How union with Christ changes our attempts to resist sin:

“Before being joined to Christ, when I resisted sin I was like a prisoner who tries to escape over the prison wall before his sentence is paid. When sin the jailer catches up with me and tells me to come back into prison, I have no choice but to go, because I am guilty and the penalty is not paid. But when the Christian resists sin he is like a prisoner who is released through the prison gate after serving his sentence. When the jailer threatens him and tells him to return to prison, he need not go. The only power that sin has over the Christian is the power of bluff.”

– Christopher Ash, Teaching Romans (2008) at 229.


“A Global Slaughter of Christians…”

The events of this past week or so have been harrowing. Kirsten Power’s article, A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent, is a helpful – but uneasy – read. She calls for American churches to be galvanised into action. But non-American Christians alike must certainly do something; at the very least speak up to raise awareness, or simply pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith.

In light of these events I am reminded of Hebrews 11:35ff. In Hebrews 11, the writer to the Hebrews is talking about the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to the faith (12:1), who chose to place their trust in God to keep His promise to them of eternal rest and fellowship with Him. Together with the “giants” of the faith such as Abraham and Moses, the writer to the Hebrews mentions some other unnamed heroes:

“Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb 11:35b-38)

The culmination of Hebrews 11 is the great statement of encouragement in the first verses of the next chapter:

“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.” (Heb 12:1-2)

My brothers and sisters who have been ‘slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded’ (K. Powers) for Christ, thank you for witnessing to the faith. Thank you for giving me greater impetus to ‘run with endurance, […] looking to Jesus’. And for those who continue to suffer under intense persecution, I will be praying for you, everyday. 

“Hey Worship Leader, Are You a Theological Lightweight?”

Ronnie Martin, “Hey Worship Leader, Are You A Theological Lightweight?”

Why do we think it’s ok for someone who barely knows God’s Word to lead God’s people in singing the excellency of His Words? Too harsh? Or have we simply produced a generation of worship leaders who are musically adept at singing and playing but spiritually inept at reading and praying?

John Stott on the Mortification of Sin

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:12-14)

In his commentary on the Epistle of Romans (The Message of Romans, IVP 1994), John Stott addresses verse 13, ‘a very significant verse on the neglected topic of “mortification” (the process of putting to death the body’s misdeeds).’ There are ‘at least three truths’ to be clarified:

First, what is mortification? Mortification is neither masochism (taking pleasure in self-inflicted pain), nor asceticism (resenting and rejecting the fact that we have bodies and natural bodily appetites). It is rather a clear-sighted recognition of evil as evil, leading to such a decisive and radical repudiation of it that no imagery can do it justice except ‘putting to death’. In fact, the verb Paul uses normally means to ‘kill someone, hand someone over to be killed, especially of the death sentence and its execution’ […] Elsewhere the apostle has called it a crucifixion of our fallen nature, with all its passions and desires (Gal 5:24). And this teaching is Paul’s elaboration of Jesus’ own summons: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ (Mk 8:34) Since the Romans compelled a condemned criminal to carry his cross to the site of crucifixion, to carry our cross is symbolic of following Jesus to the place of execution. And what we are to put to death there, Paul explains, is the misdeeds of the body, that is, every use of our body […] which serves ourselves instead of God and other people. […]

Secondly, how does mortification take place? We note at once that it is something that we have to do. It is not a question of dying or of being put to death, but of putting to death. In the work of mortification we are not passive, waiting for it to be done to us or for us. On the contrary, we are responsible for putting evil to death. True, Paul immediately adds that we can put to death the misdeeds of the body only by the Spirit, by his agency and power. For only he can give us the desire, determination and discipline to reject evil. Nevertheless, it is we who must take the initiative to act. Negatively, we must totally repudiate everything we know to be wrong, and not even ‘think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature’ (Rom 13:14). This is not an unhealthy form of repression, pretending that evil does not exist in us and refusing to face it. It is the opposite. We have to ‘pull it out, look at it, denounce it, hate it for what it is; then you have really dealt with it’ (Lloyd-Jones). Or, as Jesus graphically expressed it, we must gouge out our offending eye and cut off our offending hand or foot (Mt 5:29ff). That is, if temptation comes to us through what we see, handle or visit, then we must be ruthless in not looking, not touching, not going, and so in controlling the very approaches of sin. Positively, we are to set our minds on the things the Spirit desires (Rom 8:5), set our hearts on things above (Col 3:1f), and occupy our thoughts with what is noble, right, pure and lovely (Phil 4:8). In this way ‘mortification‘ (putting evil to death) and ‘aspiration‘ (hungering and thirsting for what is good) are counterparts. Both verbs […] are in the present tense, for they describe attitudes and activities which should be continuous, involving taking up the cross every day (Lk 9:23) and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit every day.

Thirdly, why should we practise mortification? It sounds an unpleasant, uncongenial, austere and even painful business. It runs counter to our natural tendency to soft and lazy self-indulgence. If we are to engage in it, we shall need strong motives. One is, as we have seen, that we have an obligation (Rom 8:12) to the indwelling Spirit of life. Another, on which Paul now insists, is that the death of mortification is the only road to life. Verse 13 contains he most marvellous promise, which is expressed in the single Greek verb zesesthe, you will live. Paul is not now contradicting himself. Having called eternal life a free and undeserved gift (Rom 6:23), he is not now making it a reward for self-denial. Nor by ‘life’ does he seem to be referring to the life of the world to come. He seems to be alluding to the life of God’s children, who are led by his Spirit and assured of his fatherly love, to which he comes in the next verses (14ff). This rich, abundant, satisfying life, he is saying, can be enjoyed only by those who put their misdeeds to death. Even the pain of mortification is worth while if it opens the door to fulness of life.

This is one of several ways in which the radical principle of ‘life through death’ lies at the heart of the gospel. According to Romans 6 it is only by dying with Christ to sin, its penalty thereby paid, that we rise to a new life of forgiveness and freedom. According to Romans 8 it is only by putting our evil deeds to death that we experience the full life of God’s children. So we need to redefine both life and death. What the world calls life (a desirable self-indulgence) leads to alienation from God which in reality is death, whereas the putting to death of all perceived evil within us, which the world sees as an undesirable self-abnegation, is in reality the way to authentic life.

Holy Spirit, would you indeed give us the ‘desire, determination and discipline’ to reject evil. May we actively reject sin and embrace life.

Poverty, it is manifest, was our Lord’s portion upon earth, from the days of His earliest infancy. He was nursed and tended as a babe, by a poor woman. He passed the first thirty years of His life on earth, under the roof of a poor man. We need not doubt that He ate a poor man’s food, and wore a poor man’s apparel, and worked a poor man’s work, and shared in all a poor man’s troubles. Such condescension is truly marvelous. Such an example of humility passes man’s understanding.

J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke, at 64

a beautiful consistency about the paradox of the incarnation

Wenham, Christ and the Bible (1984):

There is a beautiful consistency about the paradox [of the incarnation.] That the humanity of Christ is depicted in the Gospels as fully and clearly as his divinity needs no documentation. Jesus is seen as the Last Adam, as Ideal Man in perfect communion with God. God, on the one hand, is all powerful, all holy, all knowing; unable to fail, unable to sin, unable to err. Fallen man, on the other hand, fails, sins, errs. Ideal Man, however, could-but-does-not-fail, could-but-does-not-sin, could-but-does-not-err. Jesus tasted human weakness to the limit, but did not fail; experienced temptation at its fiercest, but did not sin; shared human ignorance to the full, but taught no error.

thoughts on good friday and easter sunday

(These are some thoughts that came to me while doing my QT last Thursday, and which I shared at CG on Friday.)

Holy Week is a time when Christians all over the world remember the pain and anguish suffered by our Lord Jesus Christ in the events leading up to the cross and his crucifixion itself, and this culminates in Easter Sunday where we rejoice in His resurrection – the victory over sin and death.

Good Friday is especially poignant in this scheme of things. It’s the day that Jesus was crucified, the most humiliating, inhumane, and painful way to be killed. (For the uninitiated, it is also where we get the word ‘excruciating’ from. True story.) Many Christians thus take it upon themselves to be reminded of this physical torment that Jesus suffered; they revisit scenes from The Passion of the Christ, visually stimulating within them a sense of guilt and remorse at, and consequent gratitude for, the ordeal that He went through.

However, the cynic in me rejects such an approach. But let me first say that I do not see anything intrinsically wrong with it; not only must we never forget, we must always remember the pain and suffering our Lord endured for us. We were bought at a price, and this price was a heavy and painful one. (But this begs the question: ‘Why do we only remind yourself of the cross on Good Friday? We must not just stop there; we must remind ourselves of it everyday.’ However, I would be well-advised to refrain from developing this point here; this would be the subject of another post for another time, perhaps.)

Now with that disclaimer out of the way, I return to my point. The cynic within me rejects such an approach. My situation is akin to that of the smoker who sees the gory image of the lung cancer / emphysema / skin disease on the pack yet knowingly procures the cigarettes despite the warning – he is desensitised to the gore, to the sensational images. I wouldn’t say that I am desensitised to the gore of the cross – Lord, may I never reach that stage – but like the smoker I simply cannot relate to the image; I cannot relate to the immense pain that my Lord Jesus Christ endured. Living in the sanitised, hygienic, sheltered world of the 21st century, the most pain I’ve ever endured would probably be when I tore my ankle ligament – hardly comparable to having nails driven through your hands and feet, suffering a slow death of asphyxiation.

As I came to the Lord in reflection last Thursday, and as I read the gospel accounts of His crucifixion, the cynic in me prevented me from truly relating to the state of my Christ. However, He showed me something that I’d forgotten about, but something all of us can relate to.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. – Luke 22:20-23

This is the famous scene in the last supper: Christ announces that someone among the disciples will betray him, and they question amongst themselves who would be the traitor. Now even non-Christians with but a smidgeon of bible knowledge would be able to tell you who betrayed Jesus – Judas, duh. This task is made all the easier when it is mentioned by Luke at the start of chapter 22 that Judas had agreed to hand over Jesus to the chief priests for a sum of money. Easy peasy.

But let me put it to you that the answer ‘Judas’ is only partly correct. Every single one of Jesus’ disciples betrayed him. Not one of them stuck with him to the end at the cross. Not even Peter; he valiantly declared that he would go to ‘prison and to death’ with Jesus (Luke 22:33), but alas, we all know how that story turned out. Jesus’ closest friends and companions, with whom he had discipled, taught, had meals with, joked with, traveled, for the preceding 3 years or so all abandoned Him. With the exception of Peter, they all abandoned Him at the garden of Gethsamane; Mark doing so in such haste that he left his clothes behind (cf Mark 14:51-52)

And if this unanimous rejection was not enough, Jesus had to further endure rejection from God the Father on the cross. As He bore the weight of all sin, past, present and future, the hymn tells us “the Father turned his face away.” God the Father, being immeasurably Holy, had to turn away from God the Son at that very point. Ravi Zacharias put it best when he said:

The incredible truth was that at the very moment His Father seemed farthest from Him, He was in the center of His Father’s will.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And this is the point I wish to make. Though we cannot relate to the physical pain and torment that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered, we can relate to the rejection, the abandonment, the sheer loneliness of the cross. I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that I am terrified of loneliness, of being rejected by everyone – it is a trite saying that “no man is an island”, and we all need companionship, or as Finnis puts it, the objective good of ‘sociability’.

Yet Christ endured all of that, for our sake. He was rejected by His closest friends, the disciples, and then He was abandoned (for that very moment, at least) by the closest friend of them all, God the Father.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. – Hebrews 4:15 (emphases added)

I can relate to this. And I will respond to this. Have a great Easter.