In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.
–C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The church we want becomes the enemy of the church we have.
–Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection
Think much of the Savior’s suffering for you on that dreadful cross, think much of your sin that provoked such suffering, and then enter by faith into the love that took away your sin and guilt, and then give your work your best. Give it your heart out of gratitude for a tender, seeking, and patient Savior. Make every common task shine with the radiance of Christ. Then every event becomes a shiny glory moment to be cherished.
–Jack Miller in The Heart of a Servant Leader
The Christian life is like the Hunger Games; kill (sin) or be killed (by sin). In Colossians 3:5-11, Paul gives us what we need to know in order to kill our sin: 1) sin is idolatry; 2) God hates idolatry; and 3) I’m not my idolatry. In the last post, I explained how the fruit of my insomnia (behavior) could be traced to the root sin of idolatry in my desire for control and to perform. But it’s not enough to identify the problem. I have to understand the gravity of it. I have to realize that God hates my idolatry.
“On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6).
Most people believe in god. And most people understand that a god would have the right to make standards and give commands. What we often struggle to understand in our culture is why the God of the Bible takes everything so personally.
Why would God be wrathful against my desire for perfection in my work and control of my circumstances? He deserves to correct us, sure. But why does He get so bent out of shape about it?
God hates sin because it ruins His world. Theologian Cornelius Plantinga writes, “God hates sin not just because it violates his law, but more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be.… God is for shalom and therefore against sin.”
Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, means “universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.” God created all things to be a kind of universal chorus eternally singing in harmony. Creation is a grand celebration, a musical festival in which we were all meant to joyfully sing our part in concert with everyone and everything else. The flourishing of the cosmic choir requires all members harmonizing Godward.
When I wrap my life around something other that God—when I commit idolatry—it’s as though I’m singing a completely different song, a discordant tune that ruins the entire performance. The band stops playing, the singers stop singing, the party ends. Not only are we all sinners. We’re cosmic party poopers.
Idolatry turns us from from the Creator to the created thing in worship. It breaks shalom. It destroys creation. It brings death. God hates idolatry.
He hates that I don’t trust Him. That I want control. That I’d rather justify myself through performance than receive justification by grace through faith in Jesus.
When I’m hit with this reality, it sobers me right up from my drunken idolatrous stupor. I realize I’ve been living as if my life were my own. As if I ought to be God. As if I cared not a bit that I was shattering shalom and sent Christ to the cross to pick up the pieces again.
Seeing my sin for what it is reminds me what it cost to set it right: the death of Jesus. It convicts me. It humbles me. Brings me to my knees. And once I’m there, my sin has one foot in the grave.
On Sunday at Grace Alameda I got to preach from Colossians 3:5-11, which Paul opens by saying, “Put to death what is earthly in you.” To follow Jesus, we have to kill our sin. As John Owen put it 500 years ago, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” In other words, the Christian life is like the Hunger Games—kill or be killed.
So, what does it look like to go Katniss Everdeen on your sin? Paul tells us three essential truths (call them arrows in your quiver) that give us what we need to kill sin. He tells us: 1) sin is idolatry; 2) God hates idolatry; and 3) I’m not my idolatry. In what follows, I’d like to show how these truths have worked in my own life.
For a while, I have been waking up in the middle of the night, and can’t fall back to sleep. I wake up at 2AM. I tell myself I’m not going to think about work. I inevitably think about work. The rush of all I have to do overwhelms my heart. The adrenaline kicks in, and I lie awake in bed for the next hour or three until I’m able to calm down again and fall asleep.
There’s nothing sinful about insomnia. But my sleeplessness is an indication of something that’s going on deeper in my heart. My sleeplessness is the fruit of a poisoned tree that has idolatry at its root.
Paul gives an indication of this pattern in Col. 3:5, when he tells us the “earthly” things we must put to death include, “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” In this case, sexual immorality (anything that’s outside Jesus’s plan for our sex lives) is the fruit, and everything that comes after it—impurity, passion (lust), evil desire, and covetousness—are the sins that lead up to it. They are states of heart and mind that produce the sinful behavior. And at the root of them all, Paul says, is idolatry. (See what Jesus says about this in Luke 6:43-45).
Last time I woke up in the middle of the night, I asked myself the question, “What’s at the root of this insomniac fruit?” I knew it was thinking about work that was stressing me out. Why?
Because I am a control-hungry perfectionist. I want control of my circumstances—in this case, of the church God has called me to serve. I want control so I can be perfect. So that others will see my perfect work and give glory to me, Jeff Locke, the successful pastor. I have set up a graven image of myself in the temple of my heart. I am an idolater.
The trouble is, I’m not in control. And I’m not perfect. And so my idol, my false god, is being threatened. And that freaks. Me. Out. And so I sit up in the middle of the night, worrying about not being perfect, stressing that I’m not in control, trying to come up with the perfect solution—the perfect sacrifice—that will satisfy the angry gods of performance and control.
Nothing works, because I can’t satisfy these gods. They have made me their slave. I need Someone to set me free, to liberate me from slavery, and smash my idols. The first step is acknowledging my idolatry. My problem is not circumstance, but false worship.
What is it for you? What keeps you up at night? What keeps you from enjoying life? What puts a strain on your relationships? What keeps you from peace and joy?
Christmas is approaching, the New Year is nearly upon us, and I know what question is on your mind: what Bible reading plan will you use for the coming year?
The Bible is the Word of God. We come to know God through his Word. As Christians, we want to know Him more. Regular Bible reading is an important way for us to grow in our knowledge of God and in closeness to him.
As a way to help you prepare to engage the Bible in the coming year, I want to offer a few thoughts and several resources.
1. Go slow.
There is no reason to rush through reading the Bible. It will still be there tomorrow, waiting to be read. Take your time. Pray over God’s Word. Let it shape the way you think, what you want, how you live.
2. Make a plan.
Don’t just say, “I’m going to read the Bible this year.” Have a plan for how you are going to do it. Set achievable goals and use one of the plans below to help you. (And if you’re new to the Bible or want to know how it’s all about Jesus, check out the Whole Story Reading Plan.)
3. Ask the right questions.
It’s one thing to read the words on the page. It’s another thing to engage with the living Word. One helpful way to do that is to ask good questions. The following three questions will guide your understanding, help you connect what you read to the gospel, and help you connect it to your life. This will go a long way towards making your reading engaging and fruitful.
- Who is God & what has he done? (The Gospel Question)
- Who am I? (The Identity Question)
- What is God calling me to do? (The Discipleship Question)
4. Prayer is more important.
This one may be a bit controversial, but I am convinced of it. If you have to choose between reading the Bible and drawing near to God in prayer today, go with prayer. Meditate on the sermon from Sunday. Reflect on the person and work of Jesus. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Commune with your Father; Jesus died so you could and lives now to speak on your behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Several Plans for the New Year
Below are a selection of plans that may prove helpful.
Discipleship Journal Plan: This is a great plan that takes you through the whole Bible in a year by giving readings from four different places each day. I’ve done it before, and plan to do it again in 2014. It is about a 15-20 minute commitment per day (some readings are just a few verse) It is also very flexible; there are only 25 readings per month, which builds in 5 “free days” to catch up if you happened to miss a day (in my book, this is a huge plus).
5x5x5 Reading Plan: This plan gives 5 readings in a week (weekends off) and takes you through the New Testament in a year. It is a 5-10 minute commitment per day.
The above plans can be found on the YouVersion Bible app for iPhone, Android, etc.
Wellspring 3 Year Plan: This is Year Two of the plan our sister church in Pleasanton put together. Many Grace Alamedans did Year One in 2013. It is a one chapter, 5-10 minute commitment per day, and the 2014 version should be posted soon.
Whole Story Reading Plan: This is a different sort of plan. It traces the whole storyline of the Bible—the gospel of Jesus Christ—from Genesis to Revelation. The plan skips around the Bible to show that one, overarching narrative—Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration—and labels each reading to tell you where you are in the story. It is only scheduled to take 60-90 minutes of reading per week for 8 weeks. Additionally, a series of “summary shortcuts” are included here in case you would like to speed things up a bit. If you have never read the Bible before or never understood how the whole Bible could be about Jesus, let me encourage you to use this plan!
If there isn’t a plan that looks good to you here, check out Justin Taylor’s blog where he has listed a number of plans.
Whatever plans or resources you use, the goal is simply to grow as disciples of Jesus in faith, hope and love.
My 5 year-old son hates it when I give him a bath. He hates it when I give him a bath, because he hates getting his face wet. He hates it when I give him a bath, because I think he should grow up and be a man already. He’ll have to leave home someday, go to college, raise a family. How can he do all that if he’s still afraid of getting water in his eyes?
Tears inevitably result when I give my son a bath.
So, I suppose it isn’t too surprising then that when I tried to teach him to swim last year, I failed. Utterly.
There was never a point in time when he trusted me enough to simply come. Because of his fear—and the fact he knew that, given the chance, I would get his face wet—he clung to the side of the pool. When he’d go out into the water with me, he’d cling to my arms. He was never free to learn to swim, because his fear overwhelmed him. He was never free, because he didn’t trust me.
The essence of faith is trust. I may know that God is good, that he is love, that he will care for me no matter what. However, there is an enormous difference between intellectual assent to a set of spiritual ideas, and the childlike trust that leads me to let go of the side of the pool and embrace the will of my Heavenly Father.
In the Old Testament, after God saved his people from slavery in Egypt, he gave them the Ten Commandments. These were like God’s instructions for jumping into his arms and letting him teach us what it meant to live in the freedom of his care.
The first commandment was the call to jump, to trust in him: “You shall have no other gods before me.” Martin Luther wrote that this was like God saying,
“[T]hou shalt place all thy confidence, trust, and faith in me alone and in no one else.” For you do not have a god if you [just] call him God outwardly with your lips, or worship him with the knees or bodily gestures; but [only] if you trust him with your heart and look to him for all good, grace, and favor, whether in works or suffering, in life or death, in joy or sorrow…. And this faith, this trust, this confidence from the heart’s core is the true fulfilling of the first commandment.
Knowing what’s true about God—believing the truth of his gospel—leads us to trust in him. Faith is trust. A failure to trust is a failure to believe the gospel. But full-fledged trust in the Only Trustworthy One is a flying leap into the arms of Freedom Himself.
What you believe determines what you do.
Hiroo Onoda was a lieutenant in the Japanese Army, stationed on the island of Lumbang in the Philippines during World War II. He was an incredibly committed soldier, convinced his country would never lose the war. He was so committed, in fact, that after the war ended in 1945, he remained at his post.
When leaflets were airdropped on his position explaining that the Empire of Japan surrendered, he was sure it was an enemy ploy to capture him. He and the three soldiers he was commanding at the time, subsisted on coconuts, rice, bananas and whatever else they could forage in the jungle.
Onoda continued holding out year after year. In 1959, he was declared killed in action by the Japanese military. Still he fought on. It wasn’t until the Japanese government flew out his former commanding officer to the island of Lumbang, that he finally surrendered. Hiroo Onoda laid down his weapons on March 10, 1975, 30 years after World War II.
Onoda’s mistaken belief, his misplaced faith, led him to spend 30 years of his life hiding in a Filipino jungle, eating coconuts, awaiting an impossible victory.
What you believe determines what you do. If you believe the gospel, that Jesus has set you free from sin, that you are now free to follow him, you will. If you let other stories, other beliefs, other gospels crowd out the truth of what Christ has done, you will continue living in slavery to sin.
Faith means I know what’s true. And if I know the truth of the gospel, the truth will set me free.
“Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).
Jesus says you’re a slave.
When God made us, he made us to be free. He made us to live in the freedom of his presence, the freedom of his joy and love. Living in that freedom meant doing what we were made for: serving God and others.
If you took a highly-trained, war-hardened soldier and put him in a ballet class, he wouldn’t feel free. He wasn’t trained, wasn’t “made” for ballet. He was made for battle.
Not what he was made for.
If you took a chess champion, strapped a helmet and shoulder pads on her, and asked her to play fullback for the 49ers, she wouldn’t be free. She could direct all her efforts, energies and brain capacity toward learning, studying, and preparing for Sunday’s game. But her helmet and shoulder pads would not make her free to flourish at football. They would, in fact, be a form of slavery.
Sin is slavery. It takes people who were made to serve God and others and makes us worry about our safety. Our future. Our reputation. Our career. Our family. Our home. Our comfort. Our happiness. Our pleasure. Our rights. Sin turns us inward, focuses our eyes not on God or others, but on ourselves. Sin is the slavery of serving ourselves.
We have all sinned. We are all slaves to sin.
Jesus says you’re a slave. But he also tells us the path to freedom: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
Truth sets us free. Jesus said he IS the truth (John 14:6). It is by following him as his disciples that we come to know freedom from sin. The truth of the gospel sets us free to be who we were made to be. The gospel sets us free to serve God and others.