to search him and know him and point out to him the unwholesome things that may keep him from the path of life.  He submits himself to the scrutiny of God. More specifically he asks that God might know his “anxious thoughts.” In what ways do our worries lead us to sin? Since he has already acknowledged that God knows him better than he knows himself, this is a prayer for further sanctification. He desires that God reveal things about his life that he does not yet know so that he can be purified.

 There are two kinds of hypocrisy: one where we deceive others and a second where we deceive ourselves. The first kind is dealt with by recognizing God’s omniscience and omnipresence in our world and in our lives. The second kind of hypocrisy—that of self deception, is dealt with by placing ourselves under the search light of God’s holy gaze and asking him to reveal the filth of our own natures to our own eyes. He doesn’t say, “I have searched myself and find no wicked way in me,” rather “Search me O God…and see if there be any way of pain in me.” That is an interesting way to describe sin- “the way of pain.”  However, it is true isn’t it? When we live our lives apart from the command of God we bring great pain upon ourselves and others. This way of life is put in sharp contrast with “the way everlasting” in which the Psalmist desired to walk. The way of pain results from the unexamined life. The way of righteousness comes as God searches us out and purifies us. 

In which way do you desire to walk? What are you going to do about it?

March 21, Sunday… Matthew 26:26-28

A universal question: What do you do with your guilt? The discussion of guilt takes religion out of the theoretical and brings it down to the real. So, let me ask you that question again: what do you do with your guilt?  What do you do with those feelings of shame or remorse that haunt you because of certain things that you have done? Someone has likened dealing with guilt to wrestling an octopus in a dark aquarium at midnight. We all have to do it and we have set up ways to deal with our guilt:

Denial. “What, me? I don’t have any guilt.” Psychology over the last forty-five years has tried to get rid of guilt through psychotherapeutic means –  helping people relieve their guilt by convincing them they did not do anything wrong. The problem is that guilt does not disappear just because we deny its existence. In fact, we are learning that many physical, psychological, and character disorders are the result of the following cover-ups for guilt: 

Transfer- shift the blame. “I know I shouldn’t have said those awful things about her, but she deserved it for all the things she’s done to me.”

Rationalize. “I know I lied, but it was just a little one—not nearly as bad as others who lie all the time.”

Conceal and Self-Punish.   Many of you have read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne is prosecuted in a New England Puritan town as an adulteress and has to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her clothes as a life time punishment for her sin. She would not reveal the name of the man with whom she had committed adultery, who is none other than the local pastor, Arthur Dimmesdale. He does not go public with his sin and it eats away at him and causes him to literally carve a letter “A” into the skin of his own chest. 

All of these responses indicate that guilt is both powerful and important. What we need to understand is that guilt has a pay-off; it serves a purpose and that is why it needs to be dealt with and not ignored. God has given us the ability to feel guilt very much like he has blessed us with the ability to feel pain. Did you ever think that if you could not feel pain you would never know that something was wrong?  If you put your hand on a hot stove and didn’t feel it, you might never know that your flesh was burning until it was too late. Likewise, when we feel guilty it usually indicates that something is wrong, and that we have to do something about it. Is it time to “fess up?” 

Let me warn all careless members of churches to beware lest they trifle their souls into hell. You live on year after year as if there was no battle to be fought with sin, the world, and the devil. You pass through life a smiling, laughing gentleman-like or lady-like person and behave as if there was no devil, no heaven, and no hell. Oh, careless Churchman…awake to see eternal realities in their true light! Awake and put on the armor of God! Awake and fight hard for life! Tremble, tremble and repent. (J,C. Ryle, 1816-1900)   

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.