Posts Tagged Sin

Taking Captivity Captive

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.

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On the Unwrapping of Gifts

Over the months I have been working my job (I work at a place for birthday parties), I have probably seen close to a thousand presents unwrapped. When I look into the trash cans and see the colorful array of torn paper, sometimes I think, “What a waste.”

It took a personal experience for me to understand why we love to wrap gifts. The thought hit me once more as I wrapped a gift for someone about five minutes before I left to go to their house and see them unwrap it. Since she would have it unwrapped very soon, it seemed to be just frivolous, especially since I was already in a hurry.

When she unwrapped it, however, and saw what it was, her eyes alighted and a broad smile spread across her face. A gasp escaped her lips, along with a quiet, “Wow.” That was all it took to ruin me; my pessimistic attitude towards gifts was undone. In that moment a powerful picture began to form in my mind. That tiny bit of time, in which she unwrapped the gift, contained all the emotions of wonder, joy, and gratefulness.

We wrap gifts because we want to see that moment when the recipient’s eyes light up, especially if it is entirely unexpected. Gifts express the joy of life, the bright of dawn. We cannot decide what type of gift we receive (we can, in a sense; but in the end, it is always out of our control). We do not expect to have to “pay back” anyone for a gift, though sometimes human compulsion causes us to. The only question I do not know the answer to is, who receives the greatest joy – the gifted or the giver?

As I thought about these heavenly realities, the powerful words of the apostle Paul came to mind:

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Eph. 2:8-9

As I thought about that moment, filled with awe and joy, I thought back to when I realized what the grace of God truly was. A couple summers ago, I was talking to a brother about some things I was struggling with. He exhorted me in the plainest, yet most profound of ways: “Brother – you are in Christ. These things have no hold over you!” I paused; in that moment God’s Spirit came to me and showed me what His grace was for me. My friend’s words were true; sin had no more grip on me, because God had given me the gift of grace. Within me welled up joy unspeakable, and it would have been very appropriate if I had leapt up and down and done a wild jig, dancing as David before the Lord.

I am not advocating a faith based on feelings; our faith is based on the Rock of Christ, and it is immovable, no matter what our feelings may be. However, we should be profoundly affected by the gift of grace. Just think about what God has done for us. All throughout Ephesians, Paul tells us what we were without Christ’s grace:

“Dead in trespasses and sins… children of disobedience… by nature children of wrath… without Christ… aliens and strangers… without hope… without God in the world…”

We were all this and more. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, has quickened [enlivened] us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved)…”

Think with me for a moment about this great gift. When I see what it is, it fills me with deep wonder, bounding joy, and a depth of gratefulness. However, it does not end with one “unwrapping”; there is something wonderful about this gift of grace. Rather, there is something very wonderful about the Giver of this great gift: He is Eternal. When I discovered the grace of God in a new way two years ago, that was not the last time – He has brought me back to the wonders of that singular gift again and again. Because God and His grace are eternal, we can never finish with them. We must unwrap them day by day, discovering new and deeper truths than we ever have before, and living a fuller life in Christ.

And that is the goal of the gift of grace; eternal life in Christ. In His words, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).” He is our life here and now and for all eternity. He is the only Life. And because we have been brought into His grace, we can enjoy Him more and more every day.

“For the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” – John Piper

If you have not experienced the grace of God, or are simply curious about more of my thoughts on anything, please comment. I would love to hear from you. 

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The Problem with “Civilized” Christianity

I’m sitting outside on my front porch, listening to the sound of rolling thunder and falling rain. It is one of my favorite things to experience, and perhaps my favorite type of weather. The rain calms me, reminding me of that poetic passage in Isaiah, “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and waters the earth… and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it might give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be… it shall not return to me void.” I love rain; but that is not the subject of this post. This post is one that is more like the thunder, the holiness of God.

As I was reading G.K. Chesterton’s grand Father Brown detective stories, I came across an interesting idea (often in these stories, Chesterton sneaks in theological quips). A criminologist was asking the old priest how he had caught so many villains, for by this time Brown was famous for his unique ability to seek out the criminal. Father Brown simply replies, “Well, you see, it’s because I murdered all those people.”

He does not mean this literally, however. What Father Brown is getting at is the fact that he can understand why someone would murder another man, why they would so desperately long after a precious stone. He compares it to a child’s desire for some sweet or candy, bringing them to point of pilfering it for themselves. When the priest is able to put himself in the thief or murderer’s position, he is able to find them with ease, saying, “If I had been in his position, and had nothing better than his philosophy, heaven alone knows what I might have done. That is just where this little religious exercise is so wholesome.”

The man he is speaking with asks him if that would give him a higher tolerance of crime. Brown goes on to say, “I know it does just the opposite. It solves the whole problem of time and sin. It gives a man his remorse beforehand… You may think a crime horrible because you could never commit it. I think it horrible because I could commit it.”

This brings me to the subject of this writing, the problem with civilized Christianity. By civilized I mean that type of Christianity into which we have been born today, particularly in the South of the United States, but it includes much of Western Christendom. This is not to say that anyone born into a Christian home is at odds; it is simply an idea that has been put into Christianity – or perhaps I should say “lost”.

Paul the Apostle wrote in Romans 3, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”

So often we forget that this verse applies to us. We forget the gravity of our sin; I will honestly say that I don’t think I know the weight of my own sin. We must understand that not only have we done wicked things (and if you don’t think that you have, you do not know yourself), but that we are wicked to the very core. We are all criminals, murderers, thieves, down to the depths of our hearts. Paris Reidhead aptly puts it in calling us, “Monsters of iniquity.” This is what we are, outside of grace.

This is also why Father Brown is such an effective detective. He understands this idea, that we are at heart criminals. He understands that, in such a place, we might do the very same, if not worse. In one particular case, Father Brown has just revealed to a group of “civilized” Christians that the man they thought had slain someone in a duel was actually a treacherous, cold-blooded murderer. Father Brown’s rebuke to them is thus:

“There is,” said Father Brown dryly; “and that is the real difference between human charity and Christian charity. You must forgive me if I was not altogether crushed by your contempt for my uncharitableness to-day; or by the lectures you read me about pardon for every sinner. For it seems to me that you only pardon the sins that you don’t really think sinful. You only forgive criminals when they commit what you don’t regard as crimes, but rather as conventions. So you tolerate a conventional duel, just as you tolerate a conventional divorce. You forgive because there isn’t anything to be forgiven.”

“But, hang it all,” cried Mallow, “you don’t expect us to be able to pardon a vile thing like this?”

“No,” said the priest; “but we have to be able to pardon it.”

He stood up abruptly and looked round at them.

“We have to touch such men, not with a bargepole, but with a benediction,” he said. “We have to say the word that will save them from hell. We alone are left to deliver them from despair when your human charity deserts them. Go on your own primrose path pardoning all your favourite vices and being generous to your fashionable crimes; and leave us in the darkness, vampires of the night, to console those who really need consolation; who do things really indefensible, things that neither the world nor they themselves can defend; and none but a priest will pardon. Leave us with the men who commit the mean and revolting and real crimes; mean as St. Peter when the cock crew, and yet the dawn came.”

“The dawn,” repeated Mallow doubtfully. “You mean hope — for him?”

“Yes,” replied the other. “Let me ask you one question. You are great ladies and men of honour and secure of yourselves; you would never, you can tell yourselves, stoop to such squalid reason as that. But tell me this. If any of you had so stooped, which of you, years afterwards, when you were old and rich and safe, would have been driven by conscience or confessor to tell such a story of yourself? You say you could not commit so base a crime. Could you confess so base a crime?”

We must remember not just who we are in grace, but who we were apart from it. This is Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 2:11 – remember who you were, that you might impart grace to those who have none. We must not proudly vaunt ourselves over and against our fellow men. We must have the words of Christ on our lips, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.”

And in all this, the rain and thunder walk run together. The thunder cries from heaven against our crimes; the rain cleansing us from them. And both come from heaven.

 

The two stories I referenced:
http://wikilivres.info/wiki/The_Secret_of_Father_Brown/The_Chief_Mourner_of_Marne

http://wikilivres.info/wiki/The_Secret_of_Father_Brown/The_Secret_of_Flambeau

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Dripping Red

Lately I have been meditating on the death of Christ and all that achieved for us, particularly the aspect of cleansing by blood. Perhaps that is why one particular line from the new film The Avengers struck me in a unique way. One of the main characters, known as Black Widow, has been a spy and an assassin in the past. She has killed numerous people, purposefully and perhaps accidentally. Because of this, the main villain mocks her, “You don’t just have red on your record; your record is dripping in blood. And you think repaying some small debt will change that?” Later, she confesses to another hero, “My record is dripping with red. And I want it cleared.”

This thought struck me: we all have records dripping with blood. It reminded me of Romans 3:

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

And again, in Isaiah 64:

“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”

I highly doubt any of you have been undercover spies for Russia and have assassinated multiple people. Neither have I. However, the simple truth of Scripture remains as this: we are all, without the aid of Christ and God, unrighteous. Our records are black with sin and rebellion against the Most High, and we deserve to be punished. Think with me about this for a moment. You and I both deserve the full weight of the punishment of God.

However, God has not left us in this miserable state with a bloodstained record. He says to ancient Israel, and to us all, in Isaiah 1: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

How is this accomplished? In ancient Israel, God laid down a law that said that all sins must be atoned for by blood. This process is very vividly described in the book of Leviticus. A bull or ram had to be offered; otherwise your sin was upon your own head and your blood was on your own hands. All these sacrifices were merely shadows of God’s original plan to permanently remove the stain of sin from our record. Thus, at just the right time, God came in the flesh, in the form of a child, Jesus, the Messiah.

Paul tells us of this marvelous mystery of redemption in Romans:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God…”

Can you see it? Though our record drips with blood; though our hearts are black with sin; though we deserve the wrath of God as punishment; God has not abandoned us. Our record can be made clean; our hearts can be purged from the black of sin; we can be at peace with God, our Creator and Redeemer. How is this accomplished? Through the poured out blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Dear friends, if you are in Christ, then you have been made pure in God’s sight! That should be enough to make us weep with joy. Isaiah speaks this beautifully in 61, which testifies of the Messiah, Jesus:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound… to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness… I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…”

We have been clothed in the very righteousness of Christ and through that have been reconciled unto God. When God looks upon us, He does not see our sin, but righteousness. Our record has been cleared, as though it never happened. This is not license to sin; far be it from me to take advantage of this unspeakable gift I have been given! No, this is all the more reason for me to live a life pleasing to God! If God sees me as pure, I want to be pure! I want to be purged inside and out from my sin!

Dear friends, do not take the blood of Christ for granted. It is not to be handled lightly. If you stand in Christ today, listen no longer to the lies of the enemy that say, “You’re impure, and you’ll always be impure, and there’s nothing that you can do about it.” Yes, we cannot do anything; but praise God, we don’t have to, because God Himself has already done it!

And if you stand outside of Christ, or if you have never thought this way before, then come to Christ. Let your cry be the same as King David’s: Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” Through Christ, you can be reconciled to God. You will be guilty no longer. Hear His words to the adulteress:

“Woman, where are your accusers? has no man condemned you?”

She said, “No man, Lord.”

And Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

This song has been the meditation of my heart. Sit for a moment and just think on all God has done for us, and let that overflow your heart into praise: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WpQA9ybz8c

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