Living Now in the Freedom and Victory of Christ

The Apostle John tells us that at His first appearing, Christ won a tremendous victory for God. This present victory has so many different aspects, but the two most important are these:

  • “You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins” (1 John 3:5)
  • “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (3:8b)

Jesus is both the atoning sacrifice for our sins and the victorious conqueror over the powers of evil. Because of this great work in Christ, and our identity as God’s children, as disciples of Christ we can live now in freedom from sin and victory over the devil and his works.

John specifically calls the believers to not be led astray in this. If God is our Father, if we are born of God and children of God, then our lives—our everyday actions and words—should reflect this new identity. If we have been set free from sin, then we should not return to enslave ourselves to it.

If Jesus has the victory over the devil, then we should not put ourselves into his service again. Our way of life—our lifestyle – should reflect who we are. And so, we should not look like the devil:

  • “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (3:6)
  • Such a person “does what is sinful” (3:8), “does not do what is right” (3:10), and “does not love their brother or sister” (3:10)

John says that’s not the way that children of God speak, act, or carry themselves. Instead, children of God look like God is their Father. Such a person:

  • “Does what is righteous, just as [God] is righteous” (3:7)
  • “Cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (3:9)

As the old saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Our spiritual lives are anchored in the love of God and our identity as children of God. This identity is at the core of our being. It is not intended to be an informational reality but a transformational reality. And our lives, based in that new reality, should reflect the character of God.

How do we do that? Well, there are several examples found in the Scripture, but one of the easiest to grasp is found in Ephesians 4, where Paul is instructing the believers on how to live their lives for and with God. Paul writes:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

We must choose to take off the old self—the self controlled by sin and deceitful desires—the self that looks more like the devil. We must daily, even moment by moment, choose to take that way of living off.

We must have the attitude of our minds renewed. Actually the Greek conveys the sense of a renewing of the mind by the Spirit. We must let the truth of God become an inwardly transforming truth by the Holy Spirit’s power. We must know who we are in a deep way and be controlled by the Holy Spirit,  not by whatever changing winds tries to influence our spirit.

We must then put on the new self—the self that arises from knowing who we are and is sustained by the indwelling presence of God—and live by God’s power in God’s righteousness and holiness.

All in all, this journey of spiritual formation is a daily way of living that is centered in God’s truth and empowered by God’s presence as we moment-by-moment decide against sin and decide for God. The transformational knowledge that we are children of God practically changes how we live each day—we grow to look more like God our Father.

July 4th: 4 Considerations for the Church

As we celebrate the independence of our nation, here are four thoughts that we would do well to consider as believers in the United States.

  1. Remember: When we come to July 4th, we remember. We remember our history as a nation; we remember sacrifices given over time; we remember who we are as Americans. The concept of remembering is important. It is important to remember good things, so that we might not take them for granted. It is also important to remember things that are not good, that we might work toward change on them. As an increasingly rootless society with little to no sense of our past, we need to move into the future and face the present in light of our past. Memory is important for us as people. July 4th gives us a time to stand in the living memory of our nation. It is a practice that should be normal for those of us who consider ourselves Christians. As Christians we are called to run the race of life within that “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)—the saints past, present, and future who have gone before us. We need to remember who we are.
  2. We Are Citizen Exiles: As we live on earth, we are legally citizens of specific nations and states. I am a citizen of the United States of America. I am thankful for the many benefits I enjoy as a citizen of this country, while also recognizing the shortcomings of our country. I work for change where it is needed, and I also savor what is good. However, as the Apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle, we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11). Even though we are legally citizens of certain countries on earth, we will never truly belong here. Because the great confession of the Christian faith is “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9), we also remember, as Paul writes elsewhere, that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).  So, as we mark this holiday with fellow citizens of the United States, we do well to also remember to live in the tension as citizens of heaven whose primary allegiance is to King Jesus and ultimate home is in the presence of God.
  3. Seek the Common Good: When the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Israelites in Babylon, he gave these instructions: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). Although we are citizen-exiles, we exist here for God’s glory by seeking the common good of the city and nation in which we live. We do not belong here, but we must steward our lives here to the glory of God and the benefit of those around us. Our nation, the United States of America, is the place where God has ‘exiled’ those of us who are citizens of it. We honor God when we seek the common good of this place. The common good is developed by recognizing the benefits and shortcomings of this nation, and seeking to bring them to all equitably. We fail to honor God when we seek only our own benefit and not the benefit of releasing the resources God has given us into the community around us.
  4. Celebrate True Freedom: As we mark the freedom we enjoy as a self-governing democracy in this nation, we must simultaneously not lose sight of the fact that political freedoms—even freedom of religion—cannot compare to the true freedom that we experience as followers of Christ. Paul writes to the Galatian church, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). Paul is speaking to that early gathering of believers about the essential spiritual freedom we experience through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While many of the early disciples and contemporaries of Jesus expected Him to institute a new earthly kingdom, He instead started a revolutionary movement of living free with God in the fully available Kingdom of God. Any celebration of freedom within our nation is small compared to the boisterous celebration of freedom available in Jesus Christ for now and unto eternity.

The Weekend Wanderer: 27 June 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Vince Bacote CT“Another Run at Freedom” – From Vince Bacote: “Many minorities would rather talk about anything else. We would much prefer to converse over the joy of sports, music, cinema, the beauty of nature, and many other topics. But many feel like we have to keep bringing up the topic of race, often in an exhausting effort to get other Christians to see that our concerns are not imaginary. From the personal to the public domain, we keep talking to pursue a life of flourishing in the church and society. There remains not only a need to say, ‘Racism is part of reality’ but also, ‘We need to construct paths toward fruitful life together in this world.'”


Warner Sallman - Head of Christ“How Jesus became white — and why it’s time to cancel that” – One of the greatest challenges in our faith is not to merely see Jesus and Christianity through the eyes of our own culture or personal perspective. The current moment has brought that challenge into heated focus around depictions of Jesus as white. As A. W. Tozer wrote in Knowledge of the Holy, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” In some ways, this is true with the literal pictures we have in our minds of what God looks like or what Jesus looks like. While I don’t necessarily with the framing of this current situation or cancel culture, this article by Emily McFarlan Miller at RNS highlights some of the current discussion points and challenge areas.


Jon Tyson - Portals of Belonging“Portals of Belonging” – Jon Tyson, Pastor of Church of the City in New York, writes about hospitality: “I couldn’t help but think how different New York would be if these portals of welcome became normal. If they broke out in taxis and on trains and in office buildings and in parks and everywhere in between. And of course, it’s not just New York that’s in need of hospitality. Alan Hirsch, a missiologist and fellow Aussie, and Lance Ford, a missional church leader, wrote, ‘If every Christian family in the world simply offered good conversational hospitality around a table once a week to neighbors, we would eat our way into the kingdom of God.’ Encounter by encounter, hospitality would deconstruct fear and reconstruct a shared humanity.”


President-Robert-Briggs“American Bible Society Names Robert L. Briggs as President and CEO” – “American Bible Society, one of the nation’s most enduring nonprofit organizations, announced today that Robert L. Briggs has been appointed as president and CEO of the 204-year-old Bible ministry. Briggs, who served most recently as interim president and CEO following the retirement of Roy L. Peterson, has served at and led American Bible Society through various leadership roles for nearly 20 years.”


DACA Supreme Court“Priest Balances Christian Conviction and Legal Strategy in DACA Case” –  Here’s one from last week that didn’t make it into last weekend’s edition: “Among the thousands of immigrant Christians, church leaders, and advocates praying for a victory in this week’s US Supreme Court decision on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), one was an Episcopal priest on the team who worked on the case. Armando Ghinaglia is himself a DACA recipient, a native of Venezuela who was raised in Texas. A curate at Christ Church New Haven and a law student at Yale, Ghinaglia worked for the Connecticut legal clinic that argued against the Trump administration’s rationale for rescinding DACA in 2017. The Supreme Court ruled in its favor on Thursday.”


_113093310_d0e8e9a3-d0c5-4bce-9387-9c49a83bed81“Massive Saharan dust cloud shrouds the Caribbean” – In the midst of other challenging moments in our world, I heard from a friend about this unique weather pattern moving from the Sahara toward the Caribbean. From the BBC: “A huge cloud of Saharan dust has darkened the skies over parts of the Caribbean. The dust has been moving from Africa over the Atlantic Ocean. On Sunday it reached Puerto Rico and has since covered Cuba and parts of Mexico. The Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique are suffering their worst haze for at least a decade, and health officials in Cuba are warning it could increase respiratory problems. The dust cloud is also affecting parts of southern Florida, including the city of Miami.”


Bethel College“Dozens of Christian College Faculty Eliminated in Spring Budget Cuts” – From Christianity Today:”Five evangelical Christian colleges and universities have eliminated more than 150 faculty and staff positions this spring. While some officials cite COVID-19 as the reason for the cuts, most say the financial reckoning comes in response to the ongoing crisis of higher education and their efforts to prepare for the future.”


Music: Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, “Summertime,” from Porgy and Bess

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Spiritual Freedom and Religious Captivity: thoughts from Galatians 5

prison

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery….You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Galatians 5:1, 13)

Here we find a core lie the Galatians had bought into: that we can earn our way to God through religious activity or add something to God’s grace by doing the right actions.

Paul knows that this is a dead end. In fact, he dramatically says this in Galatians 5:4, “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ” (5:4). This has been a theme of the letter, and Paul is telling them that this lie will lead them off track. You cannot earn your way to God and you cannot add to the sufficiency of Christ. So, Paul writes at the beginning of this section of the letter: “Do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1).

On August 23, 1973, Jan Erik Olsson, attempted to hold up a bank in Stockholm, Sweden. When the police showed up, Olsson took four people as hostages and a stand-off with police followed, lasting six days. At one point during the standoff, Olsson called Sweden’s Prime Minister to say that he would kill the hostages. He put one of the hostages on the phone and she said to the prime minister, “I am very disappointed in you…I think you are sitting here playing with lives.” Despite Olsson’s threats, many of the hostages decided they felt safer with the bad guy than with the police. Some hostages actually resisted rescue attempts and later refused to testify against their captor. Now, whenever you hear news of a hostage who identifies more with their captors than their rescuers that condition is referred to as the Stockholm Syndrome. Many years afterwards, one of the hostages said, “It’s some kind of a context you get into when all your values, the morals you have, change in some way.”

Sometimes this happens to us as we consider life in Jesus Christ. We get so confused about what is freedom and what is captivity that we live in a lie. We begin to think, “It cannot be so simple that God takes upon Himself all the cost. I must do something to earn His grace. I must add something to the work of Christ.” But this is just a spiritual version of the Stockholm syndrome.

We have been set free at great cost, and we do not need to return to captivity to find life. Instead, we must face into this core lie if we are going to live the free life that God intends through Jesus Christ.