Archive for July, 2012
I have this tendency, and I think it is a common tendency, to desire to pay for the price of my own sin. Whenever I sin against God, or make a mistake of some sort, and the guilt begins to set in, there is an immediate desire to fix my mistake. I do not think this is always a bad desire, because it is this same desire that causes us to ask for forgiveness and rebuild broken relationships. More often than not, however, my desire is not simply that – because it is often something done that cannot be undone – but it is a desire for penance.
Penance, as defined by Webster, is “The suffering, labor or pain to which a person voluntarily subjects himself, or which is imposed on him by authority as a punishment for his faults”. I have heard stories of Martin Luther, while he was still a monk, walking all day upon his knees in an attempt to atone for his sins. Others would sit upon tall poles; flogging was an equally proper technique. In the case of Martin Luther, however, nothing satisfied him. My form of penance was rather simple, but it was a forced distance from God. I would say, “Lord, I am not worthy to be in Your presence for what I have just done; I will avoid you, to pay for my mistake.” And like Luther before me, this never truly satisfied anything but my own pride.
There is a better way. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The problem with my “penance” is that it denied the fact that this verse tells us. God desired me to instantly come to Him, ask His forgiveness, and allow Him to cleanse me from all my unrighteousness. Instead, out of my desire for “penance”, I avoided the very source of my forgiveness. I have to forcefully remind myself of this fact.
I think the reason I must do this is that for me, and a great majority of mankind, we desire to work for our salvation. We want to feel like we have accomplished something on our own. This is a result of the Fall: we think, just like our parents Adam and Eve, we can become righteous on our own. Romans 4:4-5 tells us why this is a problem: “Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that works not, but believeth on Him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Penance becomes not a solution, then, but a problem. Our work to bring us back to God, whatever form it may take, becomes part of the debt that we owe for our sin. What God does not want are people who are independent from Him, able to be righteous on their own; that is, in fact, impossible. God desires those people who are wholly dependent upon Him, upon Christ, for their righteousness. A great hymn says:
“Could my tears forever flow;
Could my zeal no respite know;
These for sin could not atone.
Thou must save, and Thou alone!”
Christ is our righteousness. Instead of spiritually, mentally or even physically flogging ourselves, the moment we are convicted of our sin, let us draw near to the cleansing fountain, the blood of Christ. He will cleanse us from our unrighteousness. God is faithful to forgive; He will cast our sin are far as the east is from the west. He will not make us work for our righteousness, because He already has.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about physical fitness, namely, because many of my friends have been talking about it. On the positive side, it has greatly encouraged me to once again take up the mantle of working out on a semi-regular basis and try to live a healthier life. Some of my friends have been doing this through supplements, and it seems to have worked for them. I have been trying them as well, but to me, it didn’t feel quite right. It was then that God hit my mind with a thought.
How does the gospel relate to physical fitness and health? I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ relates to every area of our lives, not just whether or not we go to heaven. If that is true, then naturally, it must in some way relate to our health. Is physical fitness important to God? If so, how important is it, and why?
1. Our bodies belong to God
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Cor. 6:19-20
When a man becomes a Christian, he has effectively given his body over to Christ for His use in His Kingdom. It is only logical then that God can do whatever He wants with our bodies. Often, what He does is He reverses the sinful actions that we once did with our bodies, and returns them to His glorious purpose. This is why Paul says a few verses before this passage that we used to be idolatrous, lustful, thieving, murderous people (v. 11); but we are no more by the grace of God and the blood of Christ. Eyes that once looked upon women with sinful pleasure now see the needs of the broken world; hands that once stole or balled up into fists to fight now give out their strength and ability; hearts that once were exalted towards low, base, and vile things are now lifted up towards heaven.
So then, how does this relate to fitness and health? It is not uncommon knowledge that the citizens of the United States have something of a health problem. Where does this problem stem from? I believe it stems from the fact that…
2. Our bellies are our gods.
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things. Php. 3:18-19
I remember stumbling across this phrase, and it stood out to me. I will say that this phrase does refer to every kind of desire and appetite, such as our sexual appetite, but that does include our appetite for food. Perhaps it is because we are used to such good food. For whatever reason, we find it so easy to eat whatever pleases our bellies, even if it isn’t the best thing for our bodies. I understand that there are genuine health issues that prevent someone from losing weight, and these need to be combated on their own. However, for the average person, their problem is not that they are unable to lose weight; they are simply unwilling. I include myself in this. Far too often, I stuff myself to the brim, far beyond what I actually need. There are times when feasting may be appropriate, but there are also times for fasting. Our problem with food is then primarily a sin problem, and for any sin problem…
3. The Gospel is the solution
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. Rom. 6:6
Let us call our sin what it is: sin. Or you may call it by its proper name, gluttony. If you struggle with a desire for eating food, not to nourish your body (though of course this isn’t the only reason for eating; but that is for another post), but that you may satisfy an urge to excite your taste buds, then that is a sinful desire. There is nothing wrong with eating tasty food, let me make that clear. But just as God made sexual desire to be fulfilled in a proper context, so He created our appetite to be fulfilled in a proper context and a proper way. Too often we are addicted to our food. We need a Savior.
To put it simply: you need nothing but Jesus to become healthy. You do not need anything else, supplements of any sort. They may help and be a catalyst towards greater health, but your primary need is Jesus Christ. Through Christ, I have been set free from my need to fulfill my craving for food! I remind myself about this on an almost daily basis, but that does not lessen the power of the fact. Just as I have been set free from the need to lust after women, I have been set free from my need to lust after food.
Not only that, but Christ has kicked (and is kicking – sanctification) my laziness and slothfulness with the boot of grace. Is exercising for me painful? Yes, just like any mortal man; but unlike every mortal man, I have the grace of God behind me, to help me deny myself, and improve my body.
All this leads to a question: why do I exercise and improve my body?
4. For the Glory of God
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Cor. 10:31
And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you… But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. 1 Cor. 9:23, 27
For me, my main reason for working out is so that wherever God calls me to be, I will be ready to go. I have a desire to live in a third-world country in those conditions. In order to do so, my body must be ready for that if God calls me to do so. I have heard that one of the greatest causes of death among missionaries today is cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest typically happens only to those whose bodies are not ready to endure physical hardship. Therefore, I run to the glory of God, that, were He to call me far away, I would be ready. I repeat Paul in saying, “This I do for the gospel’s sake.” I want to be ready to spread the gospel.
I once took a fitness class under a very godly man. He told us at the very outset, “If you want to work out so that you can look cute, or look good, or fit in such and such clothes, or get big muscles, then you should not be in this class.” While those may be fine goals for the world, we are not of the world. Our goals must be for Jesus and Jesus alone, not for any selfish gain. Because…
5. In the end, physical fitness is not that important.
For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. 1 Tim. 4:8
Whereas there are many who struggle with gluttony and slothfulness, there are those that are addicted to the work out high and pride. Though God wants us to take care of the bodies He has given us, He does not want us to rely upon our own ability. That is the purpose of Paul’s exhortation. The profit, the gain, from physical fitness and health may in the now seem really great, and in some ways they really are; but in the end, it won’t matter how fit you were, if you missed the Center of the universe, Jesus Christ. Bodily exercise affects only our lives now; the pursuit of God affects today and all eternity. It’s simply a matter of far greater value.
It doesn’t matter if you are fit in this world if you are not “fit for the kingdom” (Luke 9:62). 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 tells us, “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” Few are called, because few see their need. Just as a prostitute may see her need for Christ before a priest, a muscle warrior may be blinder to his need than a glutton.
God does not care how buff you are; He cares about what is inside you. Eliab, the oldest son of Jesse, was probably physically much more worthy of the role of the King of Israel; yet the Lord rejected Him and chose David, the scruffy youngest brother. 10,000 men would have been much better to fight the Syrians for Gideon; yet God sent so many away there were only 300 left. God delights in taking those things that are weak and making them strong. Our inability is His opportunity for His ability.
To sum up: We must fight our sins, whether they be gluttony, laziness, or pride, with the grace God gives us. He has already won the victory in Christ. Our greatest need, in this life and in the next, is Christ and Christ alone.
It is a marvelous season of the year, and my life, as I have the joy and honor of seeing many of my friends happily becoming engaged or married. I have witnessed two weddings of very dear friends in this month alone, one of which was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been to. The chapel was gracefully decorated, paper lanterns of various shapes glowing blue. The wedding party entered, dressed in fine regalia, and the groom was beaming with joy of a dream come true. His youngest brother came in carrying a sign that read, “Here comes the bride!”
We all stood and turned our heads; it was as though an angel had appeared in our midst. Wearing white – the radiant fire of true purity – she shone in the light. The entire affair was pure loveliness, pure radiance, pure joy. The Light of the World shone through His beloved vessels that night.
The second wedding of the month was equally wonderful, but it felt different, unique. The bride appeared ethereal, and as we all stood gazing, the groom could not help but let a quick “Oh my goodness” escape his lips.
Then came the consummation of it all, when, after the vows had been said, the covenant had been affirmed, the pastor said, “You may now kiss your bride.” Oh, the beauty of pure love! I challenge any man who does not believe in magic to witness the purity and the happiness I saw as, somehow, two people are made into one flesh. This is something that the world cannot understand, for it is holy.
It is especially magical, knowing personally the bride and groom, and being intimate with their love story. The first groom is a man who has been my elder brother, a companion, and friend. The second, an intimate brother, one with whom I have fought alongside of, laughed alongside of, and cried alongside of. Their stories are both testimonies to the great grace and love of our God. As they both begin their lives together with their new spouses, I ask God to bless their unions. What God hath joined together, may no man break asunder.
Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 are some of the greatest and most beautiful verses on marriage in Scripture:
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
In the end, every Christian marriage is to be a parable of the love Christ has for His Church. A wedding ceremony in itself is a picture of this: The bride, dressed in white, cleansed and pure. They exchange a covenant, holy before God. The groom gives his life to his bride; the bride, in return, takes on the groom’s name, and will forever be known by him. They came in separate; they leave as one. This parable known as marriage will one day end, for it is but a shadow of what is to come. And imagine – if the shadow is glorious, how much more the fullness!
Has there ever been a moment when you were reading, and a phrase or a sentence jumped out at you from the page and grabbed your eye like a fish hook? Sometimes it is due to incongruity (“What in the world is that doing there?”), but I speak more of the sort where something is so congruous, so poignant, that you simply cannot help but pause and stand to attention. This happened to me as I was reading the fourth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Quoting Psalm 68, he writes,
“Wherefore he saith, ‘When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
One phrase in that hit me in the eye: He led captivity captive. The poetry, the imagery, the psalmist painted and the apostle emphasized is incredible. This is a profound verse, and in it, the entire gospel is contained.
When he ascended up on high – Paul continues in the next couple verses to make statements about Christ, saying, “Now he that ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” Thus we see a picture in Christ’s ascension first of His descension. He left His heavenly home, and all the glories therein, that He might descend to the earth and live life as a man. Living a perfect life, He was crucified on the cross, taking upon Himself the holy wrath of God against sin. Dead, He was buried in the earth; but not for all time. Three days later, He burst forth in glorious day, defeating death once and for all. Some days later, He ascended into heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, far above all principalities and powers, and above every name that was named. All this is the glorious ascension of Christ.
He – This is He, Jesus, the Christ, fully God yet fully man. He, the One who gave His life for sinful man, who then ascended up, is the one spoken of here as a conquering King. For…
… Led captivity – What is the captivity that Paul speaks of? Looking back through the ages, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden. There a decision was made by the first man and woman that has affected us throughout the eons. Not only did Adam and Eve sin, but we sinned in them. Mankind has gone on sinning, rebelling against the order and law set up by Almighty God. There is no one who is even near righteous. Because of our willing rebellion, we are in captivity to our sin, and thus, to death: for the wages of sin is death. Our flesh is in control; our sin is rampant; even when we attempt to do well, it stinks to God. We are, all our days in bondage to sin. Not only that, we are under the domain of the Enemy of God, the Devil, kept within the kingdom of darkness, from which there is no escape. Unless…
… Captive – Oh, what glory, what triumph is in these words! Taken together, when Jesus rose again and ascended, He led a glorious parade of all that held us captive. Like the conquerors of yore, He led the Slave Masters known as Sin and Death in fetters. He absolutely defeated, once and for all, the enemy of our souls, taking them in open shame. The wrath of God was poured out, and sin was atoned for; the stone before the tomb was blasted away, and death’s sting was squashed; Christ ascended upon high, and all else was put under His feet. He has led captivity captive! All that once stood over us as our masters – Lust, Envy, Pride, Anger, Fear, Anxiety, Depression, Loneliness, Bitterness, Greed, to name a few – has now been defeated. All that stood between us and our Creator has been dealt with. No more does it have power over us, for He is our Lord and Savior. But the glory does not end there…
… And he gave gifts unto men – The gifts which God has given us are numerous, perhaps greater that I can number. Principally, we have been given the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God within us. As all that stood between us and God has been removed by Jesus, God now comes and dwells within us. We have also been given the grace of God, receiving that which we do not deserve. Not only saving grace, but a working grace too: for in the context of this verse, the gifts which God has given us are gifts for ministering. Specifically named are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Not all of us are called to the same position; but we have all been given the grace of God to spread the good news of His kingdom and to build up the body of Christ. The purpose of these gifts, given to the once captive, is to set other captives free, and to strengthen the Army-Family known as the Church for the battle for the glory of God.
That poetic phrase, “He has led captivity captive”, is one that I pray I keep close. For in certain moments, it can feel that I am once again in captivity to my old masters. It seems that the fish hook of temptation is stuck deeply within my heart, and I cannot but help to obey. No longer: because of the work of God, I can take that hook out, and allow the grace of God to pull me towards Himself. For that is the goal of all this: to bring us back to Himself. He led captivity captive, that we may be captive to His grace.
Apologies for no posts in a while. I have been away, enjoying myself at youth camp, vacation, and a friend’s wedding in Colorado. Posts shall come forthwith, Lord willing.