Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Power Of Indwelling Sin

In my last blog post I began writing about the sin that dwells in us. Leaning on the teaching of the 17th century writer, John Owen, we discovered the nature of this sin. Once again, with Owen’s help, we will uncover what the Bible teaches about the power of this sin that remains in the believer. Scripture makes the following points.

1. When we follow the natural way of thinking (our mind broken by sin), it is hostile to God. Romans 8:7 reads: “…the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God….” Such a way of thinking opposes the work of the Spirit of God in us. Galatians 5:17 reads: “…the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit….” Sin opposes God and God hates sin (Psalm 11:5).  We must realize that sin in us is no small thing! We dare not make peace with us.

2. By its very nature, indwelling sin opposes holiness and God’s authority in us. Romans 8:7b reads: “For the mind that is set on the flesh…does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” This is why when we allow sin to run rampant in us, it leads to “hearts trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14) and our becoming “slaves of corruption” (2 Peter 2:19). Christ has broken the dominating power of sin in the believer so it is not our king, but we can allow sin room to act as an insurgent in us and to bring great harm. We dare not play around with sin.

Though the Bible makes these points about the power of indwelling sin in us, it also reminds us we have the following resources and promises to help us combat sin:
1. Since we are new people, we don’t have to be dominated by sin. (Romans 6:1-11)

2. When we do sin, God’s undeserved favor to cleanse us and get us back on track is far greater than our sin. (Romans 5:20; James 4:6; 1 John 2:1-2)

3. God will not allow us to be tempted beyond the gracious ability he gives us to say, “Yes,” to him and “No” to sin and will always give us a way of escape. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

4. God will pursue those who are truly in Christ—even when we sin—to restore us and bring us back and to make us stand when we fall. (1 Peter 5:10; Jude 24)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Nature Of Indwelling Sin

Recently we have talked a great deal on Sunday mornings about our game plan, that is, our mission and how we go about it. We have compared it to athletic competition, more specifically making our way around a baseball diamond. Yet, we are not the first ones to use such metaphors. For example, the author of Hebrews, after taking us on a tour through the magnificent “hall of faith” in chapter eleven and setting before us many examples of saints who went before us and walked by faith as they gave witness to God, called us to the following (12:1-2):
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Here we not only discover a biblical sports illustration, we are also taught that sin hinders us from carrying out God’s mission. Now, we might be tempted to think sin is not that big a deal. Yet, we must keep in mind that sin is one of the reasons why God the Father had to send God the Son to live, die, and be raised in the place of sinners (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 3:8). What is more, we magnify God’s gracious work in us as we put his new life in us on display. Yet, when we live no differently than we did before Christ (when we sin), we cloud that work in us.

Since this is the case, I want to take a few weeks in this blog and talk about how we view sin, how we deal with temptation, and how we put to death sin (or as Hebrews 12:1 puts it, “lay aside every…sin which clings so closely”).

In order to carry out this discussion I want to share with you some great teaching out of a book I read years ago and just recently re-read this past month. It is a book titled Sin And Temptation: The Challenge Of Personal Godliness that was put together by James M. Houston. What Houston did was to compile the teaching of the 17th century British Puritan author and teacher, John Owen, on these subjects. Owen is notorious for being very difficult to read, even though to tackle his writings is always worth the effort. Houston helps us in the task by updating Owen’s English and editing his lengthy prose—bringing it down to bite-sized chunks. What I want to do is to summarize that abridged teaching to benefit all of us.

Part 1 of this book (titled “Indwelling Sin In The Believer”) comes out of the gate in the first chapter by addressing “The Nature Of Indwelling Sin.” Here are some key points Owen makes about this subject.

  • ·         If we have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, though we are a new person who can follow him, live for the glory of God, and say, “No,” to sin, nevertheless sin still dwells in us. Paul writes in Romans 7:20: “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Paul’s point, in context, seems to be that this tendency not to carry out the will of God perfectly in dependence upon him to his glory (sin) is still present in the Christian. It is no longer the king of us, as it once was (see Romans 6:14), but it is still an insurgent who can carry out terrorists plots in our hearts. Therefore, we must be on guard. 
  • ·         One of the times we will see indwelling sin in us to the greatest degree is when we want to do good, yet, somehow we still manage also to want to do evil and this latter impulse, warring against the former (James 4:1),  is what we follow. Paul writes in Romans 7:21: “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.” (emphasis added) Again, we must remember we live in this in between sphere: We have already been transformed, but we have not yet been fully perfected. So, we live differently, with a new king (Jesus), but we are still very much capable of sinning. Therefore, we must be on guard.
  • ·         The origin of this sin is in the heart (Matthew 15:19). Therefore, we must guard our desires, our thoughts, and our will. This can only be done by God’s Spirit working through God’s Word in response to prayer and usually among God’s people.
  • ·         Because sin still indwells the heart, our heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9). We must beware of how easily we lie to self, saying, “All is well.” “I am not doing anything wrong.” “I don’t need to apologize,” etc., etc. And these are the very opposite of what is true!
  • ·         Our need to battle this indwelling sin will never be over until we die or Christ returns. This is why Paul tells us we must continually be killing sin or it will continually be killing us (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5)!
  • ·         Ah, but where is our hope found against indwelling sin? It is in Jesus Christ! Consider what Paul writes in Romans 7:24-25: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Church Membership And Church Discipline: So What?

On July 13 of this year one of our elders, Chris Kuehn, preached a sermon titled “What Is Biblical Membership?” I followed up that sermon with a two part treatment here in my blog titled, “The Chief Membership Objection Answered” (see July 28 and August 3). Now, this morning (October 5) I preached on James 5:19-20 and sought to complete the picture of what it is to be a member of the church and why our relationship to each other in our growth and perseverance is essential.

All this teaching about the church, church membership, and church discipline (our pursuit of one another when we are straying), not to mention our series on conflict out of James 3-4, caps almost a year-long discussion on these topics in our congregation. It was just about one year ago that I gave two books to each of our elders (one on church membership and one on church discipline) and asked them to read and be ready to discuss them in our annual February retreat. Our desire is to be the most Christ-like, Bible-soaked, gracious, faithful overseers of this congregation we can be—a group of shepherds guiding us through what it means to be the church, God’s gospel community that proclaims his excellencies in the world, and what it means to be God’s people with each other.

With all this biblical foundation in place, what I now want to do is set forth some simple action points. In other words, I want to suggest some ways that each of us can respond as faithful members of Christ’s body who are helping each other grow and who are confirming (or not) each other’s profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

(1) We as elders must do our best never to exercise the kind of church discipline that removes family or membership privileges while there is also personal conflict or disagreement with the elders on the part of the person(s) under consideration. This is a recipe for sin and disaster. What we must first do is seek to work out the conflict as much as possible. Once that is done or at least been attempted, then and only then should we pursue that kind of discipline, if necessary, and as a last result.

(2) We as elders, Bible Fellowship leaders, teachers, and any other leaders in the congregation must be committed not to solve conflict for everyone. Instead, our role is to equip all of us to deal with conflict and possible unrepentant sin in ways that are solid, gracious, and always in line with the Bible. This means we all learn to approach such matters with gentleness and the purpose of building up all involved (Eph. 4:29-32; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).

(3) All of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, that is, members of his body, and who are part of the Minden E. Free Church, should submit to King Jesus and to each other in such a way we are responsible to each other in our discipleship. In other words, we should pursue formal membership and we should pursue close disciplemaking relationships with at least a few people.

(4) We should all resolve to love each other in our Bible Fellowships and Ironman/woman teams enough to pray for one another, help each other grow, pursue one another when straying, and approach each other graciously and honestly in conflict. 

(5) What number four demands is that we commit to growing as people who can speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Remember, Jesus does not promise blessing to the peacefakers or the peacetakers, but instead to the peacemakers (Mt. 5:9).

(6) Finally, let’s remember that our mission will be enhanced or hurt by whether or not we love one another and whether or not we are unified (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23). So, let’s pray for love and unity in our church and also remember each of us is responsible for their preservation.

I sense that the best days of the Minden E. Free Church are ahead of us and about to blossom. Yet, it will only be if we stand together as his community, his family, his people. May it ever be so!