Tag Archives: sin

The Pastor’s Travail

In Galatians 4:19, you can hear Paul’s words of angst about the Galatian church. They had fallen into legalism, which Paul described as being deceived into choosing a state of slavery. In this passage Paul says, “I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (ESV). This is an excellent picture of the pastoral condition.

While it would be inaccurate to describe Paul as the pastor of the Galatian church, he does have a pastor’s heart for them. Remember that “pastor” comes from the word for shepherd. It is someone who leads people from one place or condition into another, by example and guidance. So, while Paul did not hold an office of “Pastor,”[1] he does express the heart experience of all good pastors.

In Paul’s statement, he speaks of being in the anguish of childbirth. He had addressed them as little children. This idea of anguish involved in childbirth would be very well known to the ancients. It was not uncommon for women to die from the exertion and complications of childbirth. All people understood this. Also, since there was little privacy in ancient homes, and children were born at home, most if not every individual would have heard or seen the travail of a woman in the throes of labor. Paul draws upon this shared experience to illustrate his own personal experience in dealing with their wayward behavior.

Think for a moment of this image which Paul uses. I’m a husband and father. I have watched my wife labor with four children.[2] Now, I know the worst thing a husband can do is imagine he understands what she is going through.[3] But we can see and understand that great pain and suffering is involved. We also understand that there is great promise as well. Push, struggle, strain, suffer and in time a new life is brought forth. This is what Paul is speaking of. This is also the common lot of the pastor of any church.

The pastor sees what God wants his people to be. He has been tasked with bringing forth the fruit of that, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. He sees what should be, while also seeing what is. He knows the great work that is needed and the great travail that will be involved. He struggles and strains to inspire, to teach, to transform. Of course, true transformation comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, but one tool used by the Spirit is the pastor. As just as the wrench in my hand must be tempered to take the strain of a stuck bolt, the pastor must be tempered to take the strain involved in transforming fellow sinners into saints.

The life of a pastor is often marked with depression. He is taught to keep his eyes on what should be. He is taught to expect the miraculous. But he also experiences the failures. He is with people when they confess their failures. He is there when his people reap the whirlwind because of their sin. He is there when people question his teaching. He is there when people demand he stop calling them to holiness and only speak to them of nice things. He sees them kicking against the goads, and knows (from his own experiences and studies) that discipline will be brought to bear upon God’s wayward sheep.[4] He also knows, as under-shepherd, the Chief Shepherd may task him and the other elders with enacting and enforcing the discipline. The pastor’s heart breaks. He struggles and strains expecting final fruitful delivery often to only find himself anticipating the next spiritual contraction.

This struggle is the spiritual basis for the authority which a pastor (elder) wields. The author of Hebrews tells the church to submit to the elders because the elders are working so hard for the people’s own good. They should not make it harder on them, because that would be self-destructive (Heb 13:17).

Paul gives vent to the struggle of every pastor. It is a life of travail to bring forth fruit in the lives of their people. It has its own benefits, of course. But it also has unique problems. How many times have you lost sleep over the spiritual condition of someone who was not even your own kin? I can assure you ever good pastor in this country does this regularly. He prays for you. He seeks to model the Christ-life at all times—failing miserably as often as you. But when he fails he worries about the effect on you. He sees where you are and where Christ wants you to be. He bears very heavily the weight of duty to do his best to get you from here to there. His life is defined by a powerful contradiction. When you are transformed and become more like Christ, the pastor declares it was only by the work of the Holy Spirit. But when he sees you untransformed he doesn’t place blame upon the Holy Spirit and only places part of the blame upon you. The lion’s share of the blame for your failings, the pastor takes upon himself.


[1] In the first century, there was no office of Pastor. The two offices in the local church were elder and deacon. Pastor/shepherd was a gift given for the transformation of God’s people into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).

[2] I saw three born, because one was delivered by C-Section because of being breech.

[3] The only thing worse thing he can do is say that he understands what she is going through while she is in a full-on contraction. Take my advice—just don’t go there! I promise you I’ll never do that again.

[4] Scripture uses the image of sheep for the people of God for good reason. Sheep can be very docile and obediently follow a shepherd from location to location. But the same creature can also put itself into the stupidest, dangerous situations then bawl for help. Sheep kick, butt with their heads, bite and stink. There is no better metaphor for the Church and the people who populate her.

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Forgiveness is hard!

forgivenLately, I’ve been thinking about the concept of forgiveness. I won’t share why, but let it suffice to say that pastors need forgiveness just as much as anyone. Funny thing is that we are best prepared to teach the things we have hardest learned. One who truly understands forgiveness, has both forgiven others much and been forgiven much by others—there is no other way to learn these lessons.

Often when counseling someone to forgive, there is one most common reaction. When hurt by another or slighted in some way, we are often unwilling to forgive the person because it would mean they got away with what they did. We can find ourselves thinking, “Once that person pays for what they did I will forgive them.” Another form of this would be “Once that person reverses the results of their actions, then I will forgive their actions.” The problem is that this is not forgiveness.

According to Dictionary.com, the word forgive comes from the Old English forgiefan, which is a compound of the prefix for meaning “completely” and giefan meaning “to give.” It literally means to give up completely. You see, if we require any rebalancing of the scales prior to forgiveness, it is not forgiveness we practice. This is because we would not be giving it up completely. In effect it would be saying, “I will not give up that much, but if you act to bring the line back this far then I can work with you by giving that up.”

Another reason a requirement for restitution does not constitute true forgiveness is because it is, instead, a demand for justice, or at least a more just outcome. Forgiveness is not interested in justice, it offers grace and mercy. Forgiveness is, in effect, to declare the scales balanced. If one demands the scales be actually balanced, then there is no forgiveness necessary.

One can only forgive if one gives up completely the right to be recompensed. One truly forgives only when one declares the scales of justice to be balanced.

So, how best can we do this? One thing to do is keep in mind that this is exactly what God did for you through Christ. God did not demand you make up for your sins, or work some of them off so there was less to forgive. No. He met you where you were, in the midst of your darkest sins, to forgive you. He declared the scales balanced. When he did this he gave up any right to demand justice against you. Think about that for a moment. The God of the universe, creator of all, the most holy and righteous judge gave up any right to demand restitution for your sins. He declared the scales balanced, meaning he declared you as not guilty of the sins—he declared that you did not do them. You see, one reason we cannot require restitution when forgiving is because we are in effect declaring the forgiven action never happened—if it never happened there is nothing for which to make restitution. We are, in effect, justifying that person in our own eyes and hearts. So, was this act of God a divine fiction—God winked and pretended you were not guilty? No. God did this by placing your sins upon Christ. The sinless Christ was declared, willingly taking it upon himself, to be guilty of your sins. We often gloss over this because we know that Christ is sinless and never sinned. We are willing to say he bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24). We are willing to see his parallel in the scape goat. We forget that this means the guilt itself was placed upon Christ. Folks, understand! This means you are not guilty of your sins. Christ has been declared guilty of them! I know this sounds too harsh, but it is the reality of the transaction to which Christ submitted. We are forgiven because Christ took our sins and he is righteous enough to balance any scales of justice.

We are commanded to forgive and should do so, because that sin committed against us was also placed upon Christ. Now this assumes the person to be a Christian. What if that person is not? Then all that person has to do is come to Christ and that sin will be placed upon Christ. So, when we refuse to forgive, we are declaring the sacrifice of Christ as insufficient to cover that sin. If Christ’s sacrifice is insufficient to cover that sin, then there is no hope for our own sins. We find ourselves caught in a trap when we refuse to forgive.

There is one more thing to remember about forgiveness. If we are truly declaring the person who has sinned against us as not guilty (as we do when giving up their offense completely), then can we ever bring that back up? If we bring it up against them later, then we show that we have not actually forgiven them. We do this because bringing it back up says, “You are guilty of this,” which is the opposite of forgiveness which declares, “You are not guilty of this.” How can we say we forgive when we then hold the forgiven act against the one we claim to have forgiven?

As you read this understand that I rebuke myself in this far more than anyone can know. There are things I have not forgiven people for. I thought I had done so, simply because I had decided to not demand restitution. However, by continuing to see them as guilty of the transgression shows I did not truly forgive.

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My Lottery Winnings

Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of James Barker at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With recent headlines and attention on the Lottery, I have been asked several times if it is a sin to take part in the Lottery. Many of us, myself included, have been brought up to believe: Gambling is a sin; the Lottery is gambling; therefore, taking part in the Lottery is sin. Actually there is one problem with this: nothing in scripture teaches gambling is a sin.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying one should gamble or that one should play the Lottery. If I trust in the Lottery or other gambling to make up for my own bad choices (“A winning ticket will wipe away all my errors of financial judgment”) then I am simply being a fool. If one plays the Lottery as entertainment, that is a very different story. Take scratch tickets as an example. If I enjoy the finer points of scratching foil off paper as an entertainment, and you created a set of such cards to sell me so I could enjoy scratching off the foil, would anyone think that to be sin? Of course not! That’s just paying for my fun, which is to be expected. Now, if I did the same thing hoping to uncover a pretty picture, would that be sin? No, again. The same would be true if I liked to see what numbers might be underneath. The only way any of these is sin is if I indulge my new entertainment to the point of taking money away from my family’s needs. That would be sin. But even then, it is not the purchasing and scratching of cards (the entertainment itself) that is a sin, but the overindulgence. Neither is it sin to buy a list of numbers to hang on my refrigerator, even in hopes of winning later.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many will say, but the difference is that you do it, not for entertainment, but for the chance to gain more money than the ticket cost. OK, is it sin to invest in the stock market? People don’t buy stocks because they like the pretty paper used to print stock certificates (does anyone even still receive stock certificates?). People invest in the stock market for the same reason, and no one calls it sin. Yes, I know some will say that one is investing and one is gambling. However, what is the true difference in these terms? The difference is risk. Gambling takes riskier chances promising a greater return. But funny, when you speak to the person who helps you with your retirement account she will usually asks about risk-aversion and how much risk you are willing to take, because a greater risk promises the possibility of greater returns (and greater losses). Now, I’m not saying investing in stocks is equivalent to buying Lottery tickets. But what I am saying is that once one begins to add rules to the words of scripture one quickly falls into the area of legalism, especially if striving for consistency in beliefs.

So, should a Christian buy Lottery tickets? The answer is far more complex and far more simple than it appears. If you can afford to spend a few dollars on Lottery tickets for entertainment purposes, then there is no sin. Is it foolish? Once again it depends on whether it is for entertainment or if this is making up for a lack of a retirement plan. If the latter, then it is the very definition of foolish.

My wife wanted me to buy a couple tickets this time. We could afford a few bucks, so I did. We had fun dreaming about all the things we would do if we won. Of course, there were the usual dreams: buy each of our children a home, pay off their debts, etc. But, we also dreamt of things many may not consider. I dreamt of endowing a chair of Theology at a seminary. I dreamt of using the funds to plant a Bible College in our city. We dreamt of gifting our church a nice new building. We dreamt of paying the salaries of several rural pastors in Montana, Wyoming and Texas as well as underwriting the costs of one or more mission fields. We also dreamt of being able to forgo any salary as a pastor of our church. Then we went to bed knowing we had already gotten all the value out of the tickets we would ever get—we were inspired to do some sanctified dreaming. Funny thing is, I was once asked by a class of young men, “How do we know what we are supposed to do with our lives?” I told them to find a career where they would still show up for work the next day after winning the Lottery. That is one way to know you are doing what you were meant to do. I know the Lord wants me to encourage biblical scholarship, to support local churches and missions. I already knew all of these things, but dreaming solidified them in my mind. We have our dreams and now to work at making them come true without the Lottery winnings. The tickets were an inspiration to holy dreaming. But these things will only be accomplished through faithful service.

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God Must?

Today is Christmas morning. Of course, since most of the family other than me works today, this means I am spending the morning in my usual way. I’m sitting here alone enjoying coffee and reading. My reading lately has been in Grudem’s Systematic Theology because of a graduate theology class I am taking.

In Grudem’s chapter on Justification, I was struck by the construction of a statement. I was struck by (1) the oddness of the construction and (2) by the power of that same construction. However, there is one more thing that struck me: though it contains a powerful statement, I believe (3) it leaves us with possible conclusions about justification that are far weaker than the subject demands.

On page 723, Grudem defines Justification as, “an instantaneous act of God in which he (1) thinks of our sins as forgiven and Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us, and (2) declares us to be righteous in his sight” (emphasis in the original). This is a great definition, but actually pretty standard. It was not this that so struck me this morning. What struck me was earlier in the chapter, when introducing the concept of justification. As the gospel is effectively proclaimed to those who are regenerated and they respond in faith, they are converted and “…God must respond to our faith and do what he promised, that is, actually declare our sins to be forgiven. This must be a legal declaration concerning our relationship to God’s laws, stating that we are completely forgiven and no longer liable to punishment.”

  • The Oddness of the Construction: I find it odd to hear the words “God must…” Can you imagine anything binding an obligation upon the all-powerful creator of the universe? Is there anything that can bind God, or limit him? The very idea of the subject “God” as understood in the Christian sense tied to the predicate “must…” seems to stretch the imagination and call for ridicule. God cannot be bound, can he? God cannot be obligated, can he? It seems laughable to imagine any creature thinking the God of heaven and earth can be bound to any course of action. This is what makes Grudem’s statement so odd. However, there is truth to the statement and the truth is far more powerful than we often imagine. We discover this truth when we understand what binds God in this instance—what makes it obligatory upon God to take this action?
  • The Power of the Construction: Grudem actually gives us the reason for declaring God to be obligated to act—promise. God promised to respond to our faith by justifying us. But how does that obligate God? You and I make promises all the time. Some of them we keep. Many of them we do not keep. For humans breaking a promise is as easy as breathing. Some people actually make promises with the intention of never keeping them. The promise is simply a rhetorical tool to manipulate another: “I promise I’ll do this, if you do that.” Then when we have what we want we walk away breaking the promise. So, why is it that the great all-powerful God cannot do this? Is there some more powerful force or deity making sure he keeps his word? Of course this is not the reason. There is nothing outside of God controlling or binding God. If God chooses his course of action with unfettered freedom (not bound by any other ethic but his own declarations), how can we be sure he will keep his promises? Could he not arbitrarily decide to break his promise and by declaration make that action good? How can we say he must do what he promised? One answer is found by considering the nature of God and of divine foreknowledge. However, simply saying God will keep his promise because it is in his nature to do so seems a bit…simplistic. I would argue a different tack. I would argue it from the inerrancy of God:
    1. God, by his nature, cannot err. If he declares something to be true, then it is true. If he declares something will happen then it will happen. If his declaration does not come true, then he was wrong—he would be in error, and thus not inerrant.
    2. Let’s apply this truth about God to the idea of a divine promise. If God promises at a point in time (our time, since God is not limited to time) to respond to those who come to him in saving faith a certain way, he is actually making a declaration of what will happen—a prior declaration of an event. He is promising that if at some time you do A, he will respond with B (Don’t mistake this for the idea of works salvation. We are simply discussing things that are later down what many, like Grudem, call the Order of Salvation—election, regeneration and proclamation have already happened causing the person to respond in believing faith, confess and be converted). God is declaring in effect, if this happens that will result. The ‘this’ is my response to his actions in saving me and the ‘that’ is his response to my faith. He declared, “If we came to him in believing faith he would accept us and justify us.” If he does not do so, then he was wrong. Therefore, God would not be inerrant. He would not have perfect knowledge. So, because God promised he would respond to our faith with justification, we can say that he must respond to our faith with justification. In this way God is obligated to act on our behalf and declare us justified—not guilty of our sins.
  • The weakness of the construction: as I said there is however one way in which this construction is still weak. However, the weakness is not in the statement itself, but in the way many might interpret it. If justification means God declaring us ‘not guilty’ of the sins we have committed, we need to understand what this means. Many will be tempted to think this means God has simply created a legal fiction—in which he says ‘not guilty’ of those who are actually ‘guilty.’ This is problematic though. If God is declaring you not guilty when you are in fact guilty then we, once again, bounce up against the inerrancy of God. This is not what is happening though. God is not just deciding to now consider you guiltless. This would be little more than divine self-deception. But don’t forget that what God declares cannot be wrong. If God is going to declare you sinless, and not guilty, then at that moment you are sinless and not-guilty. But how can this be? Yesterday, I committed sins X, Y and Z. Today, I stand guilty as charged. But today, I respond to the gospel message in saving faith, confess my sins and am converted. At that moment God declares me not guilty of X, Y and Z. How? I am guilty. I committed the sins! They are mine and so is the guilt. How can God do this? The secret to this is in the sacrifice of Christ. You see, God is not simply declaring some legal fiction. He is actually making you not-guilty because he puts those sins you have committed upon Christ. The sins and the guilt of them become Christs—no different than if Christ had committed them instead of you. Of course, there is one difference. If Christ had committed them he would have died for his own sins, with no benefit for you. By dying sinless, our sins are placed upon him (which lifts them off of us) and the guilt of those sins is poured out upon him (removing it from us). When God justifies us he not only speaks the words “not guilty” he has also made us actually “not guilty.” At that moment, I have committed no sins—they all belong to Christ. God can declare me legally sinless and righteous by imparting Christ’s righteousness to me (Romans 3:21-22).

When you came to Christ, you were justified. This means God has declared you not guilty because you are no longer guilty. You are not guilty because all the guilt was placed upon Christ. If it was all placed upon Christ, then there is none left upon you and you are now, through divine intervention, truly guiltless. If any guilt remains upon you—if any stain of sin remains upon you—then it was not all placed upon Christ.

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I have no wrath

This morning, during my devotionals I was struck by the following passage (Isaiah 27:2-5 ESV):

In that day,

“A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!

I, the Lord, am its keeper;

every moment I water it.

Lest anyone punish it,

I keep it night and day;

I have no wrath.

Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!

I would march against them,

I would burn them up together.

Or let them lay hold of my protection,

let them make peace with me,

let them make peace with me.”

 

A striking point is the first phrase of verse four, “I have no wrath.” One part of Jesus earthly ministry and his sacrifice upon the cross was propitiation. “He is the propitiation for our sins, …” 1 John 2:2a ESV. Upon the cross, Jesus took the full wrath of God, poured out upon sin. This offering turned God’s wrath to favor (the meaning of propitiation) on our behalf. Now tie this to Isaiah and the idea of God planting a pleasant vineyard to keep and in which he will have no wrath. The vineyard is symbolic of the covenant people of God (Israel in the OT and the Church in the NT). We are the divinely planted vineyard which God prunes and tends. He is the keeper of the vineyard. Jesus used this imagery throughout his ministry. Within his vineyard there is no longer any wrath of God—none, nada, zip. All of his wrath was poured out upon Christ and turned to favor. Nothing he does within his Church (his covenant people) is a result of wrath. All of his actions in the church are love-inspired tending of the vineyard—discipline, correction and improvement. His wrath is never poured out upon us.

God expands upon this though by having Isaiah go on to write “If only I had briars to march against and burn up” (my paraphrase). This seems as if he is wishing to have, within the church, those upon which he could pour out his wrath. However, this actually supports the contention that God has no wrath. It tells us there is no one within the covenant people, his vineyard (the Church) for him to pour his wrath upon. Of course, this is because of the propitiation of Christ. We see this in verse five: let them lay hold of my protection. We, by coming to Christ and receiving his salvation have sought the protection of God. We may not be perfect, but he never will again look upon us in wrath.

Now, let us keep this in mind when dealing with our own sins and the sins of others. When I sin, nothing God does to me will be an act of wrath. He may pour out great suffering and allow great harm to come to my person as a result of his sin, but such has nothing to do with wrath. It is a loving act of discipline and correction. When others sin, I must remember that nothing I do should be seen as permitted as part of unleashing holy wrath upon the sinner. There is no wrath for God to unleash, so he could never inspire me as an agent of wrath against one of his people, no matter the sin. I may be used as an agent of his discipline and correction, but this is always part of God’s favor, not wrath.

 

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Intercession for Sinners

Hebrews 7:25 NIV

“He is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

This beautiful promise came to mind this morning while reviewing some passages in Hebrews as part of today’s message. Let’s consider this for a moment and some of the implications of it.

First, it is a promise of security: he is able (capable, sufficient) to save completely (without exception, without limit). He can save us. He can save us regardless of situation, action or condition. There is nothing from which he cannot deliver you and no sin from which he cannot cleanse you.

Second, he lives forever interceding for us. This means the promise here is not only salvation and cleansing from past sins, but also includes future sins as well. This is because he is actively interceding on our behalf forever and always. He is interceding for me while I type this. He is interceding for you while you read it. You and I are constantly upon his lips in intercession. As a need arises, he is there lifting up that need. As a sin is committed he is there, as our High Priest, interceding for us (this is the context of the promise).

This latter fact got me to thinking about something important. How do we react to and act towards our fellow Christians who fall into sin? Should we condemn them? Should we reject them? While scripture does tell us there are times to practice church discipline—even to the point of disfellowship—understand this is always to be for the purpose of restoring the brother to righteous living and returning the brother to the fold. Church discipline is as much a part of helping the one disciplined as it is part of purifying the church. This passage gives us something important to consider when wondering how to act toward a sinning brother or sister. It should also temper our zeal to condemn and cast out. Look at the passage and ask, “What is Jesus doing in response to the sin?” He is before the throne of grace interceding as High Priest. He is lifting the sinner up before the Father, pleading the presence of his own blood to indicate the sin is already paid for. He is also interceding through the power of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit indwelt Church to discipline and restore the sinner. Perhaps we should all have this image in mind when dealing with sinning brethren. It should be difficult to reject and condemn a person for whom our Lord is actively interceding. If the intercession of Jesus is sufficient for the Father, shouldn’t it be sufficient reason for us to come along side our sinning brethren?

Only when that image is firmly in mind are we ready to approach and minister to the sinner in our midst.

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Only Sacrifice for Sins

The Old Covenant provided sacrifices to be performed over and over for sins. The New Covenant also provided a blood offering for sins, but the two are quite different. Heb 10:3-4 (ESV) says, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Under the Old Covenant the sacrifices had to be completed year by year, day by day, over and over. Sin was not actually removed, it was merely covered. We too often make the mistake of believing sins were actually removed by these sacrifices, but such offerings could never remove sins.

There was only one sacrifice ever offered that actually removed sins. This offering was the last one performed under the Old Covenant—the sacrifice of Christ. Once this was completed sins were removed (not just covered) and the Old Covenant sacrificial system was abolished. The New Covenant was ushered in.

There was only one sacrifice efficacious for the removal and forgiveness of sins. All the others were merely a shadow of the true sacrifice for sins (Heb 10:1). Don’t make the mistake of thinking anyone was actually forgiven for offering bulls or lambs. Instead those who made these offerings had their sins “laid aside” or “overlooked” without punishment, until God offered the only sacrifice that would forgive us and them. No one in any age has ever been saved outside of Jesus Christ. No one in any age will ever be saved outside of Jesus Christ. Jesus is not an alternative route of salvation offered by God. Jesus is the only route of salvation offered by God.

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Christ the Triumphant

Colossians 2:14-15 speaks of Jesus’ accomplishments on the cross. In the NIV this says:

“[…] having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

This translation says it was the ‘charge of legal indebtedness’ which was canceled. Other translations make it sound like the law itself was canceled. The KJV for example says:

“[…] blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”

One reading the KJV and several others (including the original NIV from 1984) would assume it was the law being canceled (KJV: ordinances; 1984 NIV: written code).Those reading the latest NIV or others, like the LEB, would see this as canceling the list of debts (violations). This distinction is important because if only the debts are canceled, then the law is still in force. If the law is canceled then the debts against the law go with them. The latter removes not only the current debt, but also removes any possibility of future indebtedness. The former removes past debts, but leaves the possibility of future indebtedness. So, it is important to know exactly what is said here. The word used is δόγμασιν, which is the word for ordinances, or commands. Its root is the origin of our word ‘dogma.’ The passage says the ordinances (laws) themselves, which once condemned us, have been removed from the page. The NAS translates it as:

“[…] having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

The word for ‘canceled’ or ‘blotting out’ is the word for a scribe using a sponge to remove the ink from the page. In their day, they had no pencils and erasers. To erase something from the page the scribe would use a damp sponge to blot the ink from the page. It is this which Paul says Jesus did to the ordinances which were bringing us condemnation—he washed the words right off the page.

The passage goes on and says Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, making a spectacle of them. He triumphed over them by the cross. The imagery here is that of an ancient Roman Triumph. When a general returned from campaign, the Senate would often vote them a triumph. This would involve what we would recognize as a parade. During this, the enemy leaders captured would be paraded through the city before the people. At the end of the triumph the captives would be killed. It is this graphic image that Paul uses to describe Jesus victory over the ordinances and law.

In case you are still of the opinion that this only referred to the list of debts for past violations and not a triumph over the law itself, remember that this would leave you facing the possibility of future law violation. However, Paul, in verse 16 says not to let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or judge you concerning religious festivals, holy days, or even a Sabbath day. If the law was still in place, you would still be liable to judgment over these. Christ wiped the law off the page. He took it away and nailed it to the cross. He paraded it in a victory march and dispatched it. The law was taken away and we no longer face the guilt of past violation, neither do we face danger of future violation.

This does not make us free to sin, however. Paul says the law was a shadow of realities to come. The reality is found in Christ (Col 2:17). We no longer live to keep the law. We no longer live to sin. We live for Christ; we live in Christ; we live empowered by Christ.

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The Good, The Bad, and the Not so Ugly

“[…] that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” 2 Peter 1:4 b, c NIV.

This passage shows something foundational about the Christian faith. It shows a view of the world differing greatly from other ancient world views.

The first view this passage counters was the prevalent Platonic metaphysics of the day. Common among the Greek speaking world of the time was the idea that the spiritual realm was perfect and the fleshly realm corrupt. The flesh was seen as a prison in which the spirit was trapped. Everything to do with the flesh was corrupt and of no permanent spiritual value. The way to perfection was to escape the flesh. This very negative view of all things material actually crept into the church over time and influenced much of later church practice. However, the biblical view is not that the material universe is corrupt. Instead, God made it and declared all that he made good. The physical universe in which we live is good, but it is our sins, inspired by our evil desires, which corrupt the world. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the physical, the sensual, the fleshly—within proper bounds of righteousness. It was this for which Jesus was often attacked. Many times he was attacked for hanging out with sinners and dining with them. He even said that he was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Mt 11:19). For the follower of Christ, all food and drink is good and holy if enjoyed within the bounds of proper moderation and with thankfulness to God who provided. Likewise, sex is good and holy within the faithful bounds of marriage.

This passage also counters a second view. Though already ancient at the time, there is no evidence I am aware of that the author intended to counter this view or even knew about it. However, it is a common view in certain circles today, and this passage answers it perfectly. Buddhists view the problem of suffering to be one of desire. We suffer because we have desires. To escape suffering we must stop desiring. Though the apostle probably didn’t have this in mind, it is faced by the church today. A form of it is even found in the church. Many pretend today that we are not to have desires. They seem to think the Christian life is to be a form of monastic existence with no desires for money, a home, a family, etc. However, this passage shows it to be evil desires that are the problem. There is nothing wrong with wanting to acquire what you do not have—or wanting more of what you do have. The problem is when you either desire what you should not have, or when your desires lead you to behave in an unrighteous way to fulfill the desires.

The way to handle these desires is to see them as what they are. Imagine them as a checklist. We all have a list of things we want and things we do not want. If we listed these and put a check into the category of want and don’t want we can see what our desires are. Even the things we “don’t want” often manifest as negative desires (not evil, but as something we desire to not have or experience). I do not want to get sick. This is itself the negative side of a desire for health. The list of our desires actually says a great deal about us. We must understand that it is not the desire that drives us to act. We choose to act upon those desires. Through the indwelling Holy Spirit we are empowered to choose. We then make our choice. Desiring evil is not itself a sin—it is a symptom of sinfulness. It is when we act upon the evil desire that it becomes sin. It is this which shows the truth about us. For example, Jesus countered, in Matthew 5:27f, the belief that one was fine so long as one didn’t actually (physically) commit adultery, but only looked. Jesus said that anyone who looked on a woman with lust had already committed adultery with her “in his heart.” Is he saying that the look itself counts on that person’s tally of sins: “Hey! You looked! So we’ll mark down a sin check mark here in your book.” No. That is not what he meant. That would make the desire itself a sin. What he means is that the desire tells the truth about our heart. The drive for sin is internal and works itself out in our actions. The person who hasn’t actually touched the woman, may be without credited sin, but cannot claim to be truly righteous if he has lustful thoughts when looking at the woman. Those thoughts show that the potential for the sin dwells within the heart of the person. The man may not be committing the deed of adultery, but the look and thought prove that he is indeed an adulterous person—it shows the person still desires to sin, even if he is resisting it. The goal is to be transformed into a person who no longer even desires sin.

So understand your desires (good and evil) for what they are. They tell about your maturity and about where you are in your Christian walk. They tell you that you are not perfect—but neither are any of us. We are to seek improvement daily. Hopefully, we will no longer desire tomorrow what we desire today. In time the evil desires drop away as we are transformed more and more into the image of Christ. However, there is no reason to think the goal is for us to have no desires whatsoever. We are to desire justice, righteousness, more of Christ, a deeper walk with God, the love of our family, and yes, even a financially secure life. There is no sin in these desires—and neither is there sin in striving to see them come to pass.

The world was created to be a good place—it is the place we were created to occupy. God made it and declared it good. Desire is good—so long as it is desire for what is good, and leads us to fulfill those desires righteously.

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