Category Archives: At High Point

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Sermon: More than Conquerors over the Curse

“It doesn’t matter.” 

I hate that sentence. Not when choosing a restaurant or a movie, but when I hear it from someone dealing with a hurt or disappointment.  

Whether as a parent or a pastor, it always makes my blood run a little cold—because I know that saying “it doesn’t matter” feels like resolution or even acceptance, when it is really escapism and gloom.  

That kind of “it doesn’t matter” is a way people lose themselves. It displays a loss of heart in the great struggle against the world that “shouldn’t be this way!” 

We are subjected to futility, and enslaved to decay (Romans 8: 20,21). This is the haunting pain of life—that life can feel futile or vain, and decay inevitable.  

In youth it creates an “angst,” in maturity, a “crisis,” and in old age, a “sourness”—and to all a kind of darkness.  

Our reaction to this pain and disappointment under futility and decay is what this passage calls “groaning.” And the apostle Paul tells us that all of creation is subjected to this:vanity, vaporousness, futility, frustration, purposelessness, decay, perishability, corruption of wholesomeness, decomposition. 

Everything seems to be against our natural hopes, either in circumstance or in the slow decay of time. Even if you get what you want, time will bury it in sand, or decompose and grow over it.  

Christians call this punishing, discouraging futility  “the Curse” because we believe that it is both unnatural (things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be), but also, that the Curse will be broken and can be overcome. 

However, without the help and hope of God, the curse overcomes us and closes out the light of hope, closes our hearts to feel life, weakens our courage to face challenges, and dims our eyes to see beauty and glory. 

When the tunnel of disappointment loses its light at the end, we fall into gloom

Gloom is the loss of the ability to hope, being overcome by despair.  

It is what happens when we think the Curse is the final explanation of suffering—pain without purpose, suffering without hope.  

Gloom preaches that this is all there is: futility unto decay” and “meaninglessness, then death.” 

How do we find the “Mind of the Spirit” (Romans 8:6, 27; Ephesians 6:18) in all of this?  

Last week I said from Romans 8: Christians conquer the flesh, curse and suffering in the Spirit.  

In this sermon: Christians conquer the Curse by the Spirit.

But how? How do we conquer something so universal and so constant as the curse? Something we know will eventually, in some way, win?  

The danger: When in pain, we often reject answers because we think they dishonor our pain. Every answer sounds either trite or severe. 

Romans 8:18 may seem like both, but it is the main answer, nonetheless: 

Romans 8:15-18 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christif indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  For, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  

This is both the promise and the way to overcome in the Spirit.

ways the Spirit can make us conquerors in the curse:   

The Spirit magnifies our hope in glory in the face of the Curse’s gloom 

Gloom makes it so we can’t lift our eyes to TRUST in God. The Curse claims the final word of futility and decay over every trial. All of our pain is going nowhere because of failure and the grave. 

Christians don’t combat this by saying there isn’t pain, or that if we trust God, he will shield us from our experience of the curse.  

“Well, I’m sure God will protect you!” is a phrase that can reveal a person who thinks that if we obey God, he will keep bad things from happening to us—that our obedience will break the curse. 

Such people need grace, since some CHRISTIANS think this is true: that if they obey, God will protect them from all harm. God never promises that. He promises the opposite.

The antidote to the gloom of futility is the hope of glory. 

Romans 8:18 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  

“Hope of glory”- 2 ideas:

  1. Glorious: God’s glory revealed and experienced 
  2. A hope: Hopes are future until they are revealed

The future glory will be all from God and for all of creation.  

  • Rom 8:18 – “The glory that will be revealed in us.” 
  • All the glory that there is will be revealed “in us.” 

It’s BIG- all creation’s hope:  All creation is in “eager expectation” and “anxious watching.” The literal translation of verse 19 is, “For the anxiously watching creation is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God.” 

Romans 8:19-21 “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  

All creation, including us, was subjected to futility, frustration, and dysfunction—by God, in the curse. Things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. Everyone feels this. It’s a universal moral intuition, even when we are taught otherwise.  

Creation is watching someone: All creation is in “eager expectation” and “anxious watching.” The literal translation of verse 19 again: “For the anxiously watching creation is eagerly expecting the revelation of the sons of God.” 

Romans 8:18 – “The glory that will be revealed in us.” All the glory that there is will be revealed “in us.” Presently things are “groaning as in the pain of childbirth,” and we feel the same as the rest of creation.

A hope: Hope is by definition not experienced yet. So not happening right now isn’t a valid objection against it. 

Romans 8:23-25 “…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” 

Application: Learning to “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly” (just like creation’s “eager expectation” in vs 19).

This is the work of the Spirit—as we pursue the “mind of the Spirit.” 

Our Goal: What are we waiting expectantly for? “The adoption to sons, the redemption of our bodies,” “For, in this hope we are saved.” 

The Spirit’s work: Building this hope to be our anchor in the groaning of the curse. The Spirit wants to apply the truth of God until you feel as Paul does: “Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

How does he do it? 

  • Know the “hope” in which God subjected creation (vs 20).
  • Hope in God’s glory—not just our glorification. 
  • Rejoice in our suffering—knowing it focuses our hope.  
  • Receive the love God “poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.”  

Application: You need these parts of salvation to overcome the gloom of the curse, and the futility of so much of life.  

  • Our hope in the future glory of God—and being adopted into it, through the everlasting redemption of our bodies into the freedom and glory of God and in a redeemed creation.  
  • The work of the Spirit applying this whole hope to our hearts, even in suffering 
  • So we can be waiting eagerly even as we are groaning inwardly.  

How do we really practice “groaning inwardly yet waiting eagerly” as a Spiritual practice of the heart?  

The Spirit is our help against the Curse’s confusion and weakness. 

Groans make it hard to lift our face and talk to God. 

Main example: Not being able to pray “as we ought” or “in God’s will” weakens our ability to express our groanings well, and confuses our ability to know God’s will and pray from a heart that is united with his will.  

Rom. 8:26-27 “in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” 

“In the same way”: as God helps us wait eagerly for the hope of glory, he also helps us cope in the present with our weakness of heart.

The Spirit: “intercedes for us” 

  • Intercedes through wordless groans 
  • Combines our “hearts” with the “mind of the Spirit”
  • Helps us feel and pray in “accordance with God’s will” 

What are the “wordless groans” of the Spirit? A connection to creation and our groans under the curse—the Spirit makes his own groaning in us that are our right groan toward the Father.  

In Romans 8:22, creation groans, and in Romans 8:23, we groan wanting our bodily redemption. In verse 26, the Holy Spirit groans as a way of interceding for us to God.

God doesn’t just hear our audible prayers—he also searches our hearts. The content of our heart is what is or isn’t in line with his will, and is a communication of faith to him. It is the place out of which we pray. By coming into the place of our heart’s groanings, the Spirit both aligns our hearts with God’s will and helps us pray as we ought—though his presence is inarticulate in a formal sense.  

The main effect is that this aligns us with God’s will, and allows us to express our groaning to Abba in love—but also appropriately. 

This is our help in our weakness of expression and need of present comfort; the help we need to embrace God’s will, so we can participate in his working things for our good and ultimately our glorification (our great hope).

What is “God’s will”? (Romans 8:28) 

Romans 8:28 “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God forknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called, those he called, he also Justified, and those he justified he also glorified.” 

That is: God will glorify those he has chosen. We can hold unswervingly to our hope in Christ. because God is intent on his glorification of those who are heirs in Christ. We were his elect long ago, and those whom he has brought to justification, he will take to glorification. There is no slackness or shakiness in his promises.  

“Slap me so I don’t do something petty.” – My daughter 

I think the reason she comes to me in those moments is because she knows that she can groan with her dad, and that she is safe in her groaning when she is in my arms. I will let her feel, but I won’t let her fall into what she fears: pettiness, resentment, hopelessness, and all the reactions that indwelling sin stirs us when the curse bites us in some way. 

I know my goal is to give her hope and to help her groan. I want that because I love her; I want her to know that there is no condemnation with me, and that I want to help her be more than a conqueror as an adult. 

Conclusion: How do we do it?  

So how do we have this kind of relationship with the Spirit to receive God’s hope and help?  

The Spirit’s power is in our participation with him, and with the content of the gospel (the “hope in which we were saved”).

  • Believe in Jesus work as the Christ and High Priest in breaking the debt and power of sin in his life, death, and resurrection.  
  • Believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit as an heir—a fully legitimate child.  
  • Seek the Mind of the Spirit, and put to death the Mind of the Flesh 
  • Seek the Mind of the Spirit especially in our boast in the hope of future glory. 
  • Embrace the dynamic of: “Groaning inwardly while waiting eagerly.” 

Rom. 5:1-5 NIBO 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 rejoice in the hope of the glory of God3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  

 

Sermon: More than Conquerors in the Inner World

If you faint in the day of adversity, how narrow is your strength.

Proverbs 24:10

How we handle adversity is one of the most defining things about us, because it reveals the real us. It is who we are when we can’t control our environment.

At moments like this, we don’t tend to feel very much like conquerors. We are cooped up in our households, close to the refrigerator, with annoying housemates and family, and feel drawn like zombies to the pleasures of computer screens.

  1. Many of us have had a profound struggle and failure to do what’s good. That is, we experience the eruption of our worst selves. When our routine is interrupted, most people find that they had structured their behavior, but they aren’t masters of their soul.
  2. We also struggle with the world as it is; hearing reports about disease and economic turmoil, we can easily feel that the world shouldn’t be this way. We can feel that God shouldn’t allow creation to be disordered in this way. It is a struggle to be so weak and to live in a world that is broken in these ways.
  3. There is the real, daily and practical suffering of real pain, or fear that we are facing. We fear life is bad or is going to be bad, and we have fears for the present in the future.

In Christian terms, these are our three inner battles: the Flesh, the Curse, and suffering. We face an inner battle against our worst self, the groaning of a world not as we long for it to be, and we face pain that seems to find us everywhere. All of these discourage us personally and in our relationship with God. We feel wretched and discouraged, and God feels far away. It feels like he is doing nothing.

These three enemies of the inner person will either overpower us or drive us to become the conquerers we were created and redeemed to be.

3 enemies in a phrase:

  1. The Flesh: “What a wretched man I am” (Romans 7:24)
  2. The Curse: “All of creation was subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20)
  3. The Suffering: “All day long we are like sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)

Misnomer about Romans

It’s all about “Justification: forgiveness and imputation of righteousness through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.

Romans is about Salvation: all the way form God’s choice to save, all the way to us seeing the glory of God.

Romans 8 deals with a very specific part of salvation: being saved from defeat. Especially the defeat of our inner self, the “inner man”—what Paul calls the mind, the will, “myself”—and how it is constantly overcome by what he calls “the flesh.”

The Flesh is our worst self, living the path that leads to death, and rejecting God as creator and king and the true good in favor of our disordered desires.

Romans 7 shows us that just knowing that God is real, and that his law is good, isn’t enough to overcome the domination of the Flesh. And even if we believe in Jesus as our savior, believe in God and believe his commands are good, we can still find ourselves consistently failing, and losing our conflict with the enslaving power of the Flesh.

Romans 7 ends this way

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7:19-25 19

In this state, even the “would be Christian” feels both wretched and defeated—both conquered and condemned.

Peterson’s Objection: what you do is what you believe. So how can anyone say they believe in God when they are constantly doing things that don’t show that belief. You don’t really believe. This is a problem for “salvation by faith” as cheap grace.

If you stop at forgiveness, imputed righteousness, or even reconciliation, you will not escape this wretched discouragement—and fear that you will be lost to your worst desires, and deserve re-condemning in your wretchedness.

You must go on to the whole of Christian salvation, because it is shaped around the whole of human need.

Christians conquer the flesh, curse and suffering in the Spirit.

Or for this morning: Christians conquer the flesh in the Spirit.

3 key steps to conquering the flesh through the Spirit:

God condemned our powerlessness, weakness, and wretchedness instead of us.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

Jesus didn’t just pay for our sins, he condemned sin by dying in the flesh:

  • He paid for sin as a sin offering.
  • But in dying in the flesh- he feed us from the domination of the Flesh.
  • Therefore: neither our crimes, nor our condition need condemn us.
  • Therefore, “in Christ Jesus” there is no condemnation, because there is a cure even for the wretchedness of our weakness in the flesh.

But how does he save us from our wretchedness? Romans 8:2: because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Key summary: Through Jesus Christ, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free form the law of sin and death (The Flesh: the “war in my members”).

  • Through Christ Jesus
  • The Law of the Spirit
  • The Spirit of life
  • Has set you free from the law of sin and death (The war and captivity of the Flesh—Romans 7:24-25)

This is accomplished in the death of Jesus the Christ—in the FLESH.

  • Jesus didn’t just triumph over sin by not sinning, he triumphed over the Flesh also—having been born to true humanity—in human flesh. And dying in the flesh, to the law, and for sin, he conquered all three.
  • He atoned for sin, as an offering
  • He condemned the power of the Flesh, suffering in human flesh.
  • He set us free from the Law by dying to that contract.

Therefore, his goal:

  • No condemnation for those in Christ—our fear should not be condemnation, or the belief that God holds us with contempt in our failures to overcome sin in the Flesh.
  • Set free in “the Law of the Spirit of Life”—the new drive and aid that comes in participation with God’s Spirit leading us to God and his righteousness.

You must believe in the mind of the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Romans 8:5-11

Part of faith is repenting of the “mind of the flesh”—the logic and mental culture and desires of sin, worldliness and rebellion.

You can’t repent of sins, and not the logic that justifies them. Coming to repentance means repenting of the acts and their justification.

Faith requires embracing the mind of the spirit:

  • Rejecting the way of death
  • Releasing our hostility towards God and his moral requirements

3 Phases of Bad Spirituality:

  • Irreligion: Recognizing that before spiritual conviction, we don’t want those commands (Romans chapter 1).
  • Religion: In a “religious phase,” we apply those commands to others legalistically, and to ourselves self-justifyingly (Romans chapter 2).
  • Illuminated but unspiritual: after we received spiritual conviction, we may be hostile toward God and his requirements because we find we can’t do them (Romans chapter 7).
  • All are a “law of death” and all lead to avoidance and hostility toward God.

What is the “mind of the spirit”? How do we unite with the Spirit?

Step one: It is a “mind,” or being “in” the Spirit. It’s an act of inner faith, of trust in the truth of God’s gift of the Spirit in Christ.

What is the Spirit “of”?

Spirit of life: Psalm 1 and Proverbs say that God’s ways lead to life, and the ways that stray from his wisdom and truth are the ways that seem right but lead to death.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Proverbs 14:12 NIBO

The law of the Spirit who gives life has set you1 free from the law of sin and death.

(Romans 8:2 NIV)

The Spirit of Christ: The one who is God made flesh.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

ESV Romans 8:9

The Spirit of sonship: The one that points our heart to the one that accepts us tenderly, and wants to help us.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. {Or adoption} And by him we cry, “Abba, {Aramaic for Father} Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16

How do we appropriate this life in the Spirit?

You can conquer in participation with the Spirit.

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Romans 8:11-17

How do we accept and receive the spirit of life and Christ? 4 ways in this passage:

Embrace your obligation to the “law of the Spirit of life.”

The Spirit is the new “law” for the Christian, both in directing us, and as the new obligating power. So we can fulfill the law without being under it. We fulfill its moral “ordinances,” without being under its specific written code (Substance chapter 6, Freedom For).

Embrace the death and resurrection identity.

Death: In Christ’s death the flesh is condemned. This is imputed to you if you are dead in him. Have you embraced and accepted that you are in Christ in his death, and have you participated in it in baptism?

What shall we say, then? 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? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:1-4

Resurrection:

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Romans 8:11

By the Spirit, execute the Flesh—with extreme prejudice (Spiritual brutality/ferocity).

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Romans 8:13-14

The Spirit gives us peace with God, not peace. We are newly hostile to the Flesh, and seek to kill it like a disease.

Accept the “spirit of sonship”…

…and that the whole of the gospel is a “demonstration” of God’s love meant to support our boast, and joy in the hope of his future glory to which we are heirs. The joy we take in this hope, that is rooted in the demonstration of the love of God in Christ, and in the giving of his Spirit of life that sets us free, is the foundation of our conquering in the inner man, in the face of the curse, and in the direct sufferings of daily life.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Romans 8:15-16

Power versus participation

Any attempt to serve God in true godliness without embracing a cooperation and participation in the Holy Spirit will leave us wretched and defeated.

We will feel 10x worse off than before we knew about God—we’ll be nearly as sinful, but feel 10x more condemned and defeated. The Flesh cannot be defeated by any part of salvation other than receiving the inheritance of a new life and mind in the Spirit.

Being “in the Holy Spirit” doesn’t mean that we forfeit any of our responsibility to make our own decision or fulfill our calling to serve God as his image bearers. It means that the Spirit empowers and informs us in that process. He teaches us the way of life and righteousness. He teaches us the mind of Christ. He teaches us to how to embrace the identity of being God’s beloved and intimate children. And in these we can walk out of condemnation and defeat into freedom and triumph.

In this life, God has not given us final victory over the Flesh. That is probably so we can find humility, and learn to truly participate in and with the Holy Spirit in our mind and life. You will never have the power in yourself only to overcome the flesh. But in the Spirit, you will always have the power to do so. And even when you fail, in the mind of Christ, you will return to the attitude of sonship, and therefore fail in the right direction.

Sermon: It Is Humans He Helps

What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, 
both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 
He has fully paid for all my sins, with his precious blood, 
and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 
He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father 
not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together 
for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit 
he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready 
from now on to live for him.  

Heidelberg Catechism: (16th century Protestant Catechisms) 

It is humans he helps.

Angels don’t need his help, they are his helpers. How should we pay careful attention here: how does he help humans?

3 words that unlock 3 truths about how he helps us: 

By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone 

What does that mean in a world where all die? He didn’t taste death “instead of” us.

Passage Parallel: verse 10, “author” or “pioneer”—the one who was first and starts something; the entrepreneur, the one who creates from scratch and makes it easier for those who follow. Bears the suffering to get it going. “We’re all going to go through it, but he is going to take us through it.” 

Parallel words: Hebrews 12:2 , “starter and finisher” or “pioneer and completer.” The Greek: avrchgo.n kai. teleiwth.n—beginner and completer. This parallel shows the emphasis is on the one who does something unknown and complicated (due to ignorance and fear) first and makes it much easier for the next person. 

In Jesus’ death and resurrection Jesus has “tasted” death, and pioneered the way through it for us. 

  • In atonement- taking away the sting, and judgment of death.  
  • In conquering it- by taking away the power of it’s mystery by defeating death, and giving us the promise of resurrection. 

Suffering made Jesus the perfect savior for us.  

“Perfect” – better or fitting? “Perfect” or “perfect for”? Perfectly accomplishing brotherhood—a fully shared experience.

Hebrews 2:10-14 NIV 10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting  [that] (to1) God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.1 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”1 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.”And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”2 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil…” 

The one who makes people holy, and those made holy are of one family. The family of the sufferers—the line of “flesh and blood” (verse 14). That is why he “shared in their humanity” or literally “partook of the same” (as the flesh and blood). 

The sharing of suffering and death is the heart of sharing our flesh and blood. 

NAS Hebrews 2:18 For since He Himself was atempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Heb. 2:18 NAS) 

How does this brotherhood help us? How is it the definitive help that we need- that makes Jesus the perfect helper as our high priest?  

Jesus broke the power that enslaved us by our fear of death 

Heb. 2:14-15 NIV “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  

Notice the word is “by” not “to”—we were not enslaved to our fear of death, but by it.  Literally: “as much as the fear of death, through all their lives, they were subject to slavery.” 

How does that free us from the power of the devil?  His power was rooted in our fear of death—and it is that fear that makes us easy to manipulate and easy to lead away from God.

Job 2:3-5 NIV “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

It is our experience in Flesh and blood that makes us both capable and vulnerable in creation.  We are unique among the self-conscious persons of the universe to be subject to flesh and blood and, therefore, death.  Neither God, nor angels, nor demons have any experience of such uncertainty, or of our particular kind of suffering—to not see things spiritually as they are. 

Jesus took on this unique foundation of human fear and doubt, and bore it perfectly, and showed us how—as a kind of brother. By becoming fully part of the flesh and blood people that suffer and die in this world.  And he showed us how God would bring us to glory, and put everything under our feet—even death and hell. 

Our fear of death was not a lingering and obscure slavery that hung in the background of a free lifeit was a chain and lock that bound us to a hundred slaveries that are all rooted in our fear of death. 

Our slavery to the devil works its way out from our fear of death and suffering. It leads to our fear of: 

  • Aging or becoming irrelevant 
  • Not having money 
  • Being relationally isolated  
  • Losing our good name 
  • Fear of missing out—that we only live once, and our lives are as meaningful as what we can cram into them 
  • Need to get out of hard relationships or to avoid hard things 
  • Our difficulty with getting over loss 
  • Our anger that we’re not celebrities 
  • Our anger that we have to work, and can’t just play all the time
  • Our fear to take moral responsibility for our lives—because we know that we’ll be self condemned 
  • Our unwillingness to stop judging others—because the people worse than us seem like a safety margin keeping us from the ledge of the precipice of judgment 
  • Unwillingness to forgive 
  • Unwillingness to deal with out deep dysfunctions—because it is humiliating suffering to seek psychological freedom 

Every slavery takes its authority from our fears as people of Flesh and blood—as part of the brotherhood of suffering and death.  

When Jesus breaks our fear of death, he breaks the chain and lock holding us to ALL OF OUR SLAVERIES. But we still have to appropriate that freedom.  We need to put our slaveries under his feet. 

How do we experience the freedom from slaveries that Jesus has already broken?  

  • Short answer: Pay careful attention to the great salvation.  
  • That is: The freedom is in the details.  
  • Context: The rest of the book of Hebrews. 
  • Practical: Your faith needs to become as incarnate as Jesus the high priest.  It needs to  be as divine as the Son of God, and as flesh and blood as the Savior man Jesus. 

Our faith needs to be focused on Jesus—who is himself the high priest.  

You can’t shy away from Jesus himself—you have to focus your spiritual life on him. On being his disciple. Learning about him. What his death and resurrection means, and how he has called you to follow him into godliness, which will involve suffering and ultimately death (but also much more).  

Galatians 6:2-10  2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  4 Each one should test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,  5 for each one should carry his own load.   6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.  7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.   9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.   10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. 

Sermon: What to take back from COVID-19?

Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) preventative measures, High Point Church is doing church at home in small worship groups. This blog post is based on the sermon outline. You can watch the sermon here, and get updates from High Point Church regarding COVID-19 here.

As a pastor, I can’t tell you “everything is going to be ok.” I don’t know what you’ll hear when I say that. Already none of us are untouched by this line of events.

I can’t tell you that what you fear will not happen, or that what you hope for will happen. I can only say that it’s impossible that all of your varied fears will happen. And that probably none of your hopes will come about exactly as planned. This is why it is not our duty to predict the future in either anxiety or pride.

It is our work only to look ahead far enough to plan to do our duty and then to exist fully in the present, embracing the full labor of love toward God, ourselves and our neighbors.

Let’s start with a simple realization: COVID-19 is going to take from us.

  • Trivial: The NBA
  • Total: death and loss
  • Tragic: Real hurts, sickness, pain, overwork, massive loss of wealth, lost jobs or closed businesses, students not eating, getting in trouble through addiction or crime because you can’t handle the idleness

But will COVID-19 give anything? Or, can we take anything from it?

Calamity may come for many different and simultaneous reasons. But in Romans 8:28, God claims to “work” even these things for some goods if we look to him in faith (love him and are called to his purposes).

Pain, tragedy and suffering may be the ONLY way most of us will take certain things from the human experience. But this is only true if you are more than a philosophical materialist and a practical consumer. If, in your mind, mammon and math are all that there is in the universe, then disease can only be a catastrophe. But if there are things like love, meaning, souls and God, then catastrophe may be the only way we will see them rightly.

C.S. Lewis talks about pain as God’s megaphone to a deaf world. The word “deaf” does a lot of the work. It only works if we can’t hear in another way.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

Then what credible thing stops up our ears?

Blaise Pascal teaches that men love diversion (it is our deafness). Diversion is the wax in our ears.

Diversion. Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” –Pascal

Jesus calls the means we use for this diversion “mammon,” and told us we could not serve both God and mammon. That we could not love God and lick the earth.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Therefore, it is only that which endangers or destroys our material diversions that shout over the deafness of our diversions.  

Only a “grounding fear” can rouse our attention in the virtual reality of diversion.

In psychology, we would say we can only accept pain as therapeutic if it rescues us from a greater evil.

An illustration: Being tackled in front of a bus, breaking our collar bone. Your reaction to being tackled and hurt would be different whether you were facing the bus or facing away from it. To feel the pain was worth it:

  • You have to see that something much worse was bearing down on you
  • You’d have to recognize you weren’t paying attention
  • You’ll be grateful for the intervention

But remember, God’s work in us is not as simple as this. We are prone to go RIGHT BACK to the obliviousness of diversion. The breaking of the collar bone might not be an accident, but an intentional reminder for the future so we will not be looking at our phone crossing the street in a month.

This is what happened to Jacob when he wrestled the Angel of the Lord in Genesis. God touched his arm socket and gave Jacob a permanent reminder of what happens when you wrestle with God.

God does not tell us what he is doing in his secret will in affairs like these. We simply don’t know the heavenly significance of COVID-19. God may have 20 billion angles he is working in such a global space that we know nothing about, and could not.

We only know what God has shown us in this revealed will. Every trial is a testing that both reveals our heart and makes our character.

Yet for most of us, this trial has hardly begun. Our task in this moment is to prepare our minds and hearts to think as God has taught us to, and to find his courage in the midst of the anxieties of likely calamity.

So let’s look at a few of these ways we should brace and clear our minds and hearts.

How can we, at God’s leading, TAKE something from this train of events:

The sobriety that nothing has really changed. We were just diverted.

I updated this C.S. Lewis quote to fit our times.

C.S. Lewis On Living in an Atomic Age (1948) “In one way we think a great deal too much of the likely pandemic’s results. ‘How are we to live in an age of global diseases?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of AIDS, an age of paralysis, an age of terrorism, an age of hurricanes, an age of car accidents.’ In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before nature invented this present disease: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because globalism has added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by a global pandemic, let that disease, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about contagions. They may break our bodies (microbes have always done that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

He is saying: If we trade the deafness of diversion for the deafness of terror, then we can take no good from such a situation as this.

We must wake up to see that human life has always been like this: full of terror and death.

And people have lived with love and courage in all these times, as well as some have lived in hatred, selfishness and cowardice. It is not the presence of danger that takes away our humanity, it is our understanding of our identity and purpose that reveals our hearts and forms our character.

Become sensible of the vanity and shallowness of our diversion.

Pascal, p. 141. “Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées “The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion. And yet it is the greatest of our miseries. For it is these above all which prevents us thinking about ourselves and leads is imperceptibly to destruction..”

If you wake up from a hypnosis, you should consider how not to fall into it again.

We have to learn the spiritual lesson of how given we are to diversion, and how it numbs us and leads us to our spiritual death. And also, how it keeps us from the deep pleasures and joy of life by making us brittle and shallow.

My book Substance explores this more deeply.

The only way to really escape diversion is to pursue purpose, depth, godliness, and discipline by faith.

Receive from Christ his greatest gift.

Hebrews 2:14-18   14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil–  15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

As a human high priest, Jesus:

  • Revealed the resurrection: and pledged an everlasting life
  • Achieved salvation: the atonement and forgiveness we needed for death to not lead to a greater calamity.
  • Present effect: to free us from our fear of death and evil.

Result:

Find the courage to love.

Romans 8:28-39   28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 present realizations:

  • God will work for the eternal good – the “Glorification” of all his own.
  • Nothing can separate us form his love – not even death.
  • Therefore: our identity is that we are conquerors.

Conclusion: That only makes sense if you repent of materialism.

It can only help you, form you and guide you if you believe that what happens inside your heart and soul is more important and more defining than what happens to anything about you in the material world, even whether you live or die.

5 Difficulties Believing and Their Treatments

When I was in college, I came to talk to one of the pastors at my church about how we could reach more college students. We talked about moving our only service from 9am to a later time. We talked about including applications and questions relevant to college students, as well as some other possibilities. He listened politely and expressed his concern for the college students I was working with. However, when I finished, he had a fairly brief answer for me. He said something like, “Nic, I know that you want to reach students and give them answers to their questions. But you need to understand that at bottom, their rejection of the gospel isn’t about philosophy, apologetics or better preaching; it’s about unbelief. They don’t want to believe. And when people don’t want to believe there is no reason good enough and no information complete enough. And the university is septic with that kind of unbelief.”

I knew there was something wrong with that answer, but I had a hard time teasing it out. On the one hand, I knew he was partly right. Unbelief is the most recurring sin in the Bible and the most predictable attitude of the human heart. God talks about it constantly, and the narratives of the Bible show us everywhere what it looks like. The prophets explain its fruit and Jesus attacks it regularly. Unbelief is the great sin.

Yet I also knew he was partly wrong. Not every difficulty believing in the Bible is unbelief. Jude says to be “merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). Even where the word “unbelief” (apistis) is used, there are situations where is it not considered a sin. Like the father that said, “I do believe! Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Yet, even for Christians, unbelief is still the greatest enemy in the mind and heart. It says it this way in Hebrews 3:12-15:

“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

The author calls the unbelieving heart the “sinful” heart and says that it is the result of our hearts being hardened by “sin’s deceitfulness.” That is, unbelief is a kind of dishonesty and unreality. It is a rebellion against God’s truth: a “turning away from the living God.”

Five biblical categories for difficulty believing in God

  1. Ignorance: A lack of education. Not knowing about God’s truth.
  2. Doubt: A weakness of heart. When knowledge fails to strengthen the heart with the courage of faith.
  3. Non-belief: Having information, we remain unpersuaded. Lack of persuasive reasons to believe.
  4. Disbelief: A lack of conceivability. The gospel seems too good to be true, or too bad to be considered.
  5. Unbelief: A moral failure to believe what should be believed. A refusal to believe and a subversive attitude. A turning away from God.

Continue reading 5 Difficulties Believing and Their Treatments

Our Changing Church

Every church is changing. Even though the gospel is unchanging, every church is an expression of the gospel through their language, culture and time. But as the culture, language and time outside of the church continues to change, and each church’s cultural expression will fall behind if it does not change. No church that prevails in this culture can measure itself by other normal, or even “successful,” churches. Even growing churches tend to grow because they are “better” when compared with other churches, which means that often these churches grow because people transfer from other churches. There is some growth by conversion, but very little even in most growing churches. Continue reading Our Changing Church