Category Archives: Sin


Do you wish you were perfect?

Human nature and experience  make us think that having our errors pointed out and practicing over and over will make us perfect. This procedure works when we are little children learning to recite the alphabet. It works when we are college students trying to remember dates in history class.

It is utterly ineffective in producing actual holiness, goodness and Chris-likeness. The reason is that holiness is not learned, it is given. It is not developed, it is imbued. It is not a process, it is a gift. Even people who know that fall into the trap of forgetting it. We all do. Our fleshly thinking keeps coming back, even though we know that we are saved from the penalty and guilt of sin and wrongdoing by Christ and kept by the power of the Holy Spirit of God. We fall into the error of thinking that we will be made more perfect and gain victory over sin by that same process that got us through high school without flunking out (if we didn’t). We focus on the law of God and memorize the laws of God and meditate on the law of God, thinking and hoping that all of these things, which are fleshly activities, will perfect us spiritually. We begin in the Spirit of God but fall back into trying to perfect ourselves in the flesh (see Galatians 3:3).

The fleshly process of attaining a spiritual attribute simply does not work. We see that in passages like Hebrews 10:14. Think about this…

For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)

Christ, by His completed work, has already perfected us. We may not see it fully, but it has already been accomplished. There are plenty of other passages of the New Testament that tell us that. For example, see Romans 8:29-30, which says

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30, ESV

Only by grasping that truth, that Christ has already done the work for us and in us, can we hope to see the process that IS going on in us. He has (in the past tense) perfected us for all time, and because of that there is a change in us that we can expect to see and delight in seeing.

We are being sanctified, (that is, we are being made holy) by God. This is an ongoing process in which we are being acted upon. We are the recipients of the changing work of God, we are not the ones doing the working. God is sanctifying us, we are not sanctifying ourselves. That is also the concept we find in Romans 8:28

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28, ESV

He is reshaping and reforming our lives to reflect the holiness that is already there. He is doing it by “all things” which are working together to accomplish that purpose of God in us.

After Hebrews 10:14, the author of Hebrews continues his description of the work of God. It is God’s work, not ours. It is a work in which we are being acted upon, not a work we are doing. Here’s how he describes it:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” -Hebrews 10:15-17

We tend to read this passage (quoting Jeremiah 31:33-34) as if we have to put the laws in our own hearts and write them on our own minds. We tend to think of this like being back in high school or college, and act like we are studying for a test. We overlook that this is a promise of God to those who are already in His Kingdom by the work of His Son and His Spirit, not an invitation to take an entrance exam to get into the Kingdom.

If we forget this, and act as if we can make ourselves holy by some process of self-correction, we are simply setting ourselves up for frustration. We will tend to miss that thing we are urged to do under the New Covenant. As Paul says in Romans 8:24-25

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Worse, we will be prone to glorify ourselves when holiness grows in us, thinking that we were instrumental in the process. Instead of giving God all the praise for our victory over sin, we will credit ourselves. That is the temptation of legalism –the idolatry of self-made holiness.

Christ already passed all the exams and earned the degree for us. Not only that, but He got perfect grades that WE get credited with. Now we are to walk as those who have attained what He has given us, but even that we can only do with His help.

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The End of Conflict

Usually, when we think about conflict we can only imagine one end to the struggle: there will be a winner and there will be a loser. Every war, every battle, every argument, every fight is not really over until one side is victorious and the other is defeated. If a clash results in a draw, then it is not truly over, and we tend to expect that the fight will be carried on, perhaps in some other form.

That is what makes the conflict between man and God so amazing.

The human race became a hoard of enemies to God when Adam ignored God’s decree and deliberately challenged His authority. Ever since, we have either ignored God by denying His existence or fought against Him by making our own rules. Our thinking and attitudes have been set against God throughout human history. We have not wanted Him and we certainly have not wanted His leadership. We have been at conflict with Him.

God’s way of resolving that conflict was beyond the imagination of Humanity.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him… -Colossians 1:21-22, (ESV)

We were all God’s enemies.
We “once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” Our alienation, separation, and estrangement from Him were complete.

Like Adam, we pretended we did not know Him. We ignored Him or we denied His existence.

We devised clever fables about how we, and all we see around us, came into being by chance and time. We told ourselves and taught each other that God was unnecessary to explain our existence. In effect, we treated God as an idea rather than a Person, and an irrelevant one at that.

Some of us might have seen the glaring stupidity of those fables and so we did not continue to deny the existence of “a god.” But, even then, the true God was so disdainful to us that we rejected Him and instead invented our own versions of Him.

Some of us made up multiple, puny “gods.” Others made up a “God” who merely created everything, but had no authority or interest in overseeing “His” creation. Some of us made up a “God” who was an impersonal “Force.” Others of us made up a “God” who made no demands of us but who only wanted to please us, much like a cosmic butler. Still others made up a “God” who really wanted us to love him, and who thought so much of us that He would do anything to earn our love, much like a heavenly boyfriend. We showed our hatred for the true God by creating our own counterfeits.

Whether we ignored the true God altogether or preferred our own imaginary god to Him, our hostility to Him affected our lives.

Our actions became evil. We chose to do what we wanted rather than what He wanted. Rather than honoring our parents, as God commanded, we treated our them like inconvenient and embarrassing benefactors in our youth, and like inconvenient burdens upon our time and money later in life. Rather than highly esteeming marriage, as God commanded, we ridiculed it by engaging in all kinds of activities to satisfy our own desires before marriage, during marriage, and without marriage. Rather than prizing the truth, as God commanded, we littered our speech with lies and half-truths whenever it served our own ends. Rather than loving our neighbor, as God commanded, we looked upon the people around us with contempt, using them and exploiting them as we saw fit. Rather than being content with the things we had been given, as God commanded, we coveted more and turned our lives into a race to collect, amass and accumulate all the things that we wanted but did not have.

God ended our conflict with Him with reconciliation.
God chose not to destroy us as His enemies, but chose to bring us to Himself. We, the enemies, “he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death.”

Our conflict with God was ended by a death. As God’s enemies, we would have expected that God would demand the death  and utter defeat of all of us who were in conflict with Him. Since He is God, He could have easily used His power to destroy and punish us. But instead, God did something amazing. He turned all that power to destroy against His own mortal body on the cross. He could have concluded the conflict with us in the only way that we could imagine, with our own deaths at His hand. Instead, He chose to end the conflict with us by causing His own death at the hands of His enemies. He made peace and brought His conflict with us to a final end in reconciliation rather than destruction.

God has changed us from hostile to holy
Not only did God choose to spare us as His enemies, but He also acted to change us so we would no longer be His enemies. He did this “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

God made us holy. By His grace and the work of Christ, we are no longer set against God, as our alienated and hostile minds had made us. Instead, He has made us into people set apart for God, for that is what being holy means.
God made us blameless. By His grace, through the death of Christ, we are no longer seen by God as guilty, although that is what our evil actions had made us. Instead, He has made us into people who are guiltless and without blame before Him, since all our guilt was taken by Christ and died with Him.
God made us above reproach. By His grace, through the resurrection of Christ, there is no longer any charge that can be made against us. Instead, He has given us Christ as our advocate, pleading that every accusation that might be made against us, even from future sin, has already been pardoned.

Our conflict with God can not be ended by our victory over Him. Each of us must either be defeated enemies or reconciled to Him. He has done all that is required for reconciliation. Because of what Christ did on a little hill outside Jerusalem 2000 years ago, you may be reconciled to God. Every person who changes his attitude towards God (repents) and believes that Christ has taken all the punishment for sin and disobedience upon Himself  is now reconciled to God. If you have done that, you are now holy, blameless, and above reproach before God.

If we are reconciled to God through Christ, we must regard ourselves as God regards us. We are no longer in conflict with Him. We are holy, blameless, and above reproach in His eyes. His enemy, the sin that still seeks to hold us, is now our enemy. Let us regard ourselves as He does, and glorify Him in the way we live.

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For all but the hardest hearts among us, a story of a close relationship that has gone wrong stirs up sadness. True accounts of such stories sell magazines and tabloids. Fictional accounts of such stories sell books and movie tickets. We mourn when we hear such stories. Somewhere, deep in the recesses of the human heart is a tiny hope, a yearning for a restoration. We hope that, somehow, there might be a restoration of relationship. We yearn to hear of reconciliation.

When a close bond is broken, whether it is between husband and wife or between parent and child, it can be especially heart-wrenching. Love, which once connected two people together, can turn into a perverted and twisted kind of intimate disgust. The closeness once shared between the two people can morph into a partnership of mutual hostility. Respect and concern warp into distain and indifference. When that occurs, the seeds of forgiveness can take no root in hearts hardened by long-sustained bitterness. The hope that there one day may be harmony or restoration seems to be banished forever to the realm of the impossible.

Sometimes, the only hope for reconciliation is that one person may choose to radically alter the pattern. One person must decide to give up his rights to retaliation or vengeance. One person must take all the blame and guilt of the failed relationship, even if it means accepting the blame due to the other. One must choose to make the peace.

When Adam sinned, the once-intimate relationship he had to God was perverted into a twisted kind of intimate disgust. The closeness he had with God was converted to hostility. The respect he had for his Creator warped into distain and indifference. Because of Adam’s sin, the whole human race– and the creation over which we were given authority (see Gen. 1:26, 1:28)– turned away from obeying and seeking God into a pattern of rebellion. Over time, humanity increasingly cultivated a bitterness and hardness of heart towards God, and all of the creation which was mankind’s dominion became cursed (see Gen. 3:17).

Into this true story, Christ came, as the only hope for reconciliation…

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. -Colossians 1:19-20

God saw that the only hope for reconciliation was for Him to choose to radically alter the pattern. Thus, God came, in the Person of Jesus Christ, into His Creation, to become the hope for reconciliation.

God took on the form of one of His creatures. It was His choice, His desire, His pleasure to do so. He chose to lower Himself and become flesh and blood, and live among His creatures (see John 1:14). Yet, in that flesh and blood, in that Jesus Christ, all the complete goodness, purity, holiness, justness, love, and mercy of the living God lived.

Through Christ and His work, God gave up His rights to retaliation and vengeance against His rebellious creatures. He knew that His creatures, the men and women who rebelled against Him, would be unable to return or match His earnest yearning to restore His relationship to them. He would have to give to them the reconciliation that they were unwilling and powerless to seek or gain from Him.

It pleased God to make peace with His creation. It pleased Him to do this through the physical things in His creation. It pleased Him to use the blood of a Man, the blood of Christ. He chose to use the blood that coursed through the body that He inhabited when He came into His creation. It pleased Him to use the death of a Man, the death of Christ on the cross. He chose to use that instrument of torture and death to take upon Himself the retaliation and vengeance due His rebellious creatures.

In Christ, God chose to take upon Himself the guilt and blame of His creatures, even though the estrangement between God and His creatures was due to their guilt.

The hope of reconciliation with God, purchased by God through the blood and cross of Christ, is the hope of all who see the work of God in Christ and turn to Him in faith. Look now at what God has done in Christ, and be reconciled to Him.

Because of what He has done, let us strive to live as those who have been reconciled to God. Let us live as those who have a restored and renewed relationship with Him. As Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “…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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (ESV)


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Struggling with Holiness

No human being is capable of being truly holy, that is pleasing to God, on his or her own power.

If this does not seem obvious from our own experience, then we either have a low opinion of God’s holiness, or a very selective memory.

Our lives are littered with sins gross and petty. We regularly spout  falsehoods, from careless exaggerations to the little white lies that we excuse as kindnesses. We engage in all sorts of hatred, from our anger at the guy who cuts us off in traffic to our rage at elected officials and thoughtless bosses. We live mired in covetousness, feeling entitled to everything from respect and praise to the rewards and honors we see others get but think should have come to us.

Of course, we could examine our adulteries (lusts), idolatries (false priorities), and other sins, but this is already leaving us (OK, me) wishing for a worse memory rather than a better one.

Christ has died for all those sins, and we have God’s forgiveness for them in Him.

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:23-24, ESV)

But, how do we grow to live less and less in that pattern of sin from which we were saved? Can the evil in us be made holy?

Christ had the answer, when He said,

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  (Luke 11:13)

Notice, Jesus started that declaration by stating that His listeners (His disciples) were evil! Jesus was not one to mince words. We are evil. We must start by recognizing that as our situation.

Jesus then states that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.

Why is that a solution for evil?

Simply put: He is called the Holy Spirit because He is Holy. If we seek Him, and ask the Father to grant His presence and control in our lives more and more, we will be made holy.

We do not possess that holiness in ourselves, apart from Him. We cannot fully yield to His holiness in us apart from His continual work in us.

But, as we have the desire to ask the Father to grant the Holy Spirit greater sway and control in our lives, even those of us who, in Jesus’s words “are evil” will see that the heavenly Father will give Him to us.

WE are evil, but God graciously gives us the Holy Spirit to transform us into the holy creatures He sees when He looks upon those for whom Christ died.

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Made Holy in Christ

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him… (Colossians 1:21-22, ESV)

God transforms us. This is no tiny truth, but it might seem so if we fail to understand our natural condition.

Without His work in us, each person either simply ignores or denies God’s existence or actively, deliberately hates God. This is the human condition, and we see examples of each all around. Famous atheists write books claiming God is a delusion, while others flat-out proclaim their hatred of him. The rest of us write no books, but silently hold God in one form of contempt or another, as we choose to make Him irrelevant in our lives by placing our own desires and pleasures at the center of our plans and ambitions. Our alienation and hostility towards Him may be soft and amorphous, but they are no less certain just because it is unexpressed.

Our alienation and hostility towards God is not benign. Like a cancer of thought in our minds, it inevitably spreads to every area of our lives. Eventually it reproduces itself into the tumors of godless actions. We cheat, lie, steal, hate, and take, sometimes with pangs of guilt, but often with no remorse. We excuse every bad thing we do by claiming justification, weakness, weariness, or fear. When we do so, we reveal that our thinking is that God does not really know, does not really care, or does not really exist.

But God does really know. God does really care. God does really exist. In His mercy, He may apply the cure that only He can. He reveals Himself, in Christ– purging first the malignancy of our sin-racked minds. Then, through Christ, He cuts the tumors of sin from our sin-riddled bodies, one by one. He heals so completely that no trace of the disease can be found.
This is His work, and His alone.

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