Be Ordinary

Be Ordinary


ORDINARY - metal finish text on black studio - 3D rendered stock photoThe hotel ballroom was packed. I was one of three plenary speakers at a conference for youth and children’s ministry leaders. In commenting on the alarming trend of churches hemorrhaging youth, one of the speakers said, “Kids who grew up in Christian homes feet like second class citizens in the church.”

He went on to explain the basis of his claim. The church, he said, finds the testimony of people who were radically saved out of a life of deep sin (drug addiction for example) much more exciting than the testimonies of Christian children who grew up in faithful Christians homes and avoided those sins. What does this say about how we define what is really important? Michael Horton, in his book, Ordinary, has an answer.

The tendency of the evangelical movement has always been to prioritize extraordinary methods and demands over the ordinary means that Christ instituted for sustainable mission… I am convinced that we have drifted from the true focus of God’s activity in this world. It is not to be found in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary, the everyday… We have grown accustomed to running sprints instead of training for the long-distance marathon.

You may have heard and prayed the Scriptures with your family each day, perhaps even learning the great truths of Scripture with your family each day, perhaps even learning the great truths of Scripture through a catechism at home and at church. Yet in the evangelical culture of the new and novel, none of this really counts. What really matters is the extraordinary spiritual event, that life-changing experience. In fact, your testimony is likely to be regarded as greater—more genuine—to the extent that the experience happened apart from any connection with the ordinary life of the church, like baptism, profession, the Supper, and the communal prayers, praise, laments, and fellowship of Christ’s body.

Real Growth Occurs in the Ordinary

Scripture contains many incidents of people being extraordinarily converted or benefitting from a life transforming moment. Enoch, Elijah, Naaman, the woman with a hemorrhage, Lazarus, and Paul the Apostle immediately come to mind. But the normative plan that God has given for transformation is, well, quite ordinary.

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20) is itself a call to the ordinary. When it says, “Go and make disciples” we can read “Go” and wrongly think only of extraordinary events such as short term mission trips or a missions emphasis week. But what is meant is more like, “As you go”. Making disciples is an ordinary process that occurs in the ordinariness of everyday life.

As parents, does it get any more ordinary than Deuteronomy 6:4-9? “Teach your children as you rise up, as you lie down, and as you walk by the way.” Jesus’ approach to discipleship was equally ordinary. His disciples just walked with him. The events in the gospels are mainly ordinary. Even the miracles grew more out of the mundane, ordinary path of life. Extraordinary blessings can be—and usually are—reaped from within the ordinary.

Examples of “ordinary” include:

  • Reading Scripture together, daily, as a family.
  • Calling the kids together for a family meeting and starting off with prayer.
  • Working through a conflict about which lights (white or multi-colored) we are going to put on the Christmas tree this year.
  • Conversations where hopes and dreams, fears and failures are shared with one another.
  • Discussing the devastating impact that a neighbor’s job loss has had on his outlook in life.
  • Taking time to stop what you’re doing to discipline a child.
  • Listening to the word being taught in a small group, Sunday school or sermon.
  • Giving attention to The Lord’s Supper.
  • Being intentional about having a child baptized and/or examined for church membership.
  • Visiting a sick or discouraged neighbor or church member.
  • Writing your spouse an encouraging note.
  • Helping a teenager through friendship struggles and decision
  • Inviting a neighbor over for a meal.
  • Praying with and for one another.

The significance of each of these opportunities is not always found in the moment itself, but in each one’s place as a link to others. There is a dynamic interrelationship that is usually indiscernible but absolutely essential. Collectively they weave together to form a tapestry that is actually rich and full. While we can miss opportunities, the problem comes when missing them becomes a pattern.

We really do need more strength to attend to these ordinary things than we need to do something much more “extraordinary”… and fun. Tish Harrison Warren captures this sentiment well, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”

Why God Chooses Ordinary

God is glorified when we pursue the ordinary because it requires that we first be satisfied in God. Until we find our rest in God, our hearts will always be restless. Our attentions will be blinded by our own fleshly ambitions. We demonstrate ultimate satisfaction in God when we set aside our agenda in order to take these ordinary opportunities. God is also glorified when we wait in dependence upon him to do the transforming that he has already said HE will do (Phil. 1:6). This is an active–and expectant–waiting on our part. While we wait, we joyfully pursue the mundane knowing that God is using our efforts.

Two Promises For Ordinary People

Two passages immediately come to mind that provide hope for those who cultivate an extraordinary thirst for the ordinary.

Matthew 28:20. “I am with you always”. God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. He is our Helper in faithfulness. What a wonderful promise that we don’t have to muster the strength on our own because very often, we don’t have the strength for ordinary duties.

Galatians 6:9. “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.” That is a powerful promise that God will work. We will reap. God will accomplish his redemptive plan although that plan is almost never achieved quickly or easily in our lives. This is hard to remember in those situations where we’re in deep with other people.

Growth is really a process. When you think about it, the fact that growth is a process actually a good thing. We can fail. We can get up again, confess our sin, ask forgiveness, and work again toward Christ-likeness. Imagine how hard it would be if our growth and the growth of others was dependent upon us getting it right at pre-selected extraordinary moments? As it is, the ordinariness of life is a great blessing. Let us seek to be more faithful in the ordinary pursuits of the Christian life in the church and in the home.

If you’re up to it, consider taking this simple self-assessment to see how “ordinary” you really are!

The Gospel, Identity in Christ and Uniting Church and Home

The Gospel, Identity in Christ and Uniting Church and Home

gospelYou have probably noticed the increased emphasis that Uniting Church and Home has placed on the gospel and specifically, our identity in Christ in our seminars, writings, and resources. What does the gospel and identity have to do with Uniting Church and Home? In one word, EVERYTHING.

The False Gospel of Formulas

We all like formulas. A formula is simply a list of steps usually involving little effort that we follow to achieve a result. Formulas also usually do not require us to wrestle with our own sin or to rely on Jesus to provide the victory. We desperately want to believe that there are fast, easy formulas for addressing difficult questions such as: How do I get my teenager to stop flirting with “the world” and to seek Christ? How do I not lose hope when my spouse continues not to listen? How do I make disciples of my kids? How do I love the people in my church who I feel judge me for my choices? How does my home and my church work together rather than against each other? How does our church have a more effective outreach in our community? While practical answers to these and other questions are necessary, in over 28 years of ministry I have learned that the practical alone, which today really means a fast-acting, proven formula, is not what we need.

The pressure to provide formulas has pushed many churches and para-church ministries into providing many practical answers in the form of well-intentioned programs, curricula, conferences, and a plethora of self-help books. But, tragically, many of these have accomplished little in addressing the true need that continues to go largely…unmet.

God Seeks What Formulas Cannot Provide

This issue of the heart, is at the root of every single issue (Luke 6:43-45; James 4:1-4) we face.  Heart level transformation, not mere outward change, is God’s chief concern and what each of us desperately needs (Isa. 29:13, 64:6; Matt. 23:23). Heart change is a joyful satisfaction with God alone that motivates joyful obedience to do what he commands.

Practical knowledge, even perhaps a list of steps, and applied effort are critical to change. But authentic heart change is ultimately a work of God through the gospel. Only the gospel, applied by faith through the work of the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to crush the idolatry that rules our hearts and drives our actions.

Idolatry is Fueled by Formulas

Merely following a formula grants us the illusion that we can still have what WE want, the way we want it, regardless of what God may want. This is idolatry.

Many people think of idolatry as gold trinkets and Asherah poles rather than the driving force behind their own thoughts and choices…including sometimes their desires to have a biblical family and a church that they can join that meets their exact specifications. The fervor and in some cases, militancy, with which some have pursued these exposes the idolatry that drives them even in their efforts to seek something that God says is good.  Our problem is not only the bad things we do, but the good things we do for the wrong reasons.

Sometimes, our intentions in dealing with the problems we encounter with each other appear righteous, but at the heart are actually idolatrous. Appearances to the contrary, we really don’t want to help the other person grow in Christ, rather, we want to remove a source of irritation from our lives.

Even if our intentions are god-honoring, God may still want us to struggle through a problem for a longer time until we deal with what he sees needs to change… in both of us. If we settle for some sort of fix that gives an appearance of change without real change, we will miss something God wants us to learn. In such a case, God will just allow another set of circumstances to occur so that we are forced to deal with the heart issues we skirted. Very often, this explains why so many problems persist without little or improvement. Through it all, we get really good at coping without ever really addressing the root issues which are the idolatrous desires that make idols out of things and each other.

Business as Usual Does Not Work

Consider that the failure of men to lead in the home has not been corrected by regular attendance at men’s meetings.

Teens have not stopped abandoning the faith simply because more charismatic youth leaders have been hired.

Unbelievers have not been more attracted to our churches even though we’ve moved to more contemporary styles of worship and the pastor preaches without a pulpit in a grungy T-shirt emblazoned with an edgy slogan.

Families have not begun to minister and share the gospel with their unbelieving neighbors because the pastor preaches a series on outreach.

I’ll never forget a pastor who called to invite me to come and speak, as he said, “To get my families ministerin”. In our preliminary discussion, I learned that he had put his families through several outreach programs, but to no effect. He felt yet another speaker might make the difference. I suggested that the problem was not practical in nature, but instead, a heart problem: one of motivation. They simply did not want to do it. I suggested further that what they needed was to be brought back to the gospel. To really understand who they were, already, in Christ. I was disappointed, but not surprised by the pastor’s response, “I’ve already preached the gospel. They know that. I don’t need to do that again.”

What Gospel?

I recently received a letter from a national family ministry that was asking for donations for an evangelistic project. I will attest that this ministry has done many good things to help families. This letter, however, was just one very clear example of how we’ve drifted from the gospel in the life of the believer…

The first sentence in the letter said, “When you consider what your support for (ministry name withheld) can do, sharing the gospel might not be your first thought”.

Now let’s consider this statement for a moment. As I said, the work of this ministry was helping families, not evangelism. In their minds, and I hasten to add, in the minds of many Christians, the gospel is tragically known as only what the unbeliever needs, not the believer. Therefore, “the gospel” is not what this ministry to families normally talked about. But, I ask, what is any Christian ministry doing if it is not directing people to the gospel in some way? Is there an answer to any problem we have that is not somehow connected to our hearts and God’s remedy in Christ? No. And again, NO!

We Need Jesus Each Day

For real change and restoration to take place, an encounter with Jesus is always necessary. We encounter Jesus when we apply his message, the gospel, to our hearts. The gospel tells us of our sin and it tells us of the fullness of the riches that are ours in Christ by virtue of our union with him. Realizing who we are now, and marinating in the riches of our inheritance in Christ drives us to confess, repent, and walk by faith. This is what we ALL (husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, youth, children, siblings, singles, seniors, etc.) need many times each day to defeat idolatry. But this understanding, unfortunately, appears far from the standard formulaic fare in our churches and homes.

“Standard formulaic fare” is what we have demanded that our church leaders provide or we will simply go somewhere else. That’s a tragic commentary that I don’t offer lightly or with any sort of malice. I just believe it is accurate.

Relationships Help us Apply Jesus to our Lives

The gospel of Jesus Christ comes with a delivery mechanism; relationships in the church and the home. We become more effective applying this simple message by practice, practice, and more practice with each other’s help. This admittedly, is hard work because it takes time, accountability, and real faith in God to work in and through us. This is far from a mere formulaic solution.

The discipleship of my five teenage children is my responsibility, primarily. I dearly love them and delight in how they are each unique. But I also admit that discipling teenagers, at least for me, is very hard work that’s somewhat unpredictable and seems to always push me to the edge of my time and emotional limits.

One of the commitments I have made is to meet with my teenagers as a group every other Tuesday evening to discuss spiritual matters, usually through a book discussion. This is an intensive discussion that augments other things such as family worship… and late-night conversations! While I do enjoy these Tuesday meetings, I have to fight like mad to keep them on the calendar. It takes an intentional effort to prepare my own heart for the discussion and to remind them to be prepared, too. Praise the Lord that there has been some good fruit observed in the discussions we’ve had. It’s very encouraging. But because I am naturally a very selfish person, it is still hard. I fail. It’s a humbling process.

I can identify with many men who admit how much easier it would be to just drift down the river of life doing the discipleship when it’s convenient. It is so much easier, so much more comfortable, to follow the formula of dropping the kids off at church to be discipled by a trusted youth or children’s ministry leader. While youth and children’s ministry can be an important ingredient, they do not stand alone. I have met many youth leaders who passionately agree as they suffer under suffocating expectations of parents and leaders alike.

Many men might also conclude that a women’s ministry, or coffee with an elder’s wife can be far more effective at meeting their wives’ various needs than they are. And while women meeting to teach and encourage each other is a solid expression of healthy covenant community, Paul is clear in Ephesians 5 that husbands have a direct, personal ministry to their wives. They are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (V.25). They are called by God to wash their wives in the word (V.26). Satisfactory pursuit of these responsibilities by husbands may be augmented, but not completely delegated to a simple formula that only requires little of us.

We Have What We Need

We already have what we need in the gospel. We do not need to wait for some new insight gained from scientific research or a new list of steps (formula). We must get down to the hard business of exercising our faith in what we already have been given in Christ with one another.

Transformation keeps the indicative (identity: who we are in Christ) connected to the imperative (the practical that are to do). Indicative without imperative is antinomianism. Imperative (i.e. formula) without indicative is moralism. Both are Christ-less.

Uniting Church and Home Restores Balance

At Uniting Church and Home, we seek to restore lives through relationships where the indicative and imperative are kept together. It is a joyous privilege for us to start a seminar knowing that people who are struggling with real personal challenges are going to leave the seminar with joy, renewed hope and confidence because they learn how their identity in Christ is the key to overcoming struggles that have burdened them for years.

YES, men need to know how to lead. YES, children need to be trained to know and serve God. YES, churches need to equip families for ministry. “Formulas” promise much but ultimately deliver little.  These and other challenges need to be addressed through relationships that are committed to the deeper heart work that takes time and that seeks to apply the gospel in these situations. This is the only way to transform our hearts, our relationships and live for God’s glory.

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Our Relationships are Part of a WAR

Our Relationships are Part of a WAR

relationship warsIf your relationships were a screenplay, would the resulting movie look more like “Apocalypse Now” or “Sense and Sensibility”?

Providentially, we here in America have lived in a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity. Life has been predictable and secure. Our part in various Middle East wars over the past 26 years has not impacted our daily routines or our way of life too much. “War” has been relatively far from our consciousness.

We Are At War

Yet, Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, “For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens…” (Holman).

Spiritually speaking, we are in a battle; a war; a struggle. Do we remember that when we wake up each morning in our comfortable beds with the aroma of fresh coffee wafting through the air? The analogies equating war with our faith are easy to understand. A mindset for battle is quite different from the carefree attitudes of peace. A soldier who wakes up in a war zone thinking he is on vacation in Tahiti will not survive. As Christians we need to remember that we  are in a war until the moment we die or when Christ returns.

My Spouse is Not My Enemy

Who then is the enemy? Paul says that the war we are in is not against flesh and blood. While our relationships at church, at home and at work are very much part of the theater of war these people with whom we share life are not the enemy. The enemy is the authorities, world powers of darkness and spiritual forces of evil. We are up against an extremely powerful foe who demonstrates unprecedented acuity in the schemes he uses in attempt to destroy us.

How often do we succumb to one of Satan’s most diabolical schemes: that of turning us against each other?

Before we were married, I remember going to a marriage conference with Leslee. One of the speakers asked each couple to look at each other and repeat, “My spouse is not my enemy.” At the time, I had no appreciation for what that was all about. I was deeply in love with Leslee. How could we be enemies?! It didn’t take long for Leslee and me to understand what that meant.

Anyone in a relationship of any value is going to experience struggles that when responded to wrongly, can easily divide two people who love each other making them enemies–at least for a moment. We may not say, “You’re my enemy!” But the anger, frustration, and hopelessness in our hearts that spills out in our biting words exposing our hearts.

Relationship Breakdown

Left un-corrected, it is very easy to dwell on these emotions which spiral down into a root of bitterness against that person. Then comes some form of breakdown or outright dissolution of the relationship. In marriage, it is sometimes divorce. In parenting, it may be the countdown to college or “the day I can get out of here”. In church, it is a serial pattern of moving from one church to the next. Worse, these relationship are no longer a means through which we can give and receive the grace we all desperately need in order to live for God’s glory.

Christ, Our Armor

In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul tells us “be strong in the Lord”. In Christ, we have spiritual armor that through the Holy Spirit, is completely capable of defending us against Satan’s sometimes subtle, sometimes vicious, but always scheming attacks. Our armor is made up of the provisions found in our inheritance in Christ: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. Prayer is the spiritual means by which we put on and use this spiritual armor. Praying the word, together, is powerful.

Do we miss the context of Ephesians 6? Ephesians 3-5 talks about our relationships with each other as spiritual brothers and sisters, as friends, as spouses, as parents and children, as bosses and employees. These relationships should serve as an important means through which we support one another through the warfare. We need to speak the truths of the gospel (our armor) to one another bolstering our confidence in Christ to stand firm. Don’t let your relationships be a casualty of war!

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Have You Considered Saying This to Someone Who is Suffering?

Have You Considered Saying This to Someone Who is Suffering?

family problemsWhat are you suffering through right now? No doubt there is something you are suffering with yourself or suffering through with someone you care about. Two weeks ago a family we know just learned that the father has a very aggressive form of brain cancer. I can also name several families who are struggling with finding a job that pays a living wage. Other families I know are suffering through the pain of seeing their relationships strained or torn apart.

In these situations we pray for healing, provision, and restoration; encouragement and hope. But if you are like me, you feel a bit like Gomer Pile or Barney Fife in finding the words to say that match what you feel in your heart. The words, “That’s hard. I am praying for you” are said with conviction are usually comforting but perhaps also expected and therefore feel insignificant. We don’t want to say the wrong thing. When we have not suffered exactly the same way someone else has, we know they’re hurting but we can’t identify well enough with what they’re going through to know what to say.

God Uses Suffering
One morning we were all sitting around the breakfast table having a “light” theological discussion about suffering. One of my children suffers with seizures. Prescription medication (in our case) has not helped. I don’t remember how we arrived at this point, but we went around the table and each sibling mentioned something about how they had grown in the Lord as a result of their sister’s seizures. Comments included: “I am more compassionate toward other people’s suffering.” “The way she handles the situation shows that faith is real.” “I have grown in my struggle with anxiety.” “I have learned to trust God more as I’ve seen how in each episode he has protected her and worked in the situation.” I think someone mentioned seeing their own struggles as being smaller in light of what she has to go through. Other kids said things that I wish I had written down because I forgot them. It was a very precious time; a tremendous encouragement to my daughter and an eye-opener to me about one way to encourage people who are suffering: help them see how God is using their suffering to work in other’s lives.

To do this, we have to first accept suffering that while bad, God can use for good. One of the reasons suffering is so hard is that it can seem capricious (why is this happening to me?) and at the same time, completely without purpose. Enduring suffering is hard physical, emotional, and spiritual work that can just seem without purpose. When my daughter saw how God was using her suffering to work in the lives of her siblings that encouraged her and gave her hope as she awaits the healing that one day will absolutely occur if not in this life, certainly in the next.

Jesus’ Purpose in Suffering
Hebrews 12:2 tells us that “for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross.” Could there be a more excruciating case of emotional and physical suffering than what Jesus went through? What was that “joy”? It was the joy of obeying his Father’s will. It was knowing how his Father was going to use the results of his suffering to redeem His people.

So, while we pray for God to relieve the suffering, we can be confident that God uses suffering to do his transforming work not only in the life of the sufferer but in others’ lives as well. In each case, it might not be until we are in heaven that we learn the extensive ways that God has used our various sufferings. This provides a tremendous measure of hope and encouragement to those suffering that their endurance has purpose not only in them, but perhaps in many lives, such as in the case of my daughter and her siblings.

Comforting Words for Sufferers
How do we comfort people who are suffering? We certainly do all we can to alleviate it. We pray fervently for God to bring resolution. But perhaps we also pray for God to show how he’s using the suffering to work in others’ lives. Maybe it brings someone to conviction over some sin in their life. Maybe it causes someone else to reflect on how important faith is. Maybe another person finds real hope that carries them through a struggle they might have years hence.

Whatever the case, we can rest assured and remind the one suffering that God has great plans to use their suffering for His glory in their life and the lives of those around him. At an appropriate time, we might actually ask the people who are close to the situation. “How is God using this in your life?” Then suggest that they share what God is doing in them with the person who is suffering.

We should expect to continue to face various kinds of suffering in this life. Dealing with suffering in a redemptive and therefore positive way is also one way to strengthen our witness to suffering people who are without Jesus Christ. The world has no answer for the problem of suffering. Only through a sovereign, supernatural, loving, and merciful God can we find beauty in the ashes of suffering.

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Heart Work is HARD Work!

Heart Work is HARD Work!

heart workIt was an unusually crazy week at my house. Our routine was completely non-existent. Think bumper cars and you get the idea. All week long, one of my sons had a particularly bad attitude about basically everything. It was Saturday night and I was giving our two youngest kids baths when he marched like Patton into the bathroom wanting to talk about how unfair life was.

I knew it was an important opportunity. But if I am anything, I am a simple man with one brain and one mouth—for good reason. Sensing this to be at least a one hour conversation, I told him it was not the right time. “Later”, I said. “Later” came and went without the conversation.

“Let’s Take a Walk”
The next day, the situation had not improved. Leslee and I felt like a cross between air traffic controllers and Disney’s Tinker Bell especially with some of the kids seeking to arrange all sorts of wonderful outings with their friends. On top of all that, I was preparing to leave for a week. Nerves were frayed and conflicts abounded. It was way too much. But in the midst of it all, Leslee asked this one son to go on a walk with her to have the conversation that I should have had the night before.

This ended up being about a two-hour walk around the block. When they returned, I was shocked at how my son’s countenance, demeanor, and tone had changed. He confessed his bad attitude among other things.

Leslee isn’t a professional counselor. She didn’t have a five point outline she planned to cover.  In fact, as she told me later, she really didn’t have any idea what she was going to say.  They just started walking and she asked what was going on in his heart.  It took some time, but things started to unpack.  By the time they had finished “the circle” and would have normally headed home, he asked, “Do you want to go around again? I have more to talk about.” This happened a second time.  A day that was looking like a fast moving train wreck, ended on a very sweet note.

My wife saw how important that conversation was at that point in time. She saw how it represented an opportunity to work in the life of our son and she was willing to turn away from a long list of important things that needed to be done that I’m sure that she could have rationalized doing instead of taking a long walk with my son. She chose rightly. Would that I was more consistent in making these opportunities. It is a constant challenge for me. Thankfully, God is gracious and merciful.

Come to Terms With Inconvenience
As Leslee and I debriefed later, we were reminded of a very important fact.  Relationships are messy and inconvenient!  It would have been much easier to just get through that chaotic day, proceed through the week hiding behind frenetic activities hoping things blow over.  The problem is, we do this too often.  We schedule sports and practices, errands and meetings, even exercise instead of taking the time to deal with the mess.  That mess doesn’t go away, it morphs and festers leading to bigger problems down the road—that in God’s providence, we still might not avoid.

We are all busy with life. Everything seems urgent. Urgent often wins out over important. The important things—the things that often make the biggest difference in our lives—require that we make better choices. We all agree that applying the gospel in each other’s lives is important. But it takes time. It requires sacrifice of other good things. It involves setting and maintaining priorities. Let us be vigilant to take these important opportunities that God builds in to our busy lives!

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Dead to Sin: an Easter Message for Everyday

Dead to Sin: an Easter Message for Everyday

One part (among many parts) of the glorious inheritance that we have received in Christ is found in Romans 6.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

We ARE Dead to Sin

What a glorious passage! Commenting on this truth, A.W. Pink says that in Christ, we are indeed dead to the “pleasure, penalty, and power” of sin.

Paul tells us in Romans 6 that we died with Christ. When Jesus died, we died as well. Therefore, we are truly dead to sin’s pleasure and its power to make us obey it. This is not wishful thinking. It is in fact the truth about who we are now because of what Jesus has already done, fully, completely and sufficiently for us (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10). The problem, our problem, is that when we examine how we live, the choices we make, we really don’t believe this.

Living as Dead to Sin is an Exercise of Faith

Sure, we experience the pull of temptation. We will until the day we die. However, here’s the key. Paul reminds us in Romans 6:11 that we are to “recon” or “consider” ourselves dead to sin. By faith, we are to live each moment of each day in light of this [and the many other gospel truths that we find in the Bible].

Suppose you’re tempted to lash out at your spouse or child. Is your first thought that you are dead to the desires that are stirring the angry response? Even more important, is your own identity, how you think about yourself (even when you are not under the pressure of temptation) being changed (“renewed” – Rom. 12:2) increasingly through a focus on these gospel truths?

“I’ve Never Really Considered That I am Dead to Sin”

When I shared that we are “dead to sin” with a fellow Christian who had been a Christian for a very long time, he said that he had never really considered it before. It had no real impact on his battle with the flesh each day. But is he really that different from most Christians? Tragically, I believe not, at least if my own experience is any indication.

(Our churches are filled with many faithful attendees; people who are well-meaning and busy with ministry. But for some (perhaps many) of them, they never really learn the fundamentals of how to live in Christ. These “simple” truths never take root and thus are not nurtured into maturity. It’s like a child spending one week learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and then moving on to something else. It just doesn’t work that way…and we see books such as Michael Horton’s, “Christless Christianity” explaining why: we’ve departed from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Faith is not a Formula

Living by faith is hard in large part because our flesh instinctively seeks its own salvation on our own provision for ourselves apart from faith. In fact it is much harder to act in faith than it is to work at defeating the flesh through will-power, rule-keeping, or formulas (that often have some biblical aspect to them). But it is only by faith that we access and apply Christ’s once for all victory to our daily struggles with the flesh!

Are We Reminding Others of This?

Do those in your church—and those in your home—know they are dead to sin? Are you reminding them of this and other gospel truths, regularly? Do they know these well-enough that it makes a positive difference in how they live each day?

Our Minds Are Renewed by The Gospel

As we dig deeper into Christ, identify and remind ourselves of these gospel truths, we gain a supernatural weapon in our battle against the flesh. We battle from the standpoint of victory: the victory already accomplished by Christ. When Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” as he breathed his last on the cross, He meant it. There is nothing incomplete about what he accomplished. Our job is first and foremost to exercise our faith in what he has already done by virtue of our being “in Him”.

By faith, the Holy Spirit applies the gospel to our hearts thus giving us victory resulting in obedience that brings us into greater conformity with Christ and more glory to God.

Is this the message we speak, not only on Easter, but every day to ourselves and to each other?