Update on CLRA Meeting
I thought it important to start with a quick update on the meeting Jason and I went to this week. I don’t want to take up the whole sermon time with it, but it’s important, and you are all invested in what is happening so I want to make sure you’re informed.
There were actually four meetings in a row. We began with worship and a quick orientation by the leaders of CLRA outlining why we were there and a quick discussion to make sure we were all on the same page. Pastor Paul Carter, the point leader of CLRA, explained that the whole point of the day was to be a one-stop-shop where we could pray together, hear from the CBOQ leadership about how they are dealing with the LGBTQ issues, talk amongst ourselves as church leaders, and then get a presentation from another denomination that has already dealt with the issue properly.
To be honest, this has gone on far longer than I even knew. I told you last week that this all came about because of Danforth a few years ago but it was actually 7 years ago that this came up in the Norfolk association. One of the pastors there tried to go through the process of confronting another pastor who was giving some false teaching but ended up getting in trouble himself at the CBOQ head office. That event is actually what spawned the creation of CLRA and Danforth is only the most recent example of the same issue they’ve been trying to deal with for a long time.
I could get into more detail about what’s been going on for the past years, but suffice to say that there hasn’t been a lot done. People have talked, committees have been struck, paperwork has been shuffled, emails sent, plans made — but ultimately nothing has been done to confront the actual issue of what to do with pastors and churches who are teaching and doing unbiblical things. And that’s where the frustration comes from. Lots of talk, not enough action.
To give an example of what’s been happening, let me tell you about one e-mail. The CBOQ struck a committee to discuss how they could deal with these kinds of issues. This committee took a long while to come up with six phases they would go through to “deal with challenging issues”. We are currently on phase 3 where they encourage churches to talk to about the issue before moving on to phase 4 where they get feedback from the churches.
They decided to send out an e-mail telling people that they were planning to launch phase four soon, but apparently, the first draft of the e-mail wasn’t to the liking of the CBOQ staff, so they took it to another group so they could edit the e-mail. That tweaking on one email took over a month. I got it a couple weeks ago and it absolutely reads like it was written by a committee more interested in not offending anyone than actually saying anything. This caused confusion among the churches and head office was inundated with calls by confused church leaders. And the churches who want to see decisive action taken on what they see as an obvious issue are very frustrated.
When the president and former president of CBOQ came into the meeting, it felt tense. The two men were obviously nervous and defensive. When they sat down their tone was immediately aggressive and accusatory towards the pastors and leaders of CLRA. They talked for a long time and were given a chance to answer questions from the crowd, and it was a very frustrating thing to listen to. We kept asking pointed, specific, questions like, “Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin?” or “Will the CBOQ be decisive and deal with this issue?” or “We already agreed on this in 1988 and 2003 and have systems in place to deal with it at an association level, will you support those systems?” – and they just refused to give clear answers. If you’ve ever watched a politician bob and weave around reporters questions and dodge issues they don’t want to talk about, you’ll know how it felt. It was very disappointing.
When the two of them eventually left, the gathered leaders only had a short time to talk but I think they all felt the same way as I did. Pastor Paul voiced his frustration, as did some others, said it was generally agreed that the CBOQ was badly broken, hopelessly divided, the head office woefully inadequate to the task, and that the conference is probably unfixable outside a mighty work of God. Pastor Paul then made the suggestion that there was really only one, last ethically right thing left to do: Present one final, clear, decisive, formal motion at the next CBOQ Annual Assembly Meeting in June that essentially presents them an ultimatum. Stand by the word of God, stick to the principles the CBOQ has historically agreed on, and create a discipline and policing mechanism to deal with the churches who refuse — or don’t.
And that’s the current plan. Pastor Mark Bertrand, who has been part of this process from day one and has even been sitting on various CBOQ committees, will get a few smart folks together to draft that motion, send it out to the CLRA churches, and then we’ll probably meet one more time before the meeting to nail down the exact wording.
The general consensus is that a motion like that will be thunderously defeated at the floor, but at least then everyone will know where they stand. And that’s where we’re at as a church too. Jason and I are waiting for CLRA to get back to us with a draft of that motion, and we’re waiting and praying for the next Annual Meeting.
(There was a brief Q&A at this point. To hear it, listen to the Audio Podcast version.)
Why This is Important
I know I said that I wanted to get back into the Gospel of John this week, but I really feel like we need to cover why this topic is important enough that many churches would consider leaving the CBOQ over. I can absolutely see people saying, “Why can’t we just all get along? Why do we have to argue at all? Why not just let them do their thing and we’ll do ours and then we don’t have to divide? Hasn’t there been enough division in church history? Doesn’t God talk about the importance of unity? Won’t it affect our church’s reputation if we are the ones to leave? Can’t we just all stay together for the sake of the things we actually agree on?”
And those are very good questions. No church, and no Christian, should take division, divorce, or disfellowship lightly. Whether it’s us talking about the churches of our denomination, the individual congregation we attend, or our ministries, work, contracts, friendship, families, or marriages, our hearts should be oriented toward unity, working things out, being gracious, open-minded, forgiving, putting up with one another’s issues.
Consider the words of Romans 12:9-21:
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
That’s an extremely clear passage of scripture dealing with human relationships. It covers inside the church and outside. It covers friends and family, troubled people, and enemies. It keeps telling us to be kind, gracious, humble, loving, and extremely patient with everyone who we come in contact with — just as Christ has been with us.
And so, you’d think that it would go doubly when dealing with other churches, right? The Bible is super clear about Christians seeking unity. Paul pleads with churches to remain united under the banner of Christ. So why would we be talking about division and disunity with the CBOQ? After all, shouldn’t we be doing what Romans 12 says?
Leaving a Church
Yes, and no. Yes, we need to be loving and patient, but no, we should not remain in partnership with everyone who calls themselves Christian. And the nuance is important.
Right now, there’s a huge problem in the Christian church with division and what is sometimes called “church hopping”. A lot of Christians tend to treat churches like restaurants. They go, try the food, if they like it they stay, but if they get bored, the chef changes the specials, or one of the waiters has a bad day, they take off and go try a different restaurant. The consumerism of the culture has seeped into people’s brains so much that they believe that they can treat the local church like a store and their ministries like a product. And they sometimes leave a church with as much thought and prayer as they would give switching from Freshco to Independent, or from Petro-Canada to Pioneer. They only think as far as their own feelings.
I would argue that most Christians who leave churches leave for non-biblical reasons. They don’t follow through on Romans 12, they don’t go through Jesus’ teaching on how to deal with offences from Matthew 18, they don’t get council or humble themselves like Paul wanted Euodia and Syntyche to. They just leave. And that’s bad for the church they leave because the church can’t grow past whatever issue they left because of, it’s bad for the church they go to because these people are bringing baggage with them, and it’s bad for the people themselves because they are missing the blessing of what God promises to those who humble themselves toward their fellow believers.
We don’t want to be like that. But, does a person have to stay in one church forever? Are there good, biblical reasons to leave a church? And, as to our own issue, are there good reasons for a church to leave a denomination? Yes, there are. There are actually 4 I found in my study.
Four Reasons to Leave a Church/Denomination
The first reason to leave a church is if heresy is being taught from the pulpit about foundational, scriptural truths. Listen to Galatians 1:6-9:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
There is a lot of wiggle room for different opinions about secondary teachings in the Bible. A person’s view of the end times, their view of creationism, or what version of the bible is the best one are all good discussions, but they are not primary and they’re not reasons to leave a church. What we’re talking about are things that are in the Apostles Creed. If the church has a dozen amazing ministries, a great kids program, and an awesome band, but doesn’t preach the Gospel, God wants you out of that church. They are accursed.
The second reason to leave is “If the leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship.” (I got a lot of help from this blogpost by John MacArthur on these four reasons.) In other words, if there is no system in place to discipline and remove false teachers. If the first reason to leave is that they’re teaching heresy, the second would be that the church simply isn’t interested in correcting heresy. Listen to Romans 16:17-18,
“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
This is the church that has a good preacher and lots of good foundational documents on their website — a good statement of faith, membership covenant, etc. — but if anyone teaches anything different from what is in scripture, they have no system, no way, even no desire to confront that teacher. You go on Sunday and hear a decent sermon, but the Sunday School teachers are unskilled and full of wrong ideas, or the Small Groups are studying dubious books or false teachers, the music leader speaks with biblical falsehoods or sings unbiblical songs, or the library is full of contradicting and heretical materials. This is also a red flag — and is, in fact, the main reason why the conservative wing of the CBOQ is considering leaving. There are churches who are in clear violation of scripture — on the LGBTQ issues and others — but the CBOQ has not demonstrated a will or desire to discipline them or allow the associations to deal with it. Letting wolves roam around the sheep is a huge problem and a reason to leave.
The third reason to leave is similar to the second one, but it is if the church refuses to confront sin or discipline members who are sinning blatantly. I won’t get you to read it, but you’ll hopefully remember from 1 Corinthians 5 that Paul gives the church a lot of trouble for letting people in the church get away with some pretty disgusting stuff. And not only refusing to discipline them but actually bragging about how open-minded and non-judgmental their church is. This is another red flag — that they don’t take sin seriously.
Not that they are all spying on one another, breathing down each other’s necks with everyone afraid to move lest they get hammered by the pastor — we’re talking about people who are in obvious sins. I’ve heard of churches who have caught men molesting the kids in the church but refused to call the police or tell the church. That person just leaves and goes on to do it at a different church. That’s terrible. We’ve talked about the dangers of not confronting sin many times and that the most loving thing we can do is to drag sin into the light and deal with it. If a church doesn’t take discipline and sin seriously, then they don’t take God, salvation, scripture, or love seriously. We would all agree that a parent who doesn’t discipline their child, or who doesn’t pull them back from danger, does not truly love them.
We, as a church, cannot say we love the people of Danforth or Norfolk or any other church in the CBOQ who is teaching and practicing error if we are not willing to step up and say so. It is cruel of us to allow a group of people we are in association with to go on listening to and believing wrong things about God because we are too afraid to tell them the truth and bring their pastor or leadership to account.
The fourth reason to leave a church is if the church is marked by hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to actually live it out. We read 2 Timothy 3 last week, but turn there anyway. Hopefully, you’ll remember this list describing people in the church who want to be called Christians, who even want to be pastors and leaders in the church, who want everyone to see a “form of godliness” but are in fact hypocrites who will not submit to Jesus.
How can you tell if you are attending or in fellowship with this kind of church? Paul describes it this way, “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be…” now look at this list:
“Lovers of self”. This church promotes itself, not Jesus or the Gospel. They talk about how great their pastor is, how cool their ministries are, how good their band sounds — but not about the work God is doing there. The fruits of repentance, obedience, and humility are nowhere because the church doesn’t love Jesus, they love themselves, so that’s what they talk about.
Next, this church is full of “lovers of money”. Having a big building and a gym and fancy tech isn’t bad — and having a small church full of old stuff doesn’t make you better than them. How can you tell if the church is a lover of money? All the conversations seem to revolve around money. Maintenance issues, how to spend the money, how to save the money, they argue about budget items, they talk a lot about how much tithing there is, the rich people are in places of authority even though they’re not godly, and things like that. Whether a church is rich or poor, if they spend more time talking about money than they do praying, studying the word, and presenting the gospel, it’s a bad church.
Next, this church is “proud, arrogant”. How can you tell? Because they constantly compare themselves to other churches. They think they’re better than them. When other churches or preaches or ministries come up in conversation it’s always comparative — who is better, who has bigger numbers, who has bigger building, who raised more money. The preacher slams other churches in his sermons, and the culture of the church shows that they think they’re better than others.
I’ll stop there, but consider the rest of the list for yourselves. Have you ever heard of or been to an “abusive” church or seen an abusive pastor? They absolutely exist. And they’ll abuse under the guise of being “fundamentalist” or even “tolerant”. There are churches and pastors and ministries who teach their youth to be “disobedient to their parents” under the guise of being radically sold out to Jesus. Some churches are “ungrateful”, others “unholy”. There are “heartless” churches who don’t care about the marginalized or oppressed. There are “unappeasable” churches who are always complaining and arguing about something. There are “slanderous” churches who promote gossip and talk about people behind their back – even from the pulpit.
And there’s more for you to consider. These are churches and church leaders, as verse 5 says, who have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” What does the Apostle say we should do when we come across churches and ministries like this? “Avoid such people.”
Why? Because a little yeast works its way through the whole dough (1 Cor 5:6). Because bad company ruins good character (1 Cor 15:33). Because if you partner with willfully sinful, unrepentant, heretical people, you are guilty by association and they will invariably drag you into their sin.
Now, let me be clear. That doesn’t mean you’ll ever find a perfect church. We’re not a perfect church. What we’re trying to be is a church that is actively working towards godliness through the power of God. That’s all that can be expected. A good church, a good Christian, a good association, a good friend, a good partner, is not one that never sins – it’s one that recognizes their sin and is working on it. They see the hypocrisy in themselves and want to deal with it. They see greed and they want it to stop. Not because they are trying to earn God’s love or show off, but because they trust God’s way, trust God’s Word, fear and respect God as Lord, and know that sin is dangerous, sin is corrupting, sin is a trap, and sin cost Jesus His life, so they want to be free of it. And they preach a message that tells people how to be free of it by the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The CBOQ, if they keep going the way they are going, doesn’t seem to want to do that. They have tolerated sin and error for years, and have had ample opportunity to deal with it. That’s why we’re on the fence waiting to see what they’ll do with this final ultimatum.
So my encouragement to you is to pray for the CBOQ that the leadership would repent. For the churches that are in sin, that they would repent. For the leadership of CLRA, and for us to make wise and careful steps over the coming months.
My further encouragement to you is to consider your own history with churches. Have you ever left a church for wrong reasons and need to repent and ask forgiveness? Are you here for the right reasons? Are you considering leaving, and are those reasons godly? Do you know people who have left their church, this one or another, and need to be confronted about why they did it? Perhaps God is calling you to do that.
And finally, I would ask you to consider our own church’s issues. Are there any weeds in our garden? Are there sins that we, as a church family, need to repent of? Are there things we’ve let slide that God has convicted you of, but you’ve been afraid to bring up? Let’s deal with them so that we can all stand clean before God and not be mired in sin. How can we ask for the Holy Spirit to bless our gatherings and grow our church if we have sins God has been telling us about, but we refuse to confront? God will not bless disobedience.
Let’s take the speck out of our own eye, before we go and try to deal with the log in the CBOQ’s.
We’re continuing our Burning Questions series today and today’s question is one that is a wonderful, perennial, perpetual, question that believers have been asking themselves since time immemorial. It is simply stated: “How can Christians live in the world, but not be ‘part of’ the world?”
The phrase is used a few times during Jesus’ last night on earth, especially in Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer – the prayer he prayed for all those who would believe in Him – in John 17. It says,
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world….” (vs 14-16)
Finding the Line
That’s basically where the Christian trope “in the world, but not of the world” comes from, and it’s something that we’ve been talking about forever. Christians know that we’re supposed to be different than the world, but how? What’s the most important difference? What are we allowed to do and not allowed to do?
Churches, pastors and parents have been trying to decide what qualifies as something that is “of the world” for a long time. Are movies “of the world”, or just some movies? Is technology and the internet “of this world”, or just certain technologies and some websites? Does anyone remember a while back when Christians were all freaking out about Dungeons and Dragons because they thought playing it was a direct path to hell?
Can a Christian have the newest smartphone, or play cards, or go to a pub for a beer, or go on a date, or wear fashionable clothes, or be vegan? Where’s the line between “in the world” and “of the world”?
I found an article online – full of flames, skull and crossbones, written in bold-red letters, called “Strange Gods in the Christian Home” that outlined all kinds of things that Christians need to avoid. Now some were fairly obvious – like occult movies, but some were a little weird.
It spoke of a painting that a missionary brought back that had “hidden satanic symbols on it”, and as a result his family got sick and suffered “one disaster after another”. Another story told of a family that received a “cable box” that got HBO as a free trial for three months. They didn’t watch HBO at all, but claimed that by merely having a cable box with access to it, they “became very depressed”, a family member “became very sick”, and their pet died. They got rid of the “accursed” cable box and things got back to normal.
The site gives a checklist of movies to watch out for so your home doesn’t get taken over by demons. Included in this list are The Wizard of Oz, Pokemon, The Lion King, Power Rangers, and Star Wars.
Is any of that possible? Do demons reside in cable boxes and hide in paintings? What about Pokémon cards? What about Yoga class? What about video games? What about Halloween? Can a Christian girl wear a skirt and cut her hair? Can a Christian play secular songs on the guitar? What about magic shows? What about eastern martial arts?
Where’s the line? We’re always looking for the line, clear rules, easy guidelines, and obvious answers. Sadly, Jesus didn’t give us a list of good things and bad things that we would encounter. Though some people think it is, Pokémon’s goodness or badness just isn’t in the Bible.
Sanctified and Consecrated
But here’s the thing. Finding the line isn’t the point anyway. Making the perfect list of right and wrong isn’t the aim of the Christian life. Trying to figure out where “in but not of” boundaries, isn’t the goal. And that’s why we don’t want to stop reading at verse 16. Jesus wasn’t done talking yet. Read the next two verses:
“They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (vs 16-19)
You see, Jesus’ didn’t want God to take us out of the world – but to send us into the world, just like He came into the world to save it. He says clearly in verse 15 what He’s NOT praying for: that we would be taken out of the world. He’s not asking God to help us make our list of dos and don’ts and, cloister ourselves away, hide from the world, and live in Christian bubbles for fear that we will fall into temptation. No, He says that what He wants us in the world, but “kept from the evil one.”
And, conveniently enough, when we look at the words that Jesus uses here, He gives us a pretty good plan for what it looks like. He asks God for something very specific. While we’re in the world, Jesus wants us to be protected. How? By “sanctifying us in the truth” (which He says twice) which is “God’s word”, and “consecrated” by Jesus.
Both of those words, “sanctified” and “consecrated”, are the same word – HAGLAZO, meaning “made holy, sacred, special, dedicated towards, committed to, set apart for”.
Jesus wants us to be sanctified, set apart as people who know the truth and live it out. And here’s the cool thing: John 1 says Jesus is the Word of God. In John 14:6 Jesus says “I am the truth”. Here we read “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” and then Jesus saying “for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth”.
In other words, anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their saviour from sin, as the one who died for them on the cross, is already sanctified, set apart, and consecrated. What Jesus wants from God is that He would use His power, His Spirit and His Son to help us live out that which we already possess – to live in the truth and power of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Following Jesus Makes Us Different
A couple of hours before Jesus prayed this High Priestly Prayer He was telling his disciples this:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19)
There it is again – “of the world”. This is the pattern that scripture describes. Jesus chooses some people to be His own. He chooses us “out of the world”, so that we would no longer be “of the world”, but instead be of His kingdom.
In other words all Christians are “sanctified”, “set apart”, “made different” from the rest of the world. We think differently, act differently, react differently to problems and blessings, and see things differently than the world see them.
We will be so different that the world will hate us. We will be as 1st Peter 2 calls us, “aliens and sojourners” or “foreigners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), a displaced people that doesn’t feel at home in the place where we live. We will no longer be “their kind of people”, so they won’t understand or like us.
This is probably the biggest emphasis of our question: “How can Christians live in the world but not be of the world?” because as soon as we become Christians, this world no longer feels like home. Our language changes, our priorities change, where we get our authority changes, our whole outlook on life is different.
That’s the toughest part for a lot of young people (and some older ones) to understand about Christianity: that being a Christian means that we can’t be like the world! We are sanctified, as Jesus is sanctified, set apart from the world. Christians, by their very nature, are going to be radically different from the people around them.
St. Augustine, in his book “The City of God”, talks about two cities formed by two loves. He says:
“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” In the one, the princes and the nations it subdues are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love, the latter obeying, while the former take thought for all. The one delights in its own strength, represented in the persons of its rulers; the other says to its God, “I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength.” (Augustine of Hippo: The City of God)
These two cities are woefully incompatible. When we choose to identify ourselves with Christ, we don’t have the choice to identify ourselves as other things too. There are no dual citizens in the Kingdom of God. That’s the first commandment.
The generation of modern Christians have a really hard time with this. They may claim to love Jesus, but they also love the good and pleasurable things in this world like music, wine, games, sex, friends, entertainment just as much. The love acceptance, tolerance and freedom more than the Word of God.
They feel a constant pull, because they’re trying to be citizens of both cities – the world and of God’s. They want to be captivated by the Word of God, followers of the Son of God, motivated by the Spirit of God – but the trade is too much for them, so they try to live as dual citizens. But they can’t for long.
Mortification of Sin
Many believers today don’t relate well to verses like:
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)
Theologians called this the Mortification of Sin, and it is the outworking of what Jesus was praying about when He asked the Father for us to be sanctified by the truth. We get chosen by Jesus, repent from sin, saved by grace, sanctified by God, and then we look at ourselves and start to see more and more sin. Our love for Jesus and desire for Him starts to cause all other loves to tarnish – especially our love of sin.
So, we seek to Mortify, or kill, that sin inside us. Mortification of sin is “the act of self-denial or the ‘putting to death’ of sinful instincts in order to have freedom from sin and to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Manser, M. H; Dictionary of Bible Themes) One of the results of our conversion to Christianity, after God shows us our sin and offers us new life in Jesus, is that we no longer love our sin, but want to kill it inside us. We deny ourselves the things that our old, sinful, worldly self, used to like and instead practice discipleship and Christlikeness. We deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23-24)
Ephesians 4:22-24 uses the imagery of taking off our old clothes and putting one new ones. He says we are
“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
The old self is deceitful, so we are to take it off – not try to wear both our old life and our new life in Christ.
Think of the story of Paul who, before he trusted Christ, was full of pride, power, and self-exalting titles. He says it this way in Philippians 3:4-11:
“If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”
He had it all: power, reputation, resources, education, and a blameless reputation among all the most important people in Jerusalem. But then He met Jesus. He met Jesus and Jesus showed Paul what all those things were really worth in the light of eternity. Paul realized those things were a path to hell, and in an instant – and then many times after that – he saw that all that he had worked for, all the things that he thought were so important, all the things that made him better than everyone else – was actually pointless. He looks at all those worldly things and calls them garbage compared to knowing Jesus.
He continues in verse 7:
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish [garbage, dung, excrement], in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”
That’s the thing that modern, western Christians don’t get. We have give it all up for Jesus – our education, our plans, our patterns of behaviour, our hobbies, our family, our self-identity, and we trade it all for something better – knowing Jesus. We make the great trade of all we have and all we are, for all Jesus is and all He wants us to be. Why? Paul says so that we might know the power of the resurrection when we die (for as Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)). And so we might become more like Jesus – even though that means suffering
The picture we are given throughout scripture of this transformation from non-Christian to Christ, non-believer to believer, Citizen of the World to Citizen of the Kingdom of God, is as radical as it gets – death and resurrection. Dying to self and rising in Christ is a major theme, a consistent description of what it’s like to become a Christian. The change is so radical, so dramatic, so extreme, so comprehensive, that Jesus called it being “born again”.
Jesus also said it this way:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)
Rebirth is a huge transition. From seed to tree is a huge transition, radically altering everything about the seed. But the seed must die for there to be fruit.
Colossians 3:1-4 says:
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”
In the World
So we still haven’t’ solved the problem of how to be “in but not of”, but we’re getting closer. The Bible says we are to see ourselves as dead to sin and alive in Christ. Our whole task is to then live in our true nature. We are Citizens of God’s City, but we are still living in this world. We are strangers and aliens. So what are we to do?
One reaction is to hide in fear. See the world as a powerful enemy that is to be feared. Run away from everything that is in the world. No art, no music, no movies, no games, no dancing, no non-believing friends, no nothing… run in fear because the world is too big!
That’s what I read on that article I shared. Fear of everything, a demon behind every bush. Everything is out to get you – Hollywood, board games, even the paintings on your wall and your cable box – and God is powerless against it. The implication is that God is so weak that all it takes is a tiny chink in our armour for Satan to destroy us.
That’s not the God I know.
- Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
- Demons were terrified of Jesus! (Matthew 8:28-34)
- Jesus worked through Paul so powerfully that even the handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul used were used to cure sickness and drive away demons. (Acts 19:11-12)
- In James 4:7 we are told that if we “Submit to God” then we can “resist the devil and he will flee from you”.
- Colossians 2:15 says that when it comes to demonic powers, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.”
- In 1st Thessalonians 1:5 it says, “…our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit…”
We don’t need to be afraid of things in this world. They are ours to enjoy and no demon can overpower a citizen of God’s kingdom! That’s why Jesus says, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) and Paul says “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Jesus’ desire is that His people are sent into the world that He created, full of people He loves, to worship Him and enjoy Him forever, spreading the good news of salvation through Him. Will that cause trouble? Sure! Jesus promises us that. Will it all be a bed of roses here on earth? No way. But does a Christian need to live in constant fear that everything in this world is out to get them? No. We are to be in the world, and enjoy the world, and know that we are victorious already over evil because of the complete, saving work of Jesus Christ.
We Need Discernment
Now we’re a little closer to the answer to our question, but our human nature still wants a list, a guideline, a rule, or something so we can know what is “in” and what is “of”, right? We still don’t know what to do with Pokemon, Star Wars and Yoga.
Well, let’s back it up to what Jesus says. How are we to be delivered from “the evil one”? Through our sanctification by the truth, the Word of God, who is Jesus Christ. The closer we are to the light of Jesus, the more clearly we will see the dark schemes of our demonic enemies. Christians call this Discernment, which is a fancy word for knowing right from wrong or knowing how to live wisely.
So the better question is: how do we increase our discernment? Same answer. Get closer to Jesus in prayer and reading His Word. Want to know if Pokemon, Star Wars or Yoga is evil? Talk to Jesus, listen to your conscience, and read the Bible and you’ll be able to make a good call! Do you want kids who know right from wrong? Certainly set boundaries, but don’t trust that they will stay with them forever – or even when you’re not around. It’s better to teach them to read the Bible and pray so they grow in discernment – because they’re listening to and being guided by Jesus.
God does speak today, if we would only listen. There are a lot of guidelines in scripture for how to live a wise and joyful life, love people, flee temptation and avoid sin – if we’d open the book and our ears to what God has already said.