Monthly Archives: May 2015

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Thursday, May 28, 2015 – “According to the Spirit…”

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. – Romans 8:5-6

After announcing boldly the good news of God, Paul makes clear the difference between life under the direction of human nature and new life in Christ.  ”Those who live according to the flesh,” Paul writes, “set their minds on the things of the flesh.”  Paul’s use of the term flesh here refers to an unregenerate life.  In other places Paul uses other terms like carnal, unspiritual, even natural to talk of a life that is under the control of human nature.  Paul writes that such a life is not benign.  ”To set the mind on the flesh is death,” Paul warns.

The alternative is living “according to the spirit.”  Paul asserts that those who are in Christ set their “mind on the Spirit” and experience “life and peace.”  When Paul speaks of setting the mind on the Spirit, he is not talking about merely thinking about the spirit or believing certain spiritual doctrines.  Instead Paul is talking about a radical re-orientation so that life is no longer guided by natural instincts but by the supernatural spirit – the very Holy Spirit of God.

Paul makes this comparison between natural inclinations and a spiritual life in Christ throughout his writings, perhaps most completely in Galatians 5:16-25.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.  Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Eternal Father, thank you for your Holy Spirit through which you give me new life – full, complete, good, and blessed.  Help me both to forsake my sinful nature and to set my mind on your life-giving Spirit.  Amen.

A Bible-study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Friday, May 22, 2015 – No Condemnation

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. – Romans 8:1-2

“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Paul writes with certainty at the dawn of Romans 8.  After his detailed treatment of sin, these words explode with hope and victory like Fourth-of-July fireworks.  ”No condemnation” – just think of how that changes everything – no judgment of guilt, no determination of unfitness, no unfavorable verdict.  Fully vindicated, accepted, cleared of all wrong-doing – that is the decree “for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is announcing the good news – the essence of the Gospel – as boldly and triumphantly as he can, and in so doing he makes it clear that our victory comes not because we are above reproach, not because we are without guilt.  Nor does he leave room for us to think that our new status is the result of the work of the law – not at all!  Our victory is secured because we are “in Christ.”

“In Christ” is a term Paul uses over 80 times in his New Testament letters, and understanding its meaning is central to understanding salvation.

  • Being in Christ means that we are in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
  • Being in Christ means that we place full trust in Christ Jesus – not in our own goodness or status or moral uprightness.
  • Being in Christ means that our human nature has been crucified with Christ and that new life has been born in us.
  • Being in Christ means that we have turned our life right-side out so that we are no longer turned inward on ourselves.
  • Being in Christ means that Christ is in us, through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit

We not only experience justification and reconciliation with God when we are in Christ; we also experience new life through the Spirit.  Sometimes called regeneration, this life in the Spirit both sets us free from sin and sets us free for life in all its fullness.   The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a key component of Paul’s understanding of life in Christ.  In fact, Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit twenty-one times in chapter 8, fifteen times in the first 17 verses alone.

Paul makes it clear that we cannot be “in Christ” if Christ is not in us.  The law could not save us from our sinful nature because it could only modify our outward behavior.  The spirit works within us to modify our inward thoughts, our deepest desires, our basic impulses, and our purposeful motives.  The law with its moral codes might prevent us from killing, but it is powerless to free us from hatred.  The law with its moral codes might prevent us from committing adultery, but it is powerless to control our lust.  The law with its moral codes might prevent us from swearing falsely, but it is powerless to root out our deceitful ways.  Likewise, the law with its requirements for piety might require us to attend worship, but it is powerless to open our hearts to the grace and truth of God.  When we are “in Christ,” the spirit of Christ Jesus works within us to do what the law could never do, transform us from the inside out.

Such is life in the Spirit.  Such is life “in Christ.”  When we look at it that way, it is no wonder that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ.”

Lord Jesus, cleanse me of my sin and fully dwell in me that I may fully live in you.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015 – The Battle Within…

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  - Romans 7:19-25

Paul tells us that even once we come to faith, our sinful actions do not immediately cease. Surely, we know this to be true in our lives.  Paul writes with great self-disclosure about his own on-going struggle with sin in the midst of his life of faith.  ”I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do,” Paul writes.  If St. Paul experienced such struggles, we should not be surprised when temptation comes our way with a vengeance. However, Paul does not only lament his weakness, he finds reason to rejoice, and he guides us to avail ourselves to the means of grace - to grow in faith, to offer pure expressions of love, to surrender to God’s will. He assures us that as we live into God’s grace, we are increasingly empowered to turn away from temptation and to become more and more like Christ Jesus.

When I read Paul’s writing of the “war” being waged within him, I am reminded of  the story of the two wolves from the Cherokee tradition.

“A fight is going on inside me,” a wise old chief said to his grandson.  ”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.  One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.  The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, ”Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, ”The one you feed.”

Lord Jesus, you have set me free to serve you.  Now work within me through your Holy Spirit that every choice I make may help me grow strong in faith and become more like you.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Sunday, May 17, 2015 – Free to Choose

Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. – Romans 6:12-14

One of the problems many of us have when we read Paul’s Letter to the Romans is that Paul writes at such exhaustive length about sin.  Our tendency to discount the power of sin was not shared by Paul, as he carefully works his way seemingly through every theological nuance of sin.  If it is true that we cannot have a strong theology of salvation without a strong theology of sin, then it is no wonder that we love the 8th chapter of Romans, where Paul’s theology of salvation comes to full flower.

As for today, we continue our tedious journey through the morass of sin, and we find that Paul focuses here not on sin as our basic nature so much as on sin as our choice.  ”Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions,” Paul writes.  Paul has laid the groundwork that we are all sinners by nature.  He wants to make it clear that we are also sinners by choice.

Paul asserts that we have been redeemed by the work of Christ Jesus on the cross.  No longer are we destined to live as slaves of human nature, obedient to base passions and animal instinct.  We now are free to choose.  We can choose to continue to live in bondage to our sinful nature, or we can choose to live in right relationship with God.

The work of salvation begins by Christ Jesus’ action to set us free from sin’s dominion. However, just because we have been set free does not me that we choose to exercise our freedom.   It is not uncommon for captives to choose to remain with their captors once they have been set free.  After all, bondage is a familiar life, a safe existence… it seems almost natural.  That is one choice.  The other choice is to live life not to our own purpose and glory but to the higher purposes and glory of God.

Our freedom has been bought.  We are free to choose.

Good Father, thank you for the freedom you give us through Christ Jesus to live above base passions and instinctive desires.  Give us now the courage to claim that freedom that we may live to your higher calling and your greater glory.  Amen.

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Monday, May 11, 2015 – “Dead to Sin… Alive in Christ”

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.  For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:6-11

Paul writes that our “old self was crucified” with Christ Jesus when we came to faith.  By “old self,” Paul is speaking of our instinctive human nature, which turns us inward, distances us from God, and fractures our relationships others.  When we turn to Christ Jesus, we are turning away from this deadly human nature and turning toward Christ’s life-giving divine nature.  This transformation offers disciples a new operating system, in which they are no longer motivated merely by base instincts and self-serving motives, but rather by an intense love for God and neighbor.

Salvation, as Paul unfolds it, is not focused simply on taming our will or constraining its harmful actions but on replacing our human nature with the divine nature.  Disciples crucify their human nature, Paul tells us, and receive a new divine nature by God’s grace.  This death and resurrection of our nature forms the esssence of salvation.  Of course, it is human nature to resist such a transformation in fear that if we give up our narrow self-interest, then no one will advance our concerns.  What we find as we come to faith is something altogether different.  In giving up our self-interest we are set free from base passions, which enslave us and which cause us to act in ways which are contrary to God’s will, harmful to others, and detrimental to our own joy.  Instead, we are able to live at the highest level through the Spirit of Christ Jesus himself.

This transformation is not immediate.  God isn’t finished with us once we come to faith. Theologically we would say we are justified (reconciled to God) but not sanctified (God-like). We are still subject to temptation, and we still sin.  However, we can be assured that God continues the work he has begun in our lives, such that these harmful acts become more and more foreign to us. So, both immediately upon our conversion and even more so, as we grow in grace and truth, we are “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Lord Jesus, thank you for my new life.  Continue to shower me with your grace that I may grow into your very likeness.  Amen.

A Bible study devotional by Gorman Houston

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015 – “As in Adam… so in Christ”

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.  Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.  But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.  – Romans 5:12-15

No one really has to teach us about human nature.  We can excuse many a trespass by recognizing that “we are only human.”  Our humanity means not only that we are prone to make mistakes, but also that we are hard-wired to act in self-serving ways.  Behavioral theorists talk of human nature in terms of basic instinctive motivation, and most of these theorists narrow the instinctive motives to egoism and hedonism.  Egoism posits that people naturally act in ways that advance their own self interests.  Hedonism is the belief that humans naturally act in ways that seek pleasure and avoid pain.  Neither of these is a learned behavior, they are both instinctive, natural, innate – human nature.

Paul sometimes refers to human nature as sinful nature, and when he mentions Adam it is this nature which he is referencing.  Adam is important to Paul’s theology not as the representative of the human race, but rather as the representative of sinful, human nature.  ”Sin came into the world through one man,” Paul writes, referring to Adam, “And death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (5:12).

It is important to note that almost always when Paul writes of Adam he does so to compare Adam with Christ Jesus.  Adam “is a type of the one who was to come,” Paul states.  That is, the “first Adam” helps us to understand more fully the “last Adam,” Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45).  In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth we read, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).  Paul recognizes the human condition and proclaims loudly God’s response.  It is a cancerous virus, Paul says of sin and death, spreading to all persons.  But God’s cure is an anti-virus, which comes through faith in Christ Jesus.

The concept of the viral nature both of sin and of grace forms a helpful analogy to demonstrate how the law treats the symptoms, while salvation – justification and sanctification – treats the disease.  Just as Christ was crucified and then was raised from death, so too when we allow our human nature to be crucified, God’s divine nature is born within us.  Jesus spoke of such a transformation as dying to ourselves and living to God.  ”Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it,” Jesus said (Mark 8:35).

As God works within us, our human nature gives way to the divine nature in which we perfectly love both God and our neighbor.  Just as we are born with human nature, so too Christ offers us new birth into divine nature.

Lord Jesus, I am a sinner by nature.  Help me crucify my self-oriented human nature, that I might experience new life – a new nature – through you.  Amen.

A Bible study devotion by Gorman Houston