The key verse for today’s study is a bit of a challenge isn’t it? Paul’s letter to the Colossians 3:5 (NIV): ‘Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature … ‘. What aspect of your sinful nature did you put to death – last week, last month, last year? We, who follow Jesus, know that we must put to death the sin in our lives – the question is: do we keep talking to God about the need to do something about an identified sin but never actually eradicating it from our life? If, we don’t do something about it now – then Jesus will do something about it when He returns!

Selwyn writes: “John Stott defines mortification in this way: ‘It is taking up, towards sin, an attitude of resolute antagonism. The uncovering of sin in itself is of little value unless it leads to an attitude both of humility towards God and of hostility towards sin.’ “

In this final study on prayer, Selwyn uses these words to summarise the last two months of discussion: “We have seen that prayer is at the heart of the devotional life and that spiritual progress is determined to a large degree by how effective we are in prayer.

The basic elements of prayer, we have been saying, are these: worship, adoration, thanksgiving and praise, petition, intercession, listening to God and confession of sin. Our prayers are not spoiled if one of these ingredients is left out, but prayer which does not at some time contain these elements lacks maturity.”

In summary, prayer is the way we talk to our loving God – I think that the strength of our love for God and other people, is reflected in the time we spend with our Lord – talking to Him about the issues that concern us; and with our spirit align with His – we can also participate with Him, in the issues which concern Him the most. It’s a beautiful relationship that we, through prayer, can work in His harvest field; and then sit down with Him at the end of the day after the work is done, to enjoy a fantastic feast – with Him at the head of the table. How great is that?

A spiritual check-up

I agree with Selwyn when he says: “As a general rule, take some time once a week to open your life to God and invite Him to expose any sins in your life. If there is a particular sin on your conscience, confess it and repent of it (take active steps to eradicate that sin from your life) – don’t keep it for a future time of self-examination. And once you have confessed it, receive God’s forgiveness.”

In his conclusion, Selwyn mentions that the moral structure of our society has collapsed. “It is essential that we stay close to God and the Bible (His Word), otherwise our spiritual sensitivities will become blunted.”

I think it’s a good practice to also talk to your spiritual mentor (a mature Christian) on a regular basis – someone who knows you well and in whom you have confidence. Of course, everything must be tested against the truth, as verified by God’s Spirit. Sometimes we need the insight of a Samuel, as inspired by God, to talk to us in our ‘David’ moments.

One last point – as the ways of this world and the way of Jesus move further and further apart – perhaps a good test is to ask ourselves the question: Over the past few months, am I spending more time watching TV, enjoying recreational pursuits, etc; and less time in talking to God, reading God’s Word, and meeting with fellow Christians? The answer will give you an idea as to which path you are on.

I feel that those who mourn for the broken state of this fragile world and the cultural direction being taken by the West – will actually be spending more time with God, pleading for His return.

Your views?

Are you infected?

Selwyn writes, in today’s study: “Let us ask ourselves now: have we been infected by the tendency of the age in which we are living to reduce the eternal distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil, to a question of taste?”

Those who truthfully follow Jesus, have God’s commandments written on their hearts; and, they have God’s Spirit within them.   Jesus, out of His immense love – will prompt us to look at those areas where we sin and He will provide a cure for our infections. God is constantly working to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, this means He is always working to remove the sin from our lives.

James 4:4-5 (NIV): “You adulterous (those who break their relationship with Jesus) people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?”  God is the good shepherd – He goes and finds those who are lost in sin and carries them back, to be restored.

Now, if we look at the following verses – John 16:8-15: When the Holy Spirit comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

As you can see, God’s Spirit helps us to discern what is sin and what is not; and it’s important to realise that the world’s view of sin and God’s view of sin are different – always has been the case and always will be – right up, to the last day. Those who really believe in Jesus – those who truly love Him and use all of their energy to follow His way, will constantly listen  for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Those, who call themselves Christians, but don’t do anything about the sin in their lives, are people of the world and (as James says) are enemies of God.

I’ve been fairly blunt regarding my comments on sin – but it’s a life and death issue.

Understanding sinfulness

I think the scripture verses, set for today’s study, are very instructive. Paul is writing a general letter to the church in Rome and, as such, covers a wide range of topics. It’s important to understand that what Paul has written is relevant for any generation – the words of Paul, inspired by God’s Spirit, are true – as there were nearly two thousand years ago, and they will still be true on the last day.

Romans 12: 1-2, 9-19 (NIV): “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. …

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”  says the Lord.”

Please note that we are asked to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, at times this may be true in the extreme – as it is for Christians living in Iran. For most of us, we do have a daily opportunity to sacrifice our desires for sinful pleasures – we do have the opportunity to walk in Christ’s footsteps – and His footsteps do NOT follow the pattern of this world, as illustrated in today’s media.

Selwyn writes about the same issue I raised a few days ago: “A well-known American youth evangelist has commented on the fact that some young Christians respond to a call to discipleship during a meeting and then immediately return home to sleep with their girlfriend or boyfriend. We are fast becoming victims of the relativism and postmodernism that has infected our generation.”

I’m amazed that some church leaders shout about gay marriage and the like, yet I don’t hear the same level of protest about the fornication and adultery that’s found within many of their churches. Keep in mind that for a married person to look lustfully at another (who is not their husband or wife) is guilty of adultery; and the penalty for adultery, as for any sin, is death.  It would be wise for those who look at pornography to think about it as a form of adultery and that the consequence can be lethal.

In summary, if you are involved in a sexual relationship and you are not married then you are not following Jesus. He will say to you on the last day (if you have not repented): ‘Go, depart from Me – for I do not know you.’

It won’t matter at all, how active you were in a Christian youth group – it won’t matter at all how active you were in helping other people within your community – if you demonstrate that you don’t love God by not following His Word then you are not one of His flock.

That’s pretty easy to understand – don’t you think?

Thoughts to resist

Selwyn continues his discourse on sin.

As I mentioned yesterday – many types of sin are treated by the media as normal forms of behaviour. I don’t know how well known the TV show, Two and a Half Men, is known outside of USA – but it’s an excellent example of how sexual sin is portrayed as something normal – every one does it, or at least, wants to do it. The sin, in this show, is further disguised by well-scripted humorous (to many) circumstances – such that one could say they are watching the show for its recreational value – however, it’s the constant stream of this type of material which gradually erodes the standards God has set.

As Selwyn writes: “We who are followers of Jesus must not let ourselves off lightly when we find we have fallen into sin, whether it be in word or thought or deed.”

In Matthew 5:3-13 (NIV) we read: “Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.’ “

To follow Jesus, means that you will mourn over the sin in your life and the sin in this fallen world; sin is not an area which Jesus looks upon as humorous.  To follow Jesus, means that you constantly seek God’s help in trying to keep your heart pure – that means you plead for His help to identify and to overcome the areas of sin in your life. If, you follow Jesus – then you will take steps to avoid sin and this will often mean, that you will be ridiculed by those who think that sin is normal human behaviour and there’s nothing wrong with it.

If, you claim to be a Christian yet follow the ways of this world – you will have lost any saltiness you may have had – and be no longer good for anything. Fairly blunt words – but the Sermon on the Mount is a core teaching of Jesus, who will judge us all, according to His Word – when He returns – soon.

I think Selwyn’s conclusion is worth repeating: “It is important to understand how the mind’s defences can attempt to get us off the hook when there is sin in our life. We can find ourselves pleading that our circumstances were exceptional. Or that times have changed. Or that others do the same thing and so it’s no big deal. These are dangerous thoughts and every Christian must resist them.We must recognise sin for what it is, clearly admit it to ourselves and confess to God the wrong that we have done. We can’t get very far with God if there is sin in our life.”

Any comments?


A sign of strength

In today’s study, Selwyn writes about the subject of confession. He says: “We should be ready and willing at certain times in our spiritual life to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit and voluntarily confess any known sin. … We will never draw close to God while there is unconfessed sin in our hearts.”

There are a number of associated issues: one is the ability to recognise what is sin, and the second issue is what to do about it when it is recognised. These two areas need the involvement of God’s Spirit, if there are to be effectively addressed in our lives.

In the Western culture there has been a significant erosion of our sensitivity to sin. This loss of sensitivity is associated with the saturation of world views into our daily lives. It’s hard to escape the constant bombardment coming from TV and other media sources which pushes the message that if ‘everyone is doing it – then its okay, as long as no one gets hurt’. I recently read an article in a Christian magazine about the increasing trend with young Christians (in USA) to enter into a sexual relationship before they were married. If we put aside questions about their faith and just look at what this type of change in behaviour indicates, then we can identify why it is difficult for many people to confess their sins – because they don’t see themselves as having their hearts stained with sin.

To break through this self-deception, we need the power of God’s Spirit to identify sin in our deceitful hearts. Consequently, we should put some time aside to invite God to do an intensive check of the status of our hearts; and, at the same time to unblock our ears so that we can hear what He has to say about the sin in our lives.  We are not perfect – there is always some area in our lives which needs attention and confession.

Once sin is identified and we confess – then comes the big step; we must do something that will lead us in the direction where we no longer fall (with God’s help). Jesus final words to sinners, in general, were: “Go, and sin no more.” Today, His words are still active – they are still words of life and death.

In 1991, when I turned my life over to Jesus there were certain activities which I knew were areas of temptation. One was that I use to go drinking after work on a Friday night with a group of work colleagues.  From previous experiences I knew (with the Spirit’s guidance) that this was a habit that held many dangers for a young, immature Christian.  Through the strength of the Holy Spirit working in my life – I stopped going out after work and never went back to that type of environment. There are other areas of sin in my life that I’m still working through with God, some of these sins were not initially noticed by me and it took Jesus’ searching light to uncover them. Once identified – you can start to work out strategies, through prayer, to avoid the circumstances where such sins are likely to occur.

I just went though this bit of personal history to illustrate that you need to make changes in your life to avoid sin; and, Jesus loves you so much that He will help you make the necessary changes.

In summary, confession of all sin is essential but first we must be able to discern, to recognise the sin in our lives.  Just because everyone else is doing it – doesn’t make it right in God’s eyes; and He’s your final judge – at the end of the day.

Changing the world

Selwyn discusses a way to go about the ministry of intercession. [I’ll quote a fair bit of today’s study, so to give you as complete a picture as possible.]

He writes: “To be effective, intercessory prayer must be unhurried. … Even if you have limited time for intercession you should come to it as though you had unlimited time.

Second, ask God to lay a need on your heart which He wants you to focus. …

Third, focus your attention upon the greatness and glory of God. … Think of Him – His power, His might, His omnipotence and, of course, His accessibility through Jesus.

The fourth and final step: draw your awareness of God and the awareness of the need together in your believing heart. … Pray honestly, … give yourself to prayer as long as the Spirit directs you.”

In regard to the last sentence (above), we are allowing our spirit to be aligned to God’s will. God already knows what we are going to be praying about and He provide us with the wonderful opportunity to be involved with Him, in His work. I’d like to stress this point: we never direct God to do anything – it does not matter how committed we are in following the steps as outlined in the excerpts from today’s study. It is always God’s Spirit who directs us to pray for issues which are aligned with His will. 

[I sometimes get chain emails that often contain a prayer, which the sender states, something along the following lines: ‘If you repeat this prayer a number of times (usually 7) with a believing heart and send this email to another  ‘7’ people, then God will bless you in the following way … . ‘ God is not held captive by these formula prayers; never have anything to do with them.]

Any comments?