When the Struggles Run Deep

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

(Ephesians 5:3–8, ESV)

What happens when a sinner is redeemed? Do all of their sinful habits and lifestyles instantly disappear, with no trace or spot left? Yes and no. Before the holy eyes of God, our sins, every one of them, vanish beneath the blood of Christ. But for now, there remains in us an ongoing struggle that is a battle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Holy Spirit who now resides in us. At times, the battle cools and the temptation will lay dormant. At other times it will be sparked and set ablaze like a fire in a powder keg.

As Paul has laid out in Epehsians 4, we need to live or “walk” in a manner worthy of our calling, and this new lifestyle must be empowered by the Holy Spirit filled life (Eph 5:18). The new life in Christ is too often described as something it is not. The miraculous redemption we receive is described in terms that are over-realized; making young Christians think that their new life in Christ has given them complete mastery over their sin. But that sort of idea is dangerous for two reasons: It does not warn of the power of the flesh and the strength of temptation, especially in those areas of past habitual sin. The second reason this idea is dangerous is the fact that most new Christians are told very little about the need for dependence upon the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to defend against the overwhelming urges to give in to sin. The result is that they try to overcome their temptation with will power and fleshly means and end up failing.

In Ephesians 5, Paul deals with some pretty strong sins that were affecting some of the Christians at Ephesus: sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness (v. 3), filthiness, foolish talk, and crude joking (v. 4). These sins, like all sin, have been conquered by the cross of Christ. Those who place their trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation have been cleansed and set free from the filthiest of sins. We need to say that more. We need to let the man or woman who is mired in shame and guilt know that Christ can set them free and cleanse them from all unrighteousness. They don’t need to clean up themselves in order to come to Christ. As a matter of fact, they can’t. As the song says, “What can wash away my sin, nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

But we must also acknowledge that once a person has come to Christ and been washed clean, and they are justified with Christ, they are not incapable of the temptation to sin. If this were the case, then Paul’s words of warning would make no sense. Neither would all of the exhortations in the New Testament about fleeing from sin and temptation. And since we are to grow in holiness, and to learn to grow in dependence upon the power of the Spirit, and to wield the Sword of the Spirit, we need to also acknowledge that the young Christian is in need of discipleship, patience, and brotherly oversight. And this is especially true when the struggles run deep.

In our society today we have been hearing more and more about the “gay Christian.” In this passage, Paul is pretty clear–there is no such thing. But that doesn’t mean that we will not have new believers who will need us to walk with them as they battle sin and temptation. They will need much prayer, Bible instruction, love, friendships, and hospitality. So will the Christian struggling with other forms of sexual immorality, and adultery. So will those struggling with anger, gossip, ingratitude, coveting, bitterness, and shame. The list is never ending. We need one another. None of us has arrived, but we are all making our way.

We cannot accept that Christ saved us so we can remain in our sin, therefore we can continue to wallow in it. But neither can we say that Christ saves us and therefore, temptation is stricken from our hearts so that we no longer struggle with it anymore. If that were true, we wouldn’t need the Church, we wouldn’t need each other. And we wouldn’t need Christ or the Spirit of God. May the Lord help us to reach out to those who are struggling. And may we be prepared to go with them for the long haul, knowing that this is how Christ uses the Church, the Spirit and the Word to bring about our sanctification.

Be On Guard!-For Others and Yourself

Further Thoughts on Galatians 6:1

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1, ESV)

(Galatians 6:1, ESV)

Having explained what the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit look like in Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul continued his letter in the direction of the practical outworking of Christians who are overtaken by the works of the flesh and those spiritually mature Christians who should help carry their burdens and restore them in love.

This idea of a Christian being “caught in any transgression” speaks of the danger of “falling into sin.” In other words, it is not a premeditated act of open rebellion against the Lord, but may have come about by a carelessness and lack of watching ones own life carefully. This word “caught” is used of a Roman military legion being overrun by a Jewish military force.

There are times when we know we are walking into trouble, and then there are those times when we get swept up into it, never intending to do so. The Bible describes the open and brash sinner as a scoffer and a mocker, while the person caught up in sin as foolish and sometimes naive. While there is danger in both, the Christian who find himself or herself in sin would hopefully be the one who slowly wandered into it because they were careless.

So, what is the responsibility of those who are walking in the Spirit? The “spiritual” person in Galatians 6:1 is not a reference to “the mature in Christ” only. Going back to the previous chapter, a spiritual Christian is one who is walking in step with the Holy Spirit (5:25), made manifest in the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23). Since every Christian has the Holy Spirit living in him or her (Rom 8:9; 2Tim 1:14), we are all “spiritual” and are not to submit to the fleshly desires that can still present a problem to the Christian. But the reality is that we may all act in a fleshly way at times.

The goal of all of this care is for restoring our brother or sister to a right relationship with Christ. Yesterday’s post addressed the truth that for far too many Christians, the attitude is one of self-preservation and personal faith that has no room for confrontation or personal accountability. Bearing one another’s burdens is itself a burden. So many avoid it.

In comments regarding the parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt. 18:12-14), James Montgomery Boice shows how to seek after the lost, wandering sheep is to be like Christ:

“What were the disciples thinking about when Jesus told them about the lost sheep? They had been arguing about which of them should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. With that in the immediate background, presumably they were thinking of themselves as among the ninety-nine who were still on the hillside and were wondering which of the ninety-nine would be the “top sheep.” As long as they were thinking of such things, they would never be concerned for the one who was lost, and they would never do anything to help find him or her. Who will be greatest? We should be beginning to understand the answer to that question by now. The greatest believer is the one who is most like the Shepherd, who gave himself for us. Like little children? Yes. But like the Shepherd too. We are never more like God than when we exert ourselves to help others, and if God rejoices over the one we help to bring home, he is probably rejoicing over what we are doing too.”[1]

James Montgomery Boice

But, unlike Jesus, there are dangers for us. We are still sheep. We all struggle with temptation and a desire to wander ourselves. And so, Paul added the warning to “keep watch for yourself, lest you too be tempted.” The temptation might be the same sin that caused the other brother or sister to fall, but that is not necessary. It might be another sin altogether. And even more possible, is the temptation to think of yourself as being more godly than the one who was taken by sin. We must remember our Lord’s words in Matt 7:1-5.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  

(Matthew 7:1–5, ESV)

So how can we put all of this together? Bear one another’s burdens, seek after those who have gone astray, don’t be too proud and watch out for yourself so that you don’t get taken down by sin yourself? It all seems so complicated! Perhaps a simple scenario will help illustrate the idea.

Imagine the Christian life like a tribal people who need to use the river for bathing. Lining the banks of the river are man-eating crocodiles. Each person takes his turn watching out for the others, and sounds a warning when the crocodiles come close. When they attack, everyone is called to pull the victim away from the killer reptile. But we need to watch out! It will soon enough be our turn to bathe in the waters and the gator may get us just as easily. Would you want the others to watch out, or would you be foolish enough to think that you are smart enough and fast enough and alert enough to avoid the danger without any other to help you?

We need each other. That is why we were given the Church. Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. May we have this mindset as we enter into the House of Prayer and worship our great God.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 389.

The Challenge of Speaking Truth to Power

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

(Galatians 2:11–14, ESV)
Hugh Latimer preaching to King Henry VI

Walking faithfully in the Christian life is filled with challenges and plenty of opportunities to grow and mature. Of course, maturity includes learning from our mistakes as well as our successes. 

The Apostle Peter had made his share of mistakes during his time with the Lord Jesus. Even in his older years, having matured spiritually and having seen many victories, he was still prone to wander at times, as Galatians 2 tells us. We all can learn from Peter’s mistakes and see the need for humility in our own lives.

Likewise as Paul in Galatians 2 encountered, there are times when we must deal with those who are in sin and error. We may be the more mature (at least in this area) or the one who was not deceived by this particular error and weren’t caught up in the false teaching. It can be an intimidating thing to confront someone about their faults and sins, especially when they are influential or in a position of authority. We can sometimes imagine the outcome of our confrontation—maybe a backlash of anger, or a shouting match, or a challenge to our questioning their maturity or faithfulness to the Lord and Scriptures. Maybe we imagine a broken relationship and friendship, or the family leaving our church, or turning others against us. Compound this with other past experiences when some of these things did happen, and it makes it especially hard to do the right thing. It often seems easier to just let it pass without a comment. I have had this temptation happen many times myself.

There are some things that we should allow to pass. Love does covers a multitude of sins (1Pet 4:8). But there are also many things that we cannot allow to pass by without speaking up. As Paul demonstrated in his letter to the churches of Galatia, we cannot remain silent about any deviation from the core doctrine of justification by faith alone. So, while we recognize the need for humility and grace, we also must confess the need for courage to confront and speak boldly for the sake of the truth.

The dangers are two-fold: in the name of faithfulness, be angry and caustic with no love for people while upholding truth, or allow the desire to be liked by men and avoid confrontation to drive us to silence so that we can avoid conflict. Both are sin. May God help us all to grow in this area where we can speak body with love for the sake of Christ, knowing that we would desire that when someone senses error in our own understanding of doctrine, that we too would want to have them come to us in a similar Christ-like manner.