9. No Need to Sin

Meditations in 1 John : 9 :  No Need to Sin

1 John  2:1   My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We have observed so far, John telling us that we are all sinners, people who are tainted with Sin. Note the capital letter we use to distinguish the tendency from the individual acts we refer to as sins (small s). Sin is the tendency or disposition that is inclined to being self-centred and godless, and thus in behaviour, unrighteous. When we give way to that Sin we commit sins, individual acts – thoughts, words, or deeds – that are wrong. John has said, If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.” (1:8) But he didn’t leave us there, he told us how to deal with those sins: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1:9)

Many Christians are uncomfortable with this language because it focuses on the negatives, on failure. Those who would want to speak about the victorious Christian life feels such talk takes something away from victory. No, it simply helps us realize our vulnerability and our constant need of Christ and of the power of his Holy Spirit. This is the point the apostle Paul reached at the end of Romans 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24.25) In the following chapter he explains how Christ has dealt with our Sin and the Holy Spirit empowers us so that we can avoid sins.

This is now where we come to with John who doesn’t want to leave us faced with sin, but moves us on to realize that although we are still vulnerable to it, we don’t have to give way to it. This is the same sort of thing that I feel we have to say when we find ourselves in discussions about the genes we inherit from our parents. Every now and then the media latch on to the comments of some genetic scientist and are pronouncing that a particular gene makes us behave in certain ways. The truth is that a particular gene may give us a disposition that veers towards that particular behaviour.

Take the example of anger. A particular father clearly has a short fuse and blows up at the smallest thing. Even more than that, he uses his anger to get his own way. The child inherits some of his genes (not all of them because the child also inherits the genes of the mother and she never had a problem with anger!) and so has this same tendency, but more than that, the child has learned to use anger just as they have seen their parent use it. Now the only trouble is that this is wrong! So is the child condemned to be an anger-filled adult? No! The truth, as we’ve just noted it, is that there is only a tendency towards anger. We still have free will and we can chose to accept that behaviour or we can reject it and learn behavioral strategies that overcome the anger tendencies. And we can certainly refuse it to manipulate others. There may be a tendency but we don’t have to give way to it. Even more, when we are a Christian, we have the Holy Spirit living within us and His power will help us control our temper, for He is a Spirit of self-control (2 Tim 1:7 older versions)

Now we must recognize that these changes may take place in different people at different times. For all of us some changes take place instantly, at the moment of our conversion, when we confess and surrender and are forgiven and given the Holy Spirit. But after that it becomes a lifetime of change. Some things take a very long time to change in us simply because we don’t realize they are wrong and it is only as we receive God’s word at some point – whether by reading the Bible or by preaching, say – that we suddenly see that a particular attitude or habit is wrong and needs changing. Other things just need working at. In my own case I had previously used swear words every fifth word almost and it took six months to completely break the habit, and I have never sworn since. Sometimes there may be an addiction, say to smoking. For some people giving up with the help of God through a simple prayer is no big deal. For others they struggle and struggle. I had a friend who really struggled to stop smoking, but it was only when the Holy Spirit fell on him was he truly delivered.

But John writes to show us that we don’t have to sin. It doesn’t have to be a part of our lives anymore. This IS the reality. I remember a friend who had sat in a meeting when the Speaker had asked, “How many of you have not sinned today?” He and one other put up their hands. When he talked about it later he said, “I have been too busy doing what God’s given me to do to sin today.”  Yes, we may stumble, but John’s teaching is that these should be exceptions and not the rule. Yes, we are vulnerable as redeemed sinners and when we try to walk the walk on our own, we become very vulnerable. As we trust on Him and lean on Him and fellowship with Him and as we obediently go about doing the things He’s given us to do, then, yes, our lives will be free from sinning. Hallelujah!

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52. Clear Minded

Meditations in 1 Peter : 52: Clear Minded

1 Pet 4:7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray

Living in the West in the early twenty-first century, one could perhaps be excused for NOT being clear minded, for we are bombarded with information and opinions from every media outlet possible. Youth magazines portray a particular culture and it is a strong young person who dares fly in the face of that culture. Magazines and newspapers all portray a particular view or culture and the unwary will find their mind being shaped by those. TV, films and subsequently videos (not to mention the whole music industry), all convey lifestyles that are godless and often unrighteous. And all of these things impact our minds. The government carefully manages its agenda through the media to persuade the public to their way of thinking (which may or may not be right) and so it is no surprise that many people live in a state of confusion.

And then Peter calls upon Christians to be “clear minded.” The mind is where the battle is waged and the tactic of the enemy is to confuse and sow doubts. No wonder so many young Christians don’t know where to draw a line in the sand and so find themselves still living like occupants of the dominion of darkness rather than citizens of the kingdom of the Son.  The call to be clear minded is to first of all to be clear in your basic beliefs. If we are a Christian, can we state basic beliefs about Jesus, God and our salvation? But it is also a call to have understanding. We aren’t to just accumulate facts of our salvation, we are to understand why things work as they do, why God calls us to a certain path and why is it dangerous to walk a different path. But there is also the matter of the will. Unless we are completely committed to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we will find ourselves prey to the enemy’s attacks. In all of these ways we are to be clear minded.

But Peter doesn’t leave it there; he also calls us to be “self-controlled.” Self control is about being able to determine your own actions and not get carried away by desires. We are not to be those driven by desires or emotions. Our control starts in our mind but is then worked out as we direct our body to do things or not do things. We shouldn’t make excuses here, for the New Testament is quite clear: When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” (Jas1:13,14). If we allow our minds to feed on wrong thoughts, it is no wonder that Satan can help them to come to fruition by us succumbing to wrong desires. If we read novels involving sex or we watch films with plenty of sex in, no wonder our minds will dwell on sex and when a sexual temptation comes along we are then all the more vulnerable to it. Watch you mind, watch what you see and read, watch what you think and feel otherwise you are vulnerable to a fall which may result in your destruction!

Now at the end of this verse Peter provides a motivation to do these things: “The end of all things is near.” Now this was the often felt belief in the early church that the kingdom of God would come and God would wind up this earth soon.  Well, two thousand years later He still hasn’t, but it is still a good warning, because we just don’t know when He will do it!  Whether He will wait for another two thousand years, or whatever, the truth is that God is going to one day wind up all things, but more than that we all live with a limited life span and one of these days we ARE going to have to stand before Him and account for the lives we have lived.  If Jesus is our Lord and Saviour we need not fear that time, but if he is not, then there is genuinely something to be feared if not dreaded! There WILL come a time of accounting is what Peter is warning us, to help us check our thinking and our behaviour in God’s sight.

But that is about the future and at the end of the verse Peter gives us another motivation or encouragement: “so that you can pray.” i.e. the way we think and the way we behave dictates our ability to pray and talk to God. Now prayer is the most wonderful privilege we have, this access to God, but if we are confused in our thinking or if our behaviour is more appropriate to the dominion of darkness, then it is obvious that we will neither feel like praying, nor be able to pray, and that means we are in isolation from God, feeling alone and vulnerable.

These are very simple but very practical exhortations that Peter gives us. They should be easy to understand and easy to put into practice. May that be so!

22. Social Responsibility

Lessons from the Law: No.22 : Laws of Social Responsibility

Ex 22:16,17 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.

The remaining verses in this chapter we’re going to call laws of social responsibility although they also cover their relationship with the Lord. Caring for others seems to have been a high priority in these laws of the Covenant. This was to be a caring people. We first see it in respect of young women being taken advantage of as seen in our verses above. Wow! How this would revolutionise modern Western societies! If you have intercourse with a virgin, you are to marry her! That is all about taking responsibility. Only today I heard a man saying, “Oh no, I don’t believe in marriage. Yes I’ve got a partner and she has a kid. My previous partner had two kids, but I don’t believe in marriage!” Here was a man procreating and walking away from responsibility. The virgin is the first of the vulnerable people who the Law protects.

But that caring was also extended to foreigners living within Israel: Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (v.21) Racial prejudice had no place in the people of God. The foreigner is the second of the vulnerable groups who the Law protects.

That caring attitude also extended to those who were vulnerable because they are alone, although part of Israel, widows and orphans: Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” (v.22-24) That was a serious word! That indicates how concerned God is for the weak and the vulnerable in society. Widows and orphans are the third vulnerable group that the Law protects.

That caring attitude was extended to cover not taking advantage of those who needed to borrow from you: If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering he has for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (v.25-27). It recognises that the person who has to borrow because they are poor and needy, are particularly vulnerable and as such they should be treated with compassion, for the Lord is a compassionate God and you will be answerable to Him if you do not care for those who are less well off and vulnerable.

Yes, this was to be a distinct people and part of that distinctiveness meant that clear boundaries were drawn as to what was considered acceptable. To emphasise the seriousness of this, the death penalty was applied to those who blurred the distinction between light and darkness by dabbling in the occult: Do not allow a sorceress to live.” (v.18). Now although it is not stated here, this and the following prohibitions are in respect of things that not only show a disdain for God, but they also show a disdain for the holy nature of Israel. This was supposed to be a holy nation, a nation that was distinct and different and which shone as a light or an example to the rest of the world, to show the world how God had designed mankind and how a good society in relationship with God was possible. These subjects we are now considering demeaned people, and demeaned the nation and stopped them being that light to the nation. It is for that reason that they are considered so serious that the death penalty is there to act as a severe deterrent. The first of these prohibitions was thus in respect of those who blurred the distinction between God and what is, in fact, demonic powers.

The second prohibition in this group is in respect of those who blurred the distinction between human and animal: Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.” (v.19) The third prohibition was in respect of those who blurred the distinction between real and false in the spirit realm: Whoever sacrifices to any god other than the LORD must be destroyed.” (v.20) Each of these prohibitions demeans the people, demeans society and demeans God!

But the height of that distinctiveness was to be in respect of the way they related to the Lord Himself. Thus they were always to honour Him and respect His authority: Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” (v.28)

Similarly they were to express that honour in giving a token offering of their produce, as an expression of thankfulness: Do not hold back offerings from your granaries or your vats.” (v.29a) and their first born son, cattle and sheep as token offerings to remember the Exodus deliverance: You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day.” (v.29b,30) This holiness was to extend even into their eating, probably to maintain health, by not eating savaged meat: You are to be my holy people. So do not eat the meat of an animal torn by wild beasts; throw it to the dogs.” (v.31). A truly distinctive people!

Thus in this group of laws we see that Israel were called to be distinctive in the way they cared for the weak and vulnerable among them, and in the way their whole lives were impacted by their relationship with the Lord, which meant them living differently in very practical ways from neighbouring countries. The intention was that the goodness of life in Israel, and they way they put the Lord first, would point others to the Lord.

Today, similarly, to those of us who are Christians, Jesus says, You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:14,16) May we be so!

Walk of Despair

WALKING WITH GOD. No.40

1 Kings 19:3,4 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD ,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

We have previously commented along these lines, but it bears repeating, that the idea that the Christian life is always smooth and easy is unreal. Christians have to live in this Fallen World and so things go wrong and people are nasty. To see the reason why Elijah was running for his life, we have to see the previous two verses: “Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” This was a very real threat from a very nasty person! There was a contract out on Elijah’s head! But, you might say, wasn’t Elijah this great prophet of the Lord so he could simply stand up to the Queen? Well actually, no, because that is the problem.

The problem is not only the Queen, it is that Elijah has just been through an amazing spiritual battle and would be feeling exhausted mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Please realize that this was all in the service of his Lord. Even Jesus took time out to rest after his busy schedule. The reality is that when you are giving out spiritually, it can leave you drained. Yes, the Lord will be your strength and yes, He will restore you, but for that moment you are empty, needing to be refilled, and it is often that at that moment the enemy attacks, when he sees you are vulnerable. The response? You feel weak and fearful and want to run, escape to a quiet place and fall asleep (v.5). Did the Lord chide him for this? No! Instead He sent an angel who provided supernatural provision for Elijah to enable him to get to the place of meeting with God again. This is a very real experience and we need to really take on board the elements of it.

First note that we live in a state of war with Satan and sometimes he seems to come like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) and when he comes like that he seeks to create fear in us.

Second, note that he comes to attack like this when we are vulnerable and probably when we have just been giving out a great deal, and even when we have just had a great victory.

Third, the crucial thing here is to be aware of what is going on. When Peter in the verse just referred to warns about Satan coming as a roaring lion, he starts, “ Be alert…..” Very often Christians become casualties simply because they did not realize what was going on and did not take steps to counter it. Emotional responses when you are at this place of attack are fear, doubt, feeling down, worrying and so on. They are all things the enemy seeks to impose upon you. Realise what is happening.

The fourth thing is to get out of the firing line. It was sensible, in the absence of a word from the Lord, to get out of range of the Queen. When you are feeling weak and vulnerable step back from the front line until you can be restored. While you stay there you are simply a target for more blasting from the enemy, and that isn’t necessarily the big obvious things, it can be the subtle temptation that brings your downfall into sin.

The fifth thing is to get with God. Elijah made for Horeb, or Sinai, the known place of encounter with the Lord. Even to get there he needed supernatural help. It may be that you need help from the Lord and that ‘angelic’ help can actually be through others. If you have those who are close to you, ask them to pray and carry on praying for you. (If you don’t find them!) I have a small group of people I confide in who pray for me all the time, but they find it particularly helpful if I share with them what is happening to me. Perhaps we need a retreat – it can be a day or a week. We would like to say that the ‘walk of despair’ should only be temporary, but unless you do some of these things, it can extend. Prov 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” It is the same principle that applies here. If you stand alone you are vulnerable. If you have those who can be made aware of the battle and the subsequent weakness, you are on the way to recovery.

The ‘walk of despair’ is all about resources, or to be more precise, shortage of them. In your daily walk with God, when you are in the midst of the battle, those resources can run low. Listen to the apostle Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (2 Cor 1:8,9). Did you see that? “pressure, far beyond our ability to endure” Why does the Lord allow that? Listen to Paul again, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” (v.10,11). There it is, exactly as we were saying. This happens, share it, get prayer support to get to the Lord and “he will deliver.” Hallelujah!