Avoiding the trap — when life pushes us towards sin
Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… Romans 6:1-2, 6-7
Earlier we considered Jeremiah’s dilemma, experiencing “insult and reproach all day long”. And he ponders how to respond in a God-honouring way, and the temptation to react by refusing to speaking out any more: “If I say, ‘I will not mention His word or speak any more in His name…’ “
For Jeremiah, identified by God before birth to represent him, NOT to speak out would have been apparently wise, quite understandable, a reasonable choice – and knowingly disobedient. Not have been the most obvious sin in the book — but it is the more nuanced forms of disobedience which often trip us up.
Jesus’ teaching about the persecution and conflict that would follow His disciples reveals a subtle sin that the enemy sets up for us, and then uses in accusation. It is simply lack of trust. Being constrained by fear, rather than being led by the Holy Spirit, is a reaction rather than a measured response. Jesus emphasises repeatedly: “Don’t be afraid”.
The old reactions are ingrained — getting angry, finding someone to blame, saying the wrong things — and ignoring God rather than listening and trusting. But, as Paul says, the old reactions belong to the old self.
This is an encouragement to choose to respond, with God, rather than react independently from God. That way, we avoid giving the devil a foothold, a way into our thought-life and life generally, Ephesians 4:27.
Matthew 10:28, 34-36, 38 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword… … “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”
Jesus was pretty up-front about the reality of hostile reactions — not everybody sees the Good News as good for them, especially if it threatens their status quo in some way.
Even families, He said, would be divided about what He represented.
Saying that He did not come to bring peace presents us with a problem. What, then, He did come to bring?
Foretold as the “Prince of Peace” with government on His shoulders1, Jesus was announced as Saviour and Messiah by an angel accompanied by a heavenly host praising God for the One bringing peace to those on who His favour rests2.
This is a fundamental truth and expectation — that “The Lord blesses His people with peace”3. In His final long discourse to the disciples, He promised them: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you… not… as the world gives”4.
But there’s a clue in the “not as the world gives” phrase, easily overlooked. So let’s look at it.
Peace with God is taking a position against the one who opposes God. Peace with God by definition is a rejection of Satan and his control — and that puts up a target for all the retributions Satan is known for, like confusion, conflict and slander.
Wind back the story three years and we have Jesus fasting alone in the wilderness, and having a series of encounters with Satan5. In the third and final of these confrontations, Satan shows Him “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour”6, and he goes on to say, that if Jesus would worship him (Satan) instead of His Father, he would (so he said – but he is is a liar on every occasion) allow Jesus control of those power structures.
There’s a lot of power and control in the world’s systems and institutions where sin, corruption and lack of submission to God puts them at the disposal of the devil. These might be human kings or rulers, and they might even be religious leaders — the Temple and Sanhedrin council was a case in point — but Satan had all he needed to pull their strings and use them for harm, and not for good. We see this same strategy today.
Jesus the Prince of Peace and proclaimer of justice to the nations7 is resurrected and ascended to heaven as Lord of Lords and also as Great High Priest. So our allegiance and deference to Jesus — just by itself — stands in opposition to every strand of ungodly control and corrupt administration, in the world or, sadly, in the less spiritual and more institutional dimensions of Christian religion..
Why does that mean His disciples will encounter conflict rather than His peace?
Many people will receive Him and respond to His love and the grace of His acceptance. However some will react against to the Lordship dimension of this.
Jesus in you or me — the Holy Spirit one with our human spirit — will stir up opposition from every spirit that is not submitted to Him. It is an unseen, unspoken, spiritual stand-off.
The mention of Jesus, as well as the presence of Jesus, brings into focus the reality of two spiritual kingdoms which are opposed. The kingdom of darkness is exposed by Jesus’ kingdom of light. Jesus taught about the “strong man’s house” and Satan’s kingdom,8 and went on to say, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me”,9. With Jesus, the common philosophy of the world is overturned: everything is not relative, there no middle ground, there exists no variety of paths to the truth. It is light or darkness, Him or the enemy of our souls!
That said, Jesus as Lord confers peace, wholeness, spiritual prosperity and inner joy on to those who are His. It is like joining a regiment on the front line: being shot at by the enemy is what happens — but this is a uniquely well supported and equipped regiment, led personally by the most highly decorated and personable commanding officer, who also has an unmatched record of victory.
“..The word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long… All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, ‘Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will… take our revenge on him’. But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior, so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail… Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked!”
Politicians live in the tension of opinion polls and election results, trying to represent everyone and also attempting to keep the voters on-side…
Someone of my acquaintance who has a somewhat prophetic dimension to his ministry wrote recently under the heading “Is the Lord telling us we don’t need church buildings any more?”
His point was about the good lessons and new focus on being Christians in the community that has come through the present restrictions. To go back to the former routine with no lessons learned, no new practices gained, would be a tragedy, he suggests. Not a popular message!
I heard today on the radio a minister – or ‘priest’ – of one of the more formal traditions explaining that the church building was consecrated with ‘a golden thread’ and was where the reserved sacrament and so the presence of the Lord was to be found. A special place, essential, and so permission to return was vital.
I am more of a marketplace person. My experience has been that a ‘holy person’ performing ‘holy actions’ in a ‘holy building’ can present quite a barrier — well, three barriers in fact — to people who don’t feel for all sorts of reasons, that they belong there!
Added to which I have been hearing the Lord say, for a couple of years now, “I am doing a new thing…”. So to go back to buildings and formality and exclusivity and access through another person doesn’t seem to me to be “a new thing” at all.
This will be an unwelcome line of argument for many who find peace and solace in a historic place of worship (as I have on many occasions). And it may appear threatening to those whose identity is bound up in the role and the building. So this is inviting the insult and reproach that came to Jeremiah.
Most of us are not politicians or even public figures, but we still want to be people-pleasers. We want people to like us, and agree with us. We are shy of conflict.
But sometimes the Lord puts a word on our heart1 which is not the popular view. It may not be ‘politically correct’ or within the current ‘woke’ way of looking at the world. It might not be right… but if it is, if it is a word from the Lord, what do we do with it?
You may not see yourself as a preacher or a writer but you are still a person of influence within your own circle. Possibly even more so at times of tension and risk and lockdown. And what the Lord has impressed on you, in your quiet times and reading the Word, may not be the obvious ways to ‘win friends and influence people’, even if you have the wisdom to share it humbly and in a loving way.
Like Jeremiah, we are responsible for being faithful to what we know to be true, or what we understand to be our hearing of God’s truth of the moment.
Jeremiah said (v.9) “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones – I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot!” And then we will find ourselves, as Jesus said in the same context but much later on, “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me [but]… whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.”2
To be born again3 is losing one’s life – the old life. And there are facets of that old life, like being popular with everyone, that might need to die some more. When we lay down what matters to us, we pick up the kingdom life4 of what matters to God. That kingdom life, we find, is a pearl of great price5, worth paying for in other ways..
2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. 3 Then Moses went up to God and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. 5 Now if you obey Me fully and keep My covenant, then out of all nations you will be My treasured possession. Although the whole earth is Mine, 6 you will be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’ 7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, ‘We will do everything the Lord has said.’ So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
Here’s the story: Moses is back on the slopes of the mountain where He encountered God before and heard God speak and reveal Himself in a personal way1. As Moses was starting to grasp, everything about God is about relationship. And now God is calling to him again – and with that sense of relationship, with that sense of God being love, giving him what amounts to a heavenly commission:
“…If you… keep my covenant, then… you will be my treasured possession… a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…”2
The whole nation would be part of this, called up by God, known to be good, loving and totally consistent, to serve Him as distinctly as joining up to serve Queen and country in uniform today.
How different this was from the nations around, trying to appease the whims of their deities (which represented demonic strongholds over the region) while trying to please a capricious and often cruel human king.
Exclusive rights and privileges as a ‘kingdom of priests’
The people of God were to have exclusive rights and privileges as a ‘kingdom of priests’ looking to Yahweh their God and their king, being set apart from other people to belong to Him as a holy nation.
This language of privileged priesthood, or relationship with God, was echoed by Peter, writing a generation after the Resurrection. Now it was not an ethnic distinction. It was the call of those trusting and believing in Jesus, every one of them, to be part of this priesthood.
It wasn’t about old-style priests performing rituals and offering sacrifices – Jesus had made Himself the full and final sacrifice for all people and for all time. However, the world around didn’t know that. So it needed priests in the deeper sense of go-between mediators, to represent God to those who did not know Him, and to help them to find Him.
The spiritual nation of Moses’ time, and what we call the Old Covenant, has now become for us under the New Covenant in Jesus, not a nation but a spiritual house or family. Every believer belonging to Jesus is an essential partner who shares His continuing ministry. And each one is fitted in as part of its structure – Peter uses the picture of “living stones”3.
The present-day practice which captures some of this sense of investment, commitment and partnership
Is there anything in our world which is like this? Our ideas of partnership are nowhere near as good, but the present-day practice which captures some of this sense of investment, commitment and partnership is a form of business familiar to us — the franchise partnership.
You might not know that your favoured fast food outlet, or the hotel you like, or the technician who uses clever technology to remove dents and scratches from your car, or that modern style of optician or the different kind of veterinary practice, is following a successful model based on franchise partnership. Those operating them have invested heavily – it’s a major commitment – to be able to practise this exact business, agreeing to follow the strict rules of the franchise, laid down by the franchisor. In return they are supported by a unique and competitive product range, and being part of a well-known, advertised brand. Customers like this because they know what they are getting – there’s an assurance of quality.
Like inviting Jesus into your heart and giving Him your life, it is costly, a big commitment and an act of submission which turns our natural independence on its head. Like having Jesus in your life, it is also an enabling and hugely beneficial partnership.
We can learn from the comparison
To relate the kingdom of God which Jesus spoke about, to a brand or a franchise, is making it far too cheap and worldly – but don’t dismiss this, we can learn from the comparison. Jesus came to establish His kingdom, His Way, on earth and He spoke about it constantly. We talk a lot about the church – something Jesus mentioned it just three times. The kingdom of God is the focus of His teaching again and again, with more than 100 instances. The kingdom of God was His message, the essence of the Good News.
Active partners… bearing the warrant of His authority and commission
The rule of God, the fair and just and good order of the way God does things, was starting and everyone was invited into it. Not just to enter in, not just to come into salvation and freedom and new life, amazing gift though that is. Jesus was signing up workers for the harvest4 to be active partners in His harvest, bearing the warrant of His authority and commission.
The first disciples had some coaching for this partnership by being involved with Jesus, watching Him as He ministered throughout Galilee. Now the coaching took a different form as they were sent out to do what they had seen Him do, this time with Him watching them5.
1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to Him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness… 5 …These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions… 7 As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” 8 Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
Paul reminds us, as he wrote to believers in Rome, that this partnership is not without its difficulties — but the challenges prove how the partnership works, helping us to grow in trust and showing God to be greater.
Romans 5:1-5 NIV 1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3-4 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Your new Specsavers or Burger King business is not launched as a naked competitor into a competitive marketplace – it comes with the backing of solid business experience and all the know-how gained in other start-ups which show how it works. A franchise brings success for both stakeholders in the partnership by replicating the proven franchise model. When we grasp the kingdom of God and seek to live it the way the Holy Spirit shows us, and with His help, we see growth and God is glorified.
He said… that His disciples… would find themselves doing even greater things
Living for Jesus is challenging enough and partnering with Him in His kingdom mission feels like an impossibility. “Hang on, ” we say, “Jesus did those things as Jesus!” But He said at the end that His disciples, knowing a spiritual power and boldness beyond themselves by the Holy Spirt, would find themselves doing even greater things6.
And us? This takes a reminder from where we started, acknowledging that everything about God, is about relationship. “God is love”7 and in this relationship, we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts by the Holy Spirit living in us8. Looking at Jesus was like looking at love with arms and legs, and it was this love which drew people, healed people and transformed them into such effective witnesses.
IT’S ALWAYS a the place to go for comedy scriptwriters, whether it’s the vicar in Barry where Gavin and Stacey have unwillingly attended church to hear their banns, or Peter Sellars the misfit country vicar in Heavens Above! Hapless ministers trying to illustrate the three-in-one of the Godhead can provide plenty of humour in trying to explain something quite counter-intuitive that really needs to be spiritually discerned. The three leaves of the shamrock, used by St Patrick in Ireland, or three strands of one rope, or three conductors which are essential for one electricity connection, are all good attempts which, however, are bound to fall short of illustrating the three individual, but indissoluble, Persons who are at the same time the One Person of the true God.
Scriptures that bring together Father, Son and Holy Spirit
There are more than 20 Scriptures that bring together Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one way or another and they’re not all in the New Testament. Isaiah, speaking of the Messiah to come, spoke for Him saying: “And now the Sovereign Lord has sent Me, endowed with His Spirit”1 . Just those few words tell us quite a lot about the relationship. The Father doing the sending, the Son who becomes incarnate as man being able to be sent and be among us, and the unseen empowering of the Holy Spirit enabling natural man to rise above himself in supernatural ways.
The trinitarian blessing
And here’s a verse that everybody knows — in many churches people will say this to one another at the close of a service or meeting: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This is a simple but profound statement about how we experience God:
In the grace of what Jesus did for us, who are undeserving, and in the new life we discover in Him;
In the love of Father God, knowing that we are loved and accepted by a Father who knows every detail of our lives and cares deeply about us, with us in the trials and difficulties and as close to us as we make ourselves close to Him;
In the fellowship one-ness and spiritual kinship we experience by the Holy Spirit, so other believers who may appear very different, perhaps of another culture and colour and country, are one in the same salvation experience and the same values of Christian life. That makes the breaking of bread with others in communion (the same word as fellowship) a truly special and uniting time – one with each other and with God.
The Great Commission given by Jesus
Some of Jesus’ very last words were a commission to His first disciples, and by extension, to us, to concentrate on mentoring new apprentices, drenching them metaphorically and symbolically in all three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit2 . Those who have made a commitment to Christ are commonly baptised in water and anointed with the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was, using these words of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as the headlines of the ministry that will grow in them
God is love – in three Persons
Perhaps to best way to grasp what the Trinity means, is in how we relate to God as three Persons who are one. God is love3 , and we understand what this means in the three distinct ways we encounter God and His love:
The Father’s heart of care and generosity, seeing our needs before we say anything, and providing;
The Son whose understanding love comes out of having this lived this life with its rejection and injustices and slander – He has seen it all, experienced it all, and become the remedy for it all, for us.
The Holy Spirit and His upbuilding love which we experience from Him as Encourager, Helper and Revealer. If you want to understand the Trinity, The Holy Spirit is the One to ask, because it is something that needs to be revealed in your heart. Is your heart submitted to Jesus and belonging to Him? The Holy Spirit is the person who shows you Jesus, resurrected, alive and present with you now.
The mission of God by Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Finally, let’s take a quick look at the mission of God and how this is a team exercise between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God created the world, and saw it was good, but as we know4 sin entered, man became increasingly independent — and after the flood and Noah, a path of salvation was needed. The Father’s plan increasingly highlighted the Servant who was to come, the Son who would be given — and who would become that plan of salvation. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” Acts 4:12 NIV.
Jesus, the Son of God and the Anointed One lived his earthly life in total deference to the Father and therefore without sin, but then took on the mantle of sin in allowing Himself to be put to a cursed death. His self-sacrifice paid the price for all who would choose salvation and restoration with God through believing in Him. But who will choose? Who is aware of their rebellion against God and their need of a saving solution? Who can overcome their pride to call Jesus Lord? We have the Father’s plan, carried out by the Son, but the third vital element is the preparatory work of the Holy Spirit in calling people out of darkness into light, and His part in the process of grace, salvation and faith proceeding from God before they arise in a person’s heart, calling them to be born again into eternal life5.
Regeneration is a choice to receive Jesus, but it is a choice which is initiated by God with all three Persons of God involved.