"So," they say, "nobody's perfect!"
But the Vinedresser won't buy that.
Given the opportunity, He will trim the unproductive suckers and shape the branches so each one will bask in Sonlight.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

GOD’S CIVIL DEFENSE--A study of Romans chapter twelve

What brain trust came up with the term “Civil Defense” for hiding in a bunker waiting for a bomb scare to expire — or waiting to die, which ever comes first? I suppose one could consider it a defensive action, but there’s nothing really “Civil” about rushing around helter-skelter, looking for a place to preserve ones miserable life from atomic fallout.
For a better example of civil defense consult the Bible’s New Testament, Romans chapter twelve. It teaches us to defend ourselves from sin while behaving civilly toward our brethren.
One might well ask, “Oughtn't we to love our brethren, making attempts at civil behavior unnecessary?”
One might well answer, “Ya think?”

Verse 1
The chapter begins by exhorting us to do something that might seem uncivilized; we must offer ourselves to God as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God.” Is the Bible telling us to willingly lean over a blood-receiver and have our throats cut?
Hardly! God wants to put us to use, not to death. But what if offering ourselves to God freely and completely did require giving our lives for His purposes? The faithful believer’s answer would be, “Yes, Lord.”
All this grisly conjecture depends upon understanding and obeying the second half of the above verse: For our sacrifice to be worth more than a tinker’s dam, our lives must be characterized by holiness(living separated from the world’s corruption). This, however, is not simply the imputed holiness of a life given to the Lord. Yes, such freely given and freely received holiness allows us fellowship with God, but through His Holy Spirit’s empowering we must also live our holiness.
Some easy-belief proponents will shake their heads at the idea that we must live holy lives. They point to the many New Testament passages that clearly state our salvation is God’s free gift1. And of course that is true. However, He gave us in His New Testament some balancing passages that do not negate those already mentioned, but complete the truth they declare2. In some way we humans cannot fully understand, God not only shares His holiness freely with believers, but also requires that we live conspicuously free of the world’s corruption.
This difficult truth is nothing more than the law of cause-and-effect. One Scripture verse that simply presents such a truth is: We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19 ESV) Cause: He first loved us. Effect: We love. Many other Bible passages present God’s truth in such a way, but not in such a brief form.

Verse 2:
A simple command, really. “Do not be conformed to this world, …” Obviously, easier said than done.
The next phrase hints at how we might obey this command: “... but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, …”
Why? “... that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Testing means we will have options, probably multiple choice.
In school we all loved(or hated less) tests with multiple choice questions; if we studied at all, one of the answers looked better than the rest. God gives us options as well, usually not simply good versus bad, but good versus better versus best. And often the best isn’t at all obvious. We pick one, and either suffer the consequences or enjoy the reward. That’s called learning, not simply memorizing the correct answer, but learning by experience what works and what doesn’t.

Verse 3:
Conceit is God’s enemy, therefore it is our enemy. It is one of the most effective soldiers in Satan’s accursed army.
This verse begins with the conjunction for, linking it to the previous verse with cause. For conceit, pride, arrogance and their whole unseemly family, is the stuff that makes this world system, and most regrettably, many of our brethren, corrupt.
This passage’s apostolic author gave us the Holy Spirit prescription for the disease: We are not to think more highly of ourselves than we, by faith, aught to think. And by that God-given faith we must moderate our self-thought with sound judgment consistent with God’s grace.
Does that mean we must perpetually bow low, beating our chests with mea-culpas, personally accepting responsibility for the world’s ills? If such self-flagellation were scriptural, yes indeed, but it is not. In the same letter to the Romans, the author gave us one of the most liberating statements in Scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)
Born and raised in a Catholic family, I bought the teaching of temporary remission of sin through the Sacraments, and the perpetual guilt that accompanied it. When I first accepted Yeshua’s work and presence in my life that guilt was amplified many times over, as I more fully appreciated the magnitude of His sacrificial gift. But I was defenseless against the enemy’s guilt trips because I was as yet ignorant of God’s teachings.
Then, when I found Romans 8:1-2 and drank it into my mind and heart, I understood that in some supernatural, miraculous way, my Savior took all my guilt upon Himself at the cross. Though I can never understand His infinite love for me, I can joyfully accept it. And knowing that boundless love makes me love all those who walk this world with me, friend and foe alike.
For that reason I am able to view myself through faith in God’s grace, not as a super-human, but as a super-forgiven human. And by the same grace I am able to willingly accept any role God has for me in His church, from cleaning the bathrooms to offering the benediction.

Verse 4:
Face it, a few of our beloved brethren get a huge charge out of holding some lofty position in the church’s ministry. They seek high position with the same vigilance that consumes politicians running for office. And woe be the committee member who votes against them. Somehow, such self-important brethren have lost sight of God’s design for His church; that design being compared in Scripture to a healthy human body, with each member performing his or her function according to their unique gifting.
Verse five continues the thought by explaining that every part of the body, God’s church, is significant, and members with every other part. If one part is weak or diseased the entire body functions below par. Can there be any wonder how so much of today’s church is plagued with impotence?

Verse 6:
“Body Life” is a Christinese term that’s been bandied about for many years, and means the daily dynamics of relationships, ministries, and gifts acting within the church. Here again, we see faith prominently mentioned in the midst of a passage about exercising our spiritual gifts within the local body life. The apostle emphasizes the role of grace in God’s assignment of spiritual gifts; the converse being the idea that individual believers presume upon His grace when we proactively select our own roles within the church. Though job preferences are natural to our fleshly self-interest, we must allow God to decide what work we actually do within the church. That takes faith.
Verse six begins the listing of spiritual gifts with prophesy, a touchy subject in today’s church. Touchy, not because the apostle treated it as controversial, but because today’s church denominations can’t seem to agree on the current role of prophesy. The extremes range from the belief that prophesy was sealed with the Scriptural canon’s completion, to the belief that any “Spirit-filled” believer can declare any vague impression as being from God.
The problem with exercising faith is the church has turned it into such a subjective quality. We might say we believe the Bible, but fail to implement its principles and promises in our daily lives. Our faith must produce the “rubber meets the road” level of trust when all else has failed.
The object of our faith must be worthy of our faith, and we must understand that object’s true nature for our faith to be well-placed and valid. If I were to have faith that a helium-filled toy balloon would support my weight, then jumped off a cliff while holding it, I would likely become badly disillusioned … and injured … when I completed my descent. And performing such a feat because “God told” me to do it” would not soften the impact.

Verses 7&8:
Seems obvious that if our gift is service, we should use it in our serving. But if it was all that obvious, would God have instructed us specifically to do it that way? There must either be a kind of serving that doesn’t rely on the spiritual gift of service, or there is more to service than meets the eye.
It’s safe to say that when we engage in any kind of ministry it must be genuine and Holy Spirit motivated. So, why would anyone go to all the work of ministering if his motives weren’t pure? For the same reason anyone does anything from ulterior motives; they seek some sort of payback.
Again, we refer back to verse 6: “And having gifts, different according to the grace that was given to us,” and apply it to each of the gifts listed in this passage. If that grace was for serving, our serving will be genuine. If it was for teaching, our teaching will also be genuine, etc.
Verse 8 deviates from that pattern somewhat: “he who is sharing--`In simplicity!' he who is leading--`In diligence?' he who is doing kindness--`In cheerfulness.'” Here we see the moral character that we must exhibit when exercising the particular gifts. Exercising all these spiritual gifts depends upon a common principle: consistency with God’s character.

Verse 9 on
The rest of the chapter develops, completes and applies the common principle at work in exercising the spiritual gifts and interacting with one another within the church. Each verse is golden as God’s word builds an understandable view of God’s character that we will emulate out of love for Him. To try and fail is to prove God’s grace. To fail to try is to prove we are not His.

Please keep in mind that any passage excerpted from God’s word conveys only part of God’s revealed truth. Do not fall into the enemy’s trap of seeking to prove specific teachings with a few Bible passages taken out of their full Biblical context.

1: Partial list of Scripture verses asserting that our salvation is the free gift of God.

John 3:13-17 ESV
(13)  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
(14)  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
(15)  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
(16)  "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(17)  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 5:24 ESV
(24)  Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 10:9-11 ESV
(9)  I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
(10)  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(11)  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 11:25-26 ESV
(25)  Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
(26)  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

John 6:51-58 ESV
(51)  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
(52)  The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
(53)  So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
(54)  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
(55)  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
(56)  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
(57)  As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.
(58)  This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever."

Romans 3:19-24 ESV
(19)  Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
(20)  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
(21)  But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it--
(22)  the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
(23)  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV
(18)  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
(19)  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
(20)  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
(21)  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
(8)  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
(9)  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Galatians 2:15-16 ESV
(15)  We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners;
(16)  yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

(24)  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

1 John 5:10-12 ESV
(10)  Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
(11)  And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
(12)  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

2: Partial list of Scripture verses showing God’s requirement that believers live separated from the world’s corruption.

Matthew 5:14-16 ESV
(14)  "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.
(15)  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
(16)  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV
(1)  Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Galatians 5:16-26 ESV
(16)  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
(17)  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
(18)  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
(19)  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality,
(20)  idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions,
(21)  envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
(22)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
(23)  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(24)  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
(25)  If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
(26)  Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV
(8)  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
(9)  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
(10)  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 4:17-24 ESV
(17)  Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
(18)  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
(19)  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
(20)  But that is not the way you learned Christ!--
(21)  assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,
(22)  to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,
(23)  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
(24)  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Philippians 3:14-15 ESV
(14)  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(15)  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.

Hebrews 12:8-10 ESV
(8)  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
(9)  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?
(10)  For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.

1 Peter 1:14-16 ESV
(14)  As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,
(15)  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,
(16)  since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

1 John 3:2-11 ESV
(2)  Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
(3)  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
(4)  Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
(5)  You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
(6)  No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
(7)  Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.
(8)  Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
(9)  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
(10)  By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
(11)  For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.


Michael said...

The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

Jim Thompson said...

Thanks, Michael, for your thoughtful comment on my blog post. I am curious as to the source of the quote you supplied in your comment.

Regarding your User Profile testimony: What an amazing story you revealed about yourself. And what a marvel to see how God cuts and polishes the rough diamonds He has created. While we must endure that severely painful shaping process, His grace provides us with the strength to persevere as we must if He is to transform us into His Son's image. I pray you will continue yielding to His gentle hand until you bow before Him in His eternal kingdom.