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.

Finding Encouragement within Suffering: a reflection on Hebrews 12

drought

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? (Hebrews 12:7)

Be encouraged: God disciplines His children because He loves them. Do not lose heart amidst your suffering. Instead, endure it sustained by the truth that God is lovingly at work even here.

We can fight against our suffering, and it may have some good effect, particularly if we face unjust suffering from external forces. However, fighting against our circumstances is different than fighting against God. We must internally and spiritually submit ourselves to God for training in righteousness, even if we legitimately wrestle with our circumstances.

We could give up in the face of our suffering, simply throwing in the towel by passively surrendering to what is happening. This most often happens when we feel we are powerless to change our circumstances. Still, this powerlessness to outside circumstances is different than our inner spiritual submission to God amidst our circumstances. Even if apparently powerless, we still have power to yield our lives to God so that He might grow us amidst our suffering. Although sometimes powerless to change our situation, God still releases His power in us as we surrender to Him, changing us to become more like Christ.

At other times, we are powerless to change our circumstances but do have power to remove ourselves from those circumstances. This takes great discernment because we must constantly yield to God so that He might have His way in us. Sometimes choosing to change our circumstances is best for our safety or our growth. At other times leaving our circumstances may actually circumvent what God wants to develop in our lives through challenging circumstances or suffering.

In our suffering-averse culture we do well to thoroughly consider whether we are listening more to God than we are listening to ourselves when considering leaving tough circumstances. We do not want to miss out on His best work in our lives. As James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

It isn’t easy to discern when we should choose fight or flight. However, amidst it all we should always choose spiritually to yield to God so that He might have His way in growing us to full maturity in Christ, even through suffering and trials. We will not grow in Christ without facing hardships and challenges. We will not gain wisdom apart from navigating tough and trying experiences which take us beyond what we already know and understand. Still, w will not make our way through these challenges well with Christ if we do not daily remember God’s love for us as a good father even in the midst of suffering.

3 Simple Practices to Help us Grow to Look Like Jesus

hands folded

This past Sunday at Eastbrook I preached on the sufficiency of Christ from Hebrews 10:1-18 in a message entitled “Sufficient.” You can view that message below or here. Near the end of the message, I reflected on what the sufficiency of Christ means for us.

One of the most important aspects of Christ’s sufficient work is described in Hebrews 10:14:

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

We are being made holy, or divinely cleansed from top to bottom through the sufficient work of Christ. We cannot do this ourselves, but Jesus does it. He takes our lives in His hands and transforms us to become more like Him, which is essentially what it means to be made holy.

Now, this requires us to yield our lives to Him. We do this once to begin the journey, something some of us may describe as “giving our life to Christ” or “being born again” or such things. That is so important, but it is also merely the beginning of the journey with Christ. To use Paul’s language, we are justified by faith in Christ, but we most also be sanctified in Christ. We are sanctified or made holy in an ongoing way.

Let me share three simple practices I have found helpful for this in my own life. The first is to take some time every year to dedicate our lives and our calendar to God. Since I have been in college it has been my practice to take some time around the new year—an hour, a day, or more—to annually consecrate my life to God. Consecration simply means that we are setting our lives apart for God’s use. So, I will lay out before God my calendar, my goals, my relationships, and every area of my life so that He can have His way in me. I am basically saying, “Lord, I want to become more like Jesus—more holy—through you this year.”

Along with this is the second practice of daily consecration to the Lord. Many people talk about having a “quiet time” with God each day. This is basically our time of being still and in solitude with God, as Jesus did in the Gospels. What I will do is spend time reading Scripture, praying, and journaling before then opening my calendar for the day and dedication my day to God. I will say something like this, “Lord, I give you each of these appointments and ask that You would have Your way in them. I know that you may want to interrupt my day, and I yield to You for that. Help me to pay attention to Your interruptions. Use me for Your glory and shape me to be more like Jesus through this day.”

A third practice is moment by moment consecration. We are not just meant to dedicate our lives to God once in a lifetime or once a year or once per day. Instead, we are invited to walk with God through our days. In this practice, we return in our thoughts regularly to God, letting Him know that we are His and He can have His way in us. I often do this by praying the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer, “let Your kingdom come and let Your will be done” in me. When I experience joy in my day, I will return in my inner life to God and express gratitude to God for His good gifts. When I experience trouble or tension in my day, I return in my thoughts to God, asking Him to make me more holy through this experience or to use me to bring His goodness, grace, and truth into the circumstances.

Annually, daily, and moment-by-moment consecration to God is an important overflow of God’s grace in our lives. Obviously, this is not something that we do to win God’s favor or to make ourselves right with God. Only Jesus does that through His once-for-all sufficient sacrifice. However, in response to the costly gift of grace in Christ, we yield our lives to God so that Christ’s work might have its way in us “who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14).