Tag Archives: Sin

On Being the Lost Sheep

For some reason the Pharisees liked to hang out with Jesus and criticize everything He did. You would think after a while they would just learn to ignore Him. But they didn’t and Jesus took every opportunity to try to set them straight. This is the situation we read about in Luke 15:1-7. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus hangs out with folks they considered “sinners.” Certainly these were people no self-respecting rabbi would associate with. So Jesus tells a parable that demonstrates His heart toward those very sinners – the lost sheep. But understand that the “lost” in this parable are still Jews. They are still covenant people. Jesus is not talking about Gentiles or unbelievers. He is talking to us – his people – and He is revealing His heart towards us when we get lost too.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

 First of all, notice that the entire flock has 100 sheep and the lost one belongs to that flock. It is not an outsider. It is one of the hundred! And even though this sheep may stray, it is not kicked out of the flock. It is not rejected. When He calls us to salvation and we respond in faith, we are counted among His flock. This means that we always belong to Christ. To me this is greatly encouraging – I know that I will always be His. It gives me great peace and comfort that once I am His, He will never kick me out of “His flock.” It establishes a relationship with Him that is stable not fearful.

But see also that it is possible, even within that stable relationship, even being part of the 100, to stray, to sin, to lose our way in being the kind of sheep He wants us to be. Being lost, sinning, in whatever form this may take – big or small, once or many times – does not automatically mean we are no longer His sheep. We may feel unworthy or condemned or ashamed, but that is us projecting those feeling unto God. That is not His heart toward us. I know that He does not reject me simply by looking at the shepherd’s response to the lost sheep – He goes looking for it! Jesus initiates the search. The individual was important. He didn’t content himself with just keeping the 99 and forgetting the one. No, Jesus perseveres in the search for the lost sheep. And He doesn’t give up until He finds it. Understand that Jesus will never give up on you! No matter how far you think you’ve strayed. How much you think you’ve disappointed Him. How ashamed or guilt-ridden you are.  He does not give up until He finds you wherever you are.

Not only does He search for us, when He finds us He then carries us back to the flock – back home to be with Him again. The sheep is lost and does not know how to come back. It would be lost forever if not for the shepherd’s action. Jesus carries the sheep back. The sheep is helpless to come back to the fold by its own power. We kid ourselves if we think we have the power within ourselves to “get our act together” or to “clean ourselves up.” We think we can do it ourselves and find our own way back to the fold. The only thing we can do by ourselves is get ourselves lost. We need Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit to show us the way back and carry us there. Again, this is terribly encouraging to me! Not only does He search and find me but He also restores me. It is His work from beginning to end.

But the story gets even better. When Jesus searches for us and finds us and restores us, He is not upset, peeved or annoyed. No, He rejoices. It gives Him great joy to have us with Him again. Why? Because a sinner has repented and been restored. Yes, the sheep needs to repent, but repentance is simply asking Jesus, our shepherd, to carry us back. It is not feeling sorry. It is not vowing never to stray again. It is not pulling ourselves out of whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into. Repentance is admitting that we are lost and we are not strong enough to find our way back. And when we do, not only is He happy but heaven breaks out into a party – noise makers and all!

This story, this parable, is simply a way for Jesus to let you know how precious and important you are to Him. You are His and will always be His. And even when you are not perfect – especially when you are not perfect – you can know that He has not and will not reject you.  Ask Him to carry you back. There is a party in heaven waiting to happen.

Maintaining our Freedom

In a previous post, I wrote about the freedom that Christ has won for us through His life, death and resurrection (read “True Freedom” here). In the post, I said that in Christ we have been set free in some very significant way.

First, we have been set free from the power of Sin (Romans 6:6).   “Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity.”

Second, Christ freed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:15). We are no longer required to earn or maintain our salvation through self-effort or man-made rules. This freedom allows us to freely pursue an open, joyous relationship with Him.   We are no longer trying to “prove” how good we are or how worthy we are to have been saved.

But Paul goes on in his letter to the Galatians and says something that is truly remarkable and should cause us to pause to consider.  He says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Did you notice that? “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” Paul is saying that even though Christ has blessed us with this freedom, it is possible for us to revert back into slavery – voluntarily! Why? Why – and how – would we do that? Paul answers that question. Because our flesh – the remnants of our old sinful nature – still tries to pull us back. And unfortunately it is too easy to simply go with the flow and go right back into our old habits, practices and attitudes. In other words, we put the yoke of slavery to Sin or Law on our own shoulders. But Paul says it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way to maintain our freedom.

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Gal 5:16, 25)

 Walking in the Spirit sounds mysterious, weird or super-spiritual, but is simply another way of saying “hanging out” with Christ – abiding – staying connected. This is the stuff of our daily Christian life. We walk in freedom by maintaining a close, open relationship with the Spirit. It is a walk – together – side by side. He does His part – instructs, guides, teaches, convicts – and you do yours – respond. You see, the flesh causes us to try to hide from Him (like Adam), but walking in the Spirit means we deliberately approach Him even, especially, in the most dark moments.

I want to suggest to you three tools, three weapons in our battle against the flesh that will help us stay connected with the Spirit. These three tools, when appropriately deployed maintain our freedom in Christ. These three tools are: Renounce, Repent and Forgive.

The flesh is informed and empowered from the past – all the things we have done or said or all the things that have been done or said to us. This does not mean that everything in our past is bad, there may be much to be thankful for and bless, but we simply acknowledge those areas where damage was done or sin embraced and close the door. That is where “renouncing” comes in. Renouncing is closing the door, disowning, disavowing or rejecting the “deeds of the flesh” in our past and not allowing them to influence our lives today.

I have written about repentance before (Rebellion and Repentance – Part 1, Rebellion and Repentance – Part 2). Repentance keeps our account current with the Lord. It is focused solely on our actions today and doesn’t let things “stack up.” Repentance is not feeling sorry or sad. Instead, it is a decision of the will to make different decisions. Repentance is about changing one’s mind or attitude, not about “mucking about” in our soul looking for junk. It is being open to the Holy Spirit spotlighting areas that grieve Him and agreeing with Him.

Finally, we have the tool of forgiveness. Again I have written about it before (The Hardest Person To Forgive). It is such an important and powerful weapon against the flesh because it short-circuits the flesh’s desire to hate, judge, condemn and seek revenge.  Forgiveness “unhooks” yourself from the effects of the other person’s actions or words by not allowing the other person to control or influence you today. Forgiveness releases the person who hurt you to God’s justice and mercy. It doesn’t mean we excuse or approve the other’s action, it simply means we no longer hold on to the pain. And don’t forget that forgiving yourself is just as important as forgiving others.

So there you have it. Maintaining our freedom in Christ comes from staying close and connected to Him. And He has given us some magnificent tools to help us do just that – to clear the emotional and spiritual clutter – that could hinder our walk with Him. Continue your walk in freedom. He is keeping stride with you each step along the way.

The Old Self Costume

There are a lot of striking images in the Bible that are meant to help us visualize spiritual truths, images such as the Church as a bride, or a human body.  There is the image of Jesus’ followers as vine branches or pick one of Jesus’ parables for vivid pictures of the kingdom of God.  Providing these kinds of mental pictures sometimes makes a difficult, vague concept more real and concrete, something we can refer to for understanding and encouragement. 

There is imagery that Paul uses in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians that stood out to me recently and made a powerful impact on how I think about myself and sin.  He speaks of “putting off the old self” and “putting on the new self.”  Here are those passages:

But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  (Eph 4:20-24 ESV)

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col 3:8-10 ESV)

What struck me immediately is the idea of the old self as a Halloween costume.  We dress up in some outrageous costume and take on the persona of that costume, whether it be superhero, movie character or horror creature.  We identify with the costume character while we wear it and at the end of the night when we take the costume off we go back to being the true us. 

The old self that Paul refers to is that sinful, pre-Christ person we used to be and yet, even as Christians, we “put on” that self and take on the characteristics of that old persona.  We start to act and think like that person we used to be – that old self.  We wear him like a costume.  And the longer we wear the old self costume the more we believe him to be our true self, the more we identify with him and the harder it is to break free of his grip.  That is why Paul’s words are so powerful.  “Put him off!  Take off that old person!  That is not who you are!  Cast him aside!  That belongs to your old life!”  I can simply imagine ripping off the Halloween mask, pulling the costume off over my head and dumping it into the trash.  Never again to be worn.  It’s possible because that old self is only an ugly, outer shell not the real me.  I am not condemned to wear that old self costume. 

Even more exciting is that I have a new identity, a new self.  So when I struggle with sin and I start to  think the battle is lost, I remember that it is only an old self costume that I can – I CAN – pull it off and reveal the true me, the new self.  This one looks like God.  This one is clean and holy.  This one fits me like a glove.  This one I will wear forever.

Always a Way Back

Recently I sat down and through in one sitting the entire book of the prophet Hosea.  Ok it’s only 14 chapters.  When you read through an entire book of the Bible you get a feel for the entire sweep of the message; you get the ebb and flow.  As I read through Hosea, two things became crystal clear.  First, God was really, really angry about Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him.  But I saw in His anger, hurt; the pain of a scorned lover.  Their rejection resulted in judgment, yes, but also in sadness.  Second, I saw how He still loved His people.  In spite of their unfaithfulness, in spite of their going astray, He still calls them back to Himself.  Listen to what He says to Israel in the last chapter of the book

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.

I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them.   I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily; he shall take root like the trees of Lebanon; his shoots shall spread out; his beauty shall be like the olive, and his fragrance like Lebanon.  They shall return and dwell beneath my shadow; they shall flourish like the grain; they shall blossom like the vine; their fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

 It’s incredible to me that God would say this!  Any normal human being would simply walk away from a relationship like that, from that kind of deliberate, defiant rebellion.  Fortunately, God is not like us, with Him there is always a way back.

 So I want to encourage you with the message of the book of Hosea.  No, not the unfaithfulness part, but the return part.  It seems to me that there are times when we think we’ve gone too far.  We’ve sinned too greatly.  We’ve strayed too far to come back to God.  “There is no way He could ever want me back now,” we think to ourselves.  But if God could look at Israel in the midst of their infidelity and love them, certainly He will accept us too. 

 So no matter who you are or what you’ve done, there is always a way back to God.  Go back, no, run back into His arms.  He’s waiting for you.

What’s the Point of Temptation

Seems like an odd question doesn’t it?  Is there a point to temptation?  Mostly we think that we are tempted just because that’s what Satan likes to do?  It’s just how it is, so we have to learn how to deal with it. Right?  Well I thought so too until recently when I listened to a lecture by a seminary professor on the Gospels.

He was talking about the passage in Luke concerning the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).  Typically we hear this passage used as a model for us in dealing with our own temptations.  We are told to respond to those temptations the same way Jesus did – mostly by quoting Scriptures.  Generally, I think this is still good advice, but what caught my attention was a statement this professor made about this incident.  He asked WHY Satan tempted Jesus.  What was his goal?  And the answer the professor gave was that Satan was trying to stop Jesus from embarking on His messianic mission even before He started.  In other words, Satan was hoping he could keep Jesus from caring out His purpose and calling here on earth.  After all, it had already worked once before when Satan tempted Adam to abdicate his God-given mission.

This got me to thinking.  If it’s true that WE also have a calling and purpose – which it is,

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,  which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

then it would make sense that Satan would likewise want to do everything he could to stop US from fulfilling our God-given purpose!  So being tempted isn’t a weakness on our part, nor is it just hassle to deal with, but instead being tempted is evidence that God has an “assignment” for us.  Satan is trying to stop us from carrying out God’s plan for us.  In a twisted sort of way, this is terribly encouraging.  God has called me, Satan knows it, hates it and is trying to destroy, kill or steal (John 10:10) what God has given me to do.

So as I face temptations, I can fight back by standing on the promises of God for my life.  I can talk back to Satan and tell him, “No! You will not sidetrack me from doing God’s will!  You cannot distract me from working out in His plans for me!”  We can be strengthened in our resolve to resist, not just because we “should,” but because we have a really important mission to carry out.  I would think that this would take the teeth out of the temptation.  So as you go about your life and you suddenly realize that you are being tempted to turn aside, stop and say to yourself, “I wonder what God wants me to do now?” and turn that temptation into an opportunity to listen to the Father.  Satan hates when that happens.

Living Drained

I have drip-style coffee maker, you know, the kind were you fill the reservoir with water and put the coffee in a paper filter basket. It’s not the new-fangled Keurig, but that’s beside the point. Do you know what happens when you try to make a full pot of coffee but forget to empty the carafe of yesterday’s coffee? You get a mess. The carafe overflows and you have coffee all over the kitchen counter. But, the worst part is that you just ruined a perfectly good pot of coffee.

So here’s where I’m going with this. Christians talk often about “being filled with the Spirit.” Indeed the Scriptures also tell us this (Ephesians 5:18). And I wholeheartedly agree that we should seek to be so filled. The problem lies in what we are already full of. In other words, we have to make room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit to fill. There are many Scriptures that list the kinds of things that we could be full of. Here are just a few:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (Ephesians 4:31)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. (Galatians 5:19-21)

For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:19)

It’s quite a disturbing list isn’t it? Now I am not saying that all of us have all of that, but I do believe that most of us are full of some of those things listed. We walk through our lives reacting to the difficulties of life or unkindness and thoughtlessness of others and all sorts of ugliness rises up within us until we nearly overflow. The Holy Spirit is squeezed out because there is no room for Him. That’s not how God intended for us to live.

So what are we to do? LIVE DRAINED. Living drained means letting go of all those things causing us pain and causing us to be filled with the anger, strife, envy, etc. Living drained means emptying our hearts of the ugliness. It means making a deliberate choice not to hold grudges, seek revenge, keep an account of how we’ve been wronged or taking what we think we “deserve.” To live drained takes two very special steps every day, multiple times per day if necessary. To live drained we must be willing to forgive and we must be thankful. Nothing destroys the power of sin in our lives more than being willing to offer and receive forgiveness. And nothing draws us closer to Christ than have a grateful attitude towards every aspect of our lives as we receive it from Him.

Live drained my friends and you will soon find yourself full with the Holy Spirit and, as Jesus promised, you will find “rivers of living water” flowing – overflowing – out of your heart.

Who am I accountable to?

In the Old Testament, we find the story of Joseph.  He was one of the 12 sons of Jacob (later renamed Israel).  So Joseph was apparently not liked by his brothers who sold him into slavery.  (That would certainly make for an awkward Thanksgiving dinner).  Here is part of his story found in Genesis chapter 39.

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.  The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.  His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.  So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had…Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.”  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.  He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Our men’s bible study was discussing this passage of Scripture last week and I was suddenly struck by Joseph’s response to Potiphar’s wife.  He starts by talking about Potiphar and how he trusted Joseph and how much he (Joseph) was in charge of and how he had been blessed.  But was comes next was what caught me off guard.  Joseph says, “How then can I do this…and sin against GOD?”  He doesn’t say “sin against Potiphar,” no; he is concerned in that situation of sinning against God.  It seems to me that Joseph understood that in this situation – in his “employment” with Potiphar – he was still operating under God’s will and guidance.  He understood that the trust placed in him and the position he had attained where all do directly to God and that violating the conditions of that trust was a sin against God, not man.

 What impressed me was Joseph’s perspective on his life.  For him, everything flowed from God.   Every blessing, every turn of life, every opportunity, every difficulty had just one source.  He recognized that any favor he may have in the eyes of his “employer” was a result of God’s favor on him.  So when presented with an opportunity to take advantage of his status; when he was given a chance to look out for himself, to take what he could take, to think of himself first and what he deserved, he instead acknowledged his dependence on God.

I took this as an opportunity to examine my attitude to the various events in my life, my job, my relationships.  Instead of framing things in terms of what I need or what I deserve or what I have suffered, how about framing things in terms of God’s presence in my life.  Instead of taking any opportunity I can to whine about my situation or my boss or my church, shouldn’t I work, act and live as if I am directly accountable to Him?  Because I actually am accountable directly to Him!  And when I am tempted to live for myself, let me, like Joseph say, “How then can I do this…and sin against God?”  It would certainly change my assessment of life.