A Christian’s Relationship with Sin

There is something fundamentally different between a Christian, and a non-Christian. Something that goes deep to the core of the person and changes them.

Everyone is born a sinner (Romans 3:23), which is someone who “transgresses against divine law” (Oxford Dictionary). This is the spiritual state that we are all born into. We are slaves to sin, spiritually dead. In this state we are only concerned with things of this world, the things of the flesh, and we are enemies of God.

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

While we are still sinners, while still being enemies of God, we are offered this wonderful gift of salvation. But do we really know what that means?

We have many in our culture who call themselves Christians because they go to church, give tithes, and try to live a good life, according to our cultural standards. But is that all there is to being a Christian? Is it nothing but us trying to live a good life, and to live up to some religious obligations and moral code?

A Christian is more than that. At that moment of forgiveness we are not simply forgiven of our sins but that dead, and rotting sin nature within us is made alive and set free from sin. This is a very real change that makes a Christian something new from that moment on.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:17‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This change within us completely changes our relationship to sin. No longer are we slaves to sin, but we are set free from that sinful nature. Instead of being proud of our sin and eager to hold onto and justify those sins that we enjoy, now we are disgusted by sin. We see it for what it truly is and we try our best to get rid of it from our life. Not out of some moral obligation but because we truly want nothing to do with it.

It is this relationship to sin that sets Christians apart from sinners.

“You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

No, this isn’t saying that a Christian doesn’t ever sin. Pay close attention to the phrasing, particularly the words “abides” and “keeps on”. “Keeps on” in reference to sin, and “abides”, which has a similar but deeper meaning, in reference to following God. (We will be discussing this deeper in an upcoming article.) 1 John says the same thing but using a different word. Can you pick it out?

“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 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. 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. 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.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭3:7-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In this passage the word Practice stands out and it is an important part of what is being said.

prac·tice

ˈpraktəs/

noun

1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method as opposed to theories about such application or use.

2. repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it.

verb

1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

(Oxford Dictionary)

To practice something, is to “keep on” doing it. Habitually, regularly, repeatedly.

“Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” – ‭‭John‬ ‭8:34‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Before we are a Christian we are a slave to sin and we continue to do it. Usually we have a moral code that we come up with where the things we enjoy doing are seen as okay, and the things we don’t like are seen as the line that nobody should cross. We do have a few things we see within ourselves that we try to change to make us better people, according to some cultural standard, but we have this whole list of things that God says is a sin that we justify and try to make ourselves happy to live with. We practice those sins, not realizing that we are a slave to it. Trapped in a way that makes it impossible to escape, if we even wanted to.

And then we became a Christian, and all of that changed.

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” – ‭‭Titus‬ ‭3:3-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Not only have we been regenerated, changed to the core, but we have the Holy Spirit within us. These things are not just some fanciful wishful thinking to sound spiritual and religious. These are very real changes.

“How can we who died to sin still live in it? … 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. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:2, 6, 11-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

A Christian is someone who has been awakened to the war that we have with sin and we no longer want to hide it or justify it, we want to get rid of it!

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:9-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the battle. Flesh versus spirit. Paul shows this struggle in Romans 7.

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭7:14-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the process of justification, the process of God working in us to get rid of the sin within us to make us holy, as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). This is the struggle. We are not perfect and will never be perfect while in these bodies, but by the grace of God we do have a real chance against the flesh nature of our bodies so that the life of a Christian is no longer marked by a practice of sin, but by a practice of righteousness and holines. We may stumble from time to time, but our walk is one of righteousness.

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭1:5-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This passage sums up the struggle well, going back and forth to say that we are not perfect, but we have been cleansed, forgiven, made new. We no longer walk in darkness.

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – ‭‭1 John‬ ‭2:1-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is the life of the Christian. Not one of boasting and bragging about how good we are, because we know that on our own we are filthy sin filled creatures. But we boast in Jesus Christ, because by His mercy and grace, we have been cleansed and made new. Not by our own works, but entirely by His work within us.

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” – ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This is why Christians try our best to live righteously. Not out of some religious obligation, but because sin disgusts us and we want nothing to do with it. Because God is holy and we want fellowship with Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When a Christian tells a non-Christian that they are a sinner and need repentance, it isn’t because Christians think they are better than others. It is because we truly care about people and want them to know this freedom from being a slave to sin. We want them to know God and His loving kindness and forgiveness.

A Christian doesn’t walk around in shiny white robes, pointing out every spot and blemish on others clothing and telling them they had better clean themselves up. A Christian is someone who knows how dirty and awful their own sin is, and wants to share about the God who, despite our filth, gave us new clothes and washed us and called us sons and daughters. We just want to share with you that you too can be washed clean and set free. Not because of me, or anything I can do, or because I’m better than you, because I’m not. But because of God. He is the one to be praised for this awesome gift.

Sinner, I beg you, let go of those shackles you are holding on to trying to justify and accept your sin. It’s killing you, weighing you down, and you can never free yourself. But the one with the key stands ready to help any who lift up their hands and ask for forgiveness.

He died to get that key that will free you.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – ‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – ‭‭Romans‬ ‭6:23‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Do we care about having our sins forgiven?

During a time of his ministry where Jesus was actively healing lots of people, a paralytic was brought in. Of course, the expectation is that Jesus will heal the man and he will walk again. But what Jesus says catches him off guard.

So He got into a boat, crossed over, and came to His own city. Then behold, they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” Matthew 9:1-2 NKJV

Here is a guy that has been paralyzed for who knows how long, being told of the amazing healing that Jesus is doing in others, probably excited and nervous, wanting to be healed but not completely sure if this is all true or not. And then Jesus says to him, “be happy! Your sins are forgiven.”

I wonder what that man’s thoughts are at that moment. The story goes on to tell us what those around Jesus are thinking, but not this man.

Was he excited? Or was he bummed that he couldn’t walk? Maybe this whole thing was a fraud, or maybe God just didn’t want to heal him.

We don’t know what he was thinking, and can’t really speculate, but I bet his response was completely dependent on this man’s view of his own sin. And this is where we can take a lesson and apply it to our own lives.

If this man saw sin as something that “everybody does,” a part of every day life that, yeah, maybe it sucks, but we just have to deal with it because “I’m only human” then he was likely disappointed at this news that Jesus shared. Sin can be seen as a bit of an ephemeral thing, something we know happens but don’t see the effects of so we don’t take it seriously. And since “everyone does it” we assume it’s a normal part of our daily lives and move on. In this case it is only our physical needs that we really care about. “Who cares about my sin! Just make me walk again, that’s what matters!”

On the other hand, if we see sin as God sees it–as a horrible act of disobedience that severs our relationship with our creator–then at that moment we would break down in joy. Our sin has been forgiven! That which should never be forgiven, that which can never be made up for, is gone! Who cares about physical healing, or if we will ever walk again, or have perfect health. Our relationship with God can be restored! Isn’t that an amazing thing?

You can tell a lot about a person’s spiritual health by how they treat sin. If sin is something they tolerate and are okay with, then something is wrong. The person is spiritually sick. But if sin is something that they hate, something they want no part of and are eager to give up, that person will be shown mercy from God.

He who covers his sins will not prosper,
But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy. – Proverbs 28:13 NKJV

Yes, we are all sinners, and will continue to sin until we shed these bodies, but sin is not something we are to tolerate as believers. We have been set free and saved from sin, not so we can continue living in that filth, but so we can experience redemption and a restored relationship with God, our father. It isn’t just about being sorry we sinned, or sorry we got caught, but wanting to forsake sin completely!

Daily Commitment is Important

dusty_bibleIt’s November! For most people it means getting out the Christmas decorations, planning road trips, and stuffing turkeys. For me it means I have to write. A LOT!

November is the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It’s a crazy challenge to write a 50,000 word (or longer) novel in 30 days. Crazy, I know.

Last year when I reflected back on the challenge and how I beat it I realized that one of the most important things was to just commit to write daily. Each and every day I did something to work on my novel. Some days I only wrote 100 words, some days I wrote 10,000 words. Most days were in between.

Focusing on the project daily is extremely important to completing this challenge because taking a break, even for a single day, makes it really easy to turn that into a two day break. Then three days.

And before you know it months have gone by without writing. Getting into this daily habit also made the writing itself easier.

This year is no different than last. It’s the daily commitment that gets me through the challenge. Writer’s block, being tired, all of those excuses get put aside because I have to get my word count in! I don’t have time for excuses.

In the past couple of weeks since I started preparing for this crazy writing challenge I started to let things slip. I haven’t had time to get any articles out on ETM, for one. But also, I quit reading my Bible consistently.

When taking on a huge challenge, whether it’s writing a novel, organizing an event, practicing for an upcoming competition, or just daily life with a full schedule, setting aside the Bible gets way too easy. We fall into the trap of thinking the Bible is just another motivational book, so it seems easy to let it fade into the background of life.

But reading the Bible is a big deal. It’s the weapon we use in this battle taking place between our spirit and our flesh.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119:105 ESV

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. – Romans 15:4 ESV

One of my favorite quotes is from Ravi Zacharias says:

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God. Keep it or every other battle will get bigger.

Keeping ourselves focused on God and drawing close to him is a daily battle against our sinful nature. The more we read the Bible the closer we draw to God and the easier it is to walk by the spirit and not the flesh.

I once read a book on fasting suggesting that weekly, or at least regular, fasting was important because it helped prepare the heart to hear from God. It wasn’t the act itself, because it isn’t the food we eat that gets in the way of listening to God. But the sacrifice of giving up food, something your body craves, to make God a priority, to focus that time on Him; that is what makes the difference.

In the same way, sacrificing some time out of your busy day to focus on God does something to us. It isn’t simply the act of reading something, but it’s making a concerted effort to make God an important part of our day, and it helps prepare our heart to follow the Spirit instead of the flesh.

Thankfully I have a godly wife that was there to help remind me of the importance of not sacrificing that time I should be spending with God. Walking in the flesh because we haven’t fed ourselves spiritually opens us up to a lot of temptation, hurt, and sin. It isn’t worth it. Especially for a husband who is trying to lead a house spiritually. It doesn’t take long for the enemy to come in and strike when we set down our weapon. A single decision made when we are following the flesh can have devastating consequences for a family.

We are in a spiritual battle, and a single day of not being prepared can be lethal.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 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.  – Galatians 5:16-17 ESV

I urge you, take a few minutes each day to read the Bible. It’s important. Very important. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just reading one chapter, or even finding a single verse to meditate on throughout the day. Anything to feed your spirit and help you to win those battles against the flesh.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12 ESV

Not Good Enough to Talk to God

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t pray or help someone out spiritually because you’re not living as spiritually as you think you should?

I recently overheard a conversation where one person confessed that he doesn’t pray anymore because He isn’t as close to God as he used to be. He feels that God isn’t going to listen to him because he is not doing what he knows he should be doing.

You might think this is silly, but I can completely relate.

There are times in my life when I feel like I’m being a strong Christian. I’m reading my Bible daily, praying constantly, and fasting regularly. I’m doing everything a “good Christian” should do and avoiding any obvious sins. It’s in these times when things are going well that I feel closest to God. I feel like God and I are best buds. I talk to Him and He listens, because I’m being such a good little Christian.

But those times only seem to last a few months. Before long I end up going down the same road as before. I stop reading my Bible, stop praying, and fasting is way out. I start fighting temptations more often and I get argumentative with my wife for no reason or start spending money selfishly putting us further in debt.

During those times in my life I know I can’t help others spiritually. Why would anyone listen to a failure who can’t even follow God for more than a few months at a time without sliding back into a worldly routine? Praying will be pointless because there is no reason God should listen to me. People want help from those who have been in their situation and overcame it and God only listens to those who are following Him in everything. Right?

In those seasons where I feel spiritually strong I know God will, of course, listen to me. Need prayer? Come to me! I’ll help, because I’m close to God so He listens to me. Need spiritual advice? Come to me! Because I’m reading the Bible daily so I have special insights and can tell you exactly what to do.

Because I am awesome enough that I can draw close to God. It’s all about Me.

I’m a puny spotted sheep in a flock of other puny spotted sheep thinking that I have an inside relationship with the Shepard because for once in my life, I’m actually doing what I’m told.

How arrogant can I be?

In 2010, I was going through one of those spiritual valleys. During this time I felt overwhelmingly called to write for ETM again and to resurrect this ministry.

Immediately my response was to say “NO!” How could I possibly tell others they should follow God when I wasn’t even doing it?

That’s like someone telling me – an un-athletic, overweight, couch potato – to go play hockey for the Colorado Avalanche! I would quickly be found out to be a fraud and would do nothing but humiliate myself and the team.

In the same way, I can’t possibly represent God or help others when I’m in my spiritual couch-potato mode. If I wanted to play on the team then first I need to start an intensive training regimen.

Only after getting back into spiritual shape by reading my Bible daily and doing all of the things I know I should do, would I even be able to consider trying to help others or be used by God. Only then will I be strong enough to… to go help God? Because the creator of the Universe who has infinite power and wisdom, He, really needs me and my spiritual beefiness.

God didn’t call me to start a spiritual weight training routine, He called me to write. Not later, but right then.

When we are spiritually strong we tend to get prideful. Pretending it is our own ability that makes us close to God. We feel like we can lead others to follow God closer because “look at me, I did it!” We tell others how we are following God and encourage them to do the same things we do.

But this attitude is an offense to God. We have to realize that all of us are horrible sinners before God. None of us are good (Romans 3:10), all of our best works are nothing but filthy rags.

But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭64‬:‭6‬ NKJV)

Casting Crowns gave some good imagery for this verse in their new song “All You’ve Ever Wanted” they sing:

But all my deeds and my good name
Are just dirty rags that tear and strain
To cover all my guilty stains
That You already washed away

All of our good deeds are dirty before God. During those times when I’m feeling strong I’m really just dressing myself up in filthy, oily, blood soaked rags and acting like I’m wearing a tux. And then I approach God to show Him how amazing I look in my rags.

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭1‬:‭4-5‬ NLT)

The only reason I can ever be spiritually strong is because God gives me the ability to be. It isn’t about me taking spiritual steroids and weight lifting to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s about me, being a quadriplegic and being strong only because God is my Iron Man suit. It’s all about Him. I am nothing.

God wanted me to write for ETM, not because I was good and in a position to lead others, but because He wanted to use me. I was to write because He had things to teach me. I was to write because He wanted to speak to others through me.

It’s all about God. Our works don’t make us a better Christian, only God does that.

When you are in a spiritual slump, don’t stop yourself from praying. That’s when you need to pray the most and when you are the most honest with God. A prideful and arrogant heart that thinks it deserves God’s respect is in fact disgusting to God, while a humble heart that recognizes it’s need for God brings Him honor.

A man’s pride will bring him low, But the humble in spirit will retain honor. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭29‬:‭23‬ NKJV)

It’s never about us and our ability to follow. It’s all about God.

Have you ever used the excuse that you are not spiritually strong enough to avoid doing what God is leading you to do?

The Silliness of Hiding from God

A few months ago, I started something new in my family: budgeting. I know, the dreaded “B” word, one that I tried for so long to avoid. Assigning every dollar a job and keeping track of every dollar spent has been great in helping us not overspend. With there being so much benefit to this, I thought I would never again go back to the world of spontaneous spending and not tracking each transaction (Yay, YNAB!).

But then, I would make a purchase that I knew I shouldn’t make. I felt guilty for spending the money on things like eating out when we are low on grocery money, or buying a movie just because I’m bored. I realized that when I would make those purchases, I would resist wanting to record the transaction.

I don’t really know why I wouldn’t record it; it’s not like I was hiding it from the bank. Once the transaction has been made, the bank is fully aware of it. The amount available in my account will reflect this transaction, even if I never record it in the budget.

Ultimately, the only person I’m hiding the transaction from is myself. It becomes a pain to reconcile my checking account to the budget when I have transactions that I didn’t track, and eventually I have to track them anyway, so, really, hiding it from my account does me no good.

Because of my guilt, however, I somehow feel better, or at least I think I can ignore the guilty purchase, by not recording it. It really is silly and pointless.

Then, I realized that we end up doing this same silly thing with God. We sin, and then think that we can somehow hide it from God. So, we don’t confess it; we try to hide it and move on with our lives like we never committed that sin.

The entire time, the only person we are hurting is ourselves. It weighs on our conscience, and continues bothering us and sapping away our joy. God already knows that we sinned. Heck, He knew that we would commit those sins before we were ever born. Yet He still chose to save us and love us. We are not really hiding anything from Him, so why don’t we just confess the sin, repent from it, and move on?

Doing this is just part of our rebellious human nature. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself” (Genesis 3:7-10 NKJV).

After they sinned, they felt shame, and tried to hide what they did from God. God is all knowing. Can anyone hide anything from Him? Of course not, but we try anyway.

Some people try their best to act righteous in an attempt to hide whatever wrong they have done, but God sees right through this:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28 NKJV).

The Pharisees would pretend that they were righteous, while still hiding their sin from people and attempting to hide it from God. But Jesus was not fooled. He saw right through their mask and went to their hearts. These are the people that Jesus rebuked.

But those who openly admitted their sin and then repented of their sin, those are the people that Jesus spent time with and praised.

Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:10-13 NKJV).

Basically, it all comes down to this. Yes, you sin. God knows it, so don’t try to hide it. Repent from your sin (turn away from it), and follow Jesus.

Just like you can never hide a transaction from your bank, you cannot hide your sin from God. He already knows about it.

That’s the beautiful thing, though. If you are a Christian, God knew that you would sin before He chose to save you, and He still chose you, despite that – because God loves you.

If you have been avoiding church, or avoiding fellowship with other believers because you feel ashamed for what you have done, know that it isn’t hidden. God already knows about it, so stop letting that be your excuse to not go to church.

If you have been resisting the idea of repenting from a sin as a way to hide it, then know that you are only hiding it from yourself. God knows about it already, so the longer you hide it from yourself, the longer it will weigh down on your conscience and drag you down.

Is there something that you have been trying to hide from yourself that you need to get out in the open?

My Apology to you, lessons from Jonah

Over the past several months God has put a lot of messages on my heart to write about and share on ETM.

But sadly, I have been too busy or distracted to write them. I mean, it’s not really a big deal, right? All I was putting off was writing on a simple website – a blog – not anything “real”. Part of why I felt that was was due to a few comments I received about this site, saying that by writing for a website I am just fooling myself into thinking that I’m doing something for God and the church, while in reality I’m just wasting my time that should be used to do something “real” with actual people.

Sadly I let those words of discouragement affect me for way too long, evidenced by the fact that I have only written a single article since hearing them.

This week God used an extremely long and boring drive through Nebraska (twice) to teach me something. With nothing else to entertain me for 18 + hours in the car, I turned to podcast sermons from a few churches that I really like. A few of those messages were by Pastor Lance Ralston, from Calvary Chapel of Oxnard.

The passage covered was a story I have heard numerous times throughout my life, but for some reason I found that this particular sermon was crammed packed with several new insights. It was awesome! And then it became convicting.

The message ended by saying that any time we refuse to do what God tells us to, we are being like Jonah. No, we may not be picking up and running in the opposite direction of what we are told to do, but is that any worse than disobeying by sitting on our couches while ignoring God? When God tells you to do something, you need to do it. It didn’t take long for that message to personally hit me, and instantly I knew it was about ETM.

It took another two days of dwelling on the sermon before something else hit me.

But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. – Jonah 1:4-5 (ESV)

One of the things the pastor mentioned that I had never before considered about the story of Jonah, was the impact his disobedience and sin would have on others. When Jonah booked passage on a ship to Tarsus, it wasn’t a pleasure cruise. It was a cargo ship. He was sailing with sailors who made a living from delivering cargo.

But then Jonah stepped on board. And as a consequence of his personal sin the entire crew suffered. After they set sail a storm hit the ship. One powerful enough to panic an experienced crew to the point that they started dumping their cargo, their livelihood, overboard. The storm almost broke the ship in half, because it was so strong. They were not the ones disobeying God, they were the innocent bystanders, but because of Jonah’s disobedience the crew lost an entire shipment of cargo, and almost lost their lives.

If God puts a message on my heart to write about, then I need to do it. There are no excuses about how “nobody will read it” or how “pointless” a virtual ministry is. I just need to obey. It’s up to God to make it effective, and since I don’t know the future I can’t even hope to make a prediction about how the article may affect someone.

There might have been a person who would have read one of those articles on this website who needed to hear exactly what I was told to share. Maybe they needed wisdom, edification, or conviction, from what they would have read. But because I never wrote it, I missed out on an opportunity to be used by God to be a blessing in another person’s life. And for what? So I could watch some movies or play games?

Or maybe what I wrote never would have been used to help someone. Maybe I’m just supposed to write it out of obedience. For whatever the reason, I was led to do something awesome and I didn’t do it. And for that, I give you a heartfelt apology. I’m sorry I disobeyed God and was not there for you when you needed me to be.

Jon Zenor

Lust, a Looney Tunes Worthy Trap

The first on-screen appearance of Bugs Bunny, ...
The first on-screen appearance of Bugs Bunny, from an unrestored version of the cartoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who remembers watching the old Bugs Bunny cartoons where the bad guy would always fall down the really obvious trap door? I got to thinking – that’s kinda what Solomon was talking about in Proverbs 5 & 7. Lust is an awful lot like a really obvious trap door. God puts warning signs in our lives to steer us away from lust and temptation. The only problem is that sometimes we are so consumed and blinded by our lusts that we either can’t see or we ignore the warning signs. It’s like walking up to that really obvious trap door and falling down the hole. Only, unlike in the cartoons, we willingly trigger the trap.

As someone once said, “It’s not the fall that will kill you; it’s the sudden stop.” When we’re in the middle of indulging in our lists (falling) we can’t see (or don’t care about) the affect our sin has on us. Yet once we hit the floor and we feel the guilt and shame of our sin, the damage has been done. Unlike the cartoons, though, we don’t come back in the next scene like nothing happened. Not only does our sin hurt us but it hurts those around us, especially the ones we love the most. Not only do we come out all banged up, but so do others.

We often forget that God tells us not to do certain things for a reason – because He knows what those things do to us, how unholy they are, and lust’s destructive power. We take a look at that which we lust for (whether it be sex, power, control, appearing spiritual to others, money, fame, fortune, love, acceptance; the list could go on) and we covet. It’s like that child whose parents tell him or her “no” so the child either throws a tantrum or does/goes for it anyway.

Then again when we refuse to give in to that temptation and lust, even if we’re standing with one foot on the trap, God prevents the trap from springing. When we trust God and that He says no for a reason we find that we draw closer to Him. And, heaven forbid, we have fallen and damage has been done, God can still repair the damage that’s been done.

Would we do more, if following Jesus wasn’t so easy?

The Jordan River
The Jordan River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning while reading the Bible I came across the story of Naaman, a commander of an army who also had leprosy.  He does what any of us would probably do when facing such a severe disease, he turned to God.

 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’”  So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child’s, and he was healed!

— 2 Kings 5:10-14 (NLT)

I see this passage and am struck with the question, do I do the same thing?

He is struck with a disease and approaches God for healing, and the prophet gives him a simple answer. Go wash in the Jordan River.  His response is “No way!”  I can see at least three reasons in this passage as to why he said “no” at first.  And then I have to wonder if any of them are the reason I use to avoid doing what I am told to do.

Pride

“I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” 2 Kings 5:11

Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” – 2 Kings 5:12

Pride is something that is really difficult to deal with, but is the cause for so much of our disobedience to God.  And it is something that affects everyone.

For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, . . . pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” — Mark 7:21-23 NLT

Naaman wanted to receive the royal treatment, after all he was a commander of an entire army.  Yet when the prophet simply sends him a message with instructions, Naaman is greatly offended.  Instead of taking to heart what he was told to do, he lets his ego get the better of him and he walked away bitter.
I know too many people that have walked away from God, bitter towards Him, simply because God acted in some way that we didn’t want and we refuse to be humble.
Naaman then used the excuse that there are better rivers than the Jordan, so why not just use them?  Have you ever been called to do something in an area that you did not like?  Who wants to minister in the slums when you can minister to Hollywood stars and football players, right?
We have to be careful to not let our pride get in the way of our mission.  Pride in ourselves or in what area of the world we minister in.  If God calls us to pass out tracks in the slums of our city, then passing out tracks in the better areas of town is not a compromise, it’s just plain disobedience.
Naaman was not going to be healed by the water in the Jordan itself, but by obedience and humility.

Expectations

“I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! -2 Kings 5:11 NLT

I cannot count the number of times that I was disappointed because God did not act in the way that I, a mere human, wanted Him, the God of the universe, to act.  How silly is that?

We expect that when we pray for healing that God will instantly heal everything about us, or that if we pray for financial help that God will have someone send us enough money for everything we “need” to take care of.

But in reality God works in many different ways, sometimes subtle, but almost always in ways we never expected.

This week I have been praying for God to help us out financially.  Later I went to the store, and I saw a few movies that I really wanted.  Normally I would just get one and go on with my day.  I tried.  I stood in the movie section for ten minutes trying to decide which movie to get when it occurred to me, I didn’t really feel like buying a movie.  I wanted the movie, but the desire to actually spend money on it was gone.  In that way God helped me financially, not by giving me money like I wanted, but by helping me not be so stupid with the money He had already provided through my paycheck.

Don’t refuse to follow God or do what He commands you to do simply because it isn’t the way you wanted Him to help.

It’s too Easy

Project365-Day4
Project365-Day4 (Photo credit: JonZenor)

“Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” – 2 Kings 5:13

This one I have seen happen to people before.  They want to follow God in some really big important way, and until they are called to do something really big and important, they do nothing.

To accept the challenge to climb a mountain or donate a large sum of money to a cause makes us feel like we are actually doing something for God.  Why?  Because not everybody can do this.

We want to help others and serve God in some way that is unique and special, not just like everyone else can do.  Anybody could give a homeless person a few dollars, but we want to be the one to help get that homeless person back on their feet and into the life they used to have.

We want to be the one that flew to another country, went on a tour of Israel, and climbed a mountain to be closer with God.  It sounds impressive; very impressive.  Because it is not something that most people will ever do.  It shows that we have more dedication and commitment to God, that you are willing to sacrifice a lot for God.

But will you sacrifice the little things, every single day, for God?

Right now I’m using this excuse to avoid tithing.  Due to my current financial situation, I cannot give $100 a week in tithes and other charities like I used to do. So I haven’t been giving anything.  I could give $10, but that isn’t as impressive as what I used to do, it’s too easy.  So I do nothing.  Sacrificing ten dollars doesn’t show much dedication and sacrifice compared to one hundred.

Easy does not mean unimportant

Another reason why I think people do not do the easy things that God calls us to  do is because we feel like if it isn’t difficult then it isn’t important.  I can say that this is not true.

Giving a few dollars to a homeless man is important to him.  Reading your Bible every day may seem unimportant because of how easy it is, but it can have the single largest impact on your life.  Giving only $10 to Gospel for Asia is important for those people who are given a Bible or clean water because of that small donation.

Serving God is easy.  Follow Him, read the Bible, and follow what God tells you to.  It’s so easy that we think it is not important.  But it is important.  It is the most important thing we can do in our entire life.

Do you use any of these excuses to avoid following God?  What are you planning on doing about that?

Fanning the Flames of Passion for God

The previous article in this series on Neglecting our Mission Field talked about how we are ignoring our mission field and focusing on entertaining ourselves and living a life of comfort due to the fact that we do not have an understanding of how much God loves us and we do not love Him as we should in return.

Colored campfire
Colored campfire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have another problem as humans.  We are like camp fires.  If a camp fire is left alone it will eventually burn itself out to where it is nothing but smoldering ashes.  We need constant attention and constant fuel to keep the fire strong.

This is why reading the Bible on a daily basis is crucial to our walk.  As well as praying, going to church to fellowship with other Christians, listening to sermons, and even reading articles that encourage us online.

I have fallen into this cycle many, many times with God, as well as with my wife.  I notice there are times when I just feel so much love for my wife that I want to do absolutely anything for her. I want to please her and make her happy, and I want to give her everything she deserves.  Then there are other times where I start to focus on myself more.

I have found that it is really difficult to focus on yourself and on anybody else at the same time. When I am focused on what I want I start to put my own desires over those of my wife’s.  It is not that I am mean or abusive to her or anything like that, I just don’t treat her with the love and attention she deserves.  I forget to go open the door for her or I get frustrated when asked to do something that gets in the way of what I want to do.  The more selfish I get during that time the less I focus on her, or on God.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  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. – Galatians 5:16-17

Then I just have to stop and think, to remind myself how much she loves me.  To remind myself about the commitment that I made to her, that when I married her I made her holy to me and set her apart from anybody else, including myself! She is the one that I will adore and give all of myself to.  I need to find those things that fan the flames of passion and love for my wife or for God, and commit to do them.

And it is the same way for a Christian’s relationship with Christ.  We sin and stumble so we do not always have a perfect relationship with Him despite the fact that He is perfect to us.  But then we remember how much He loves us and that we committed to make Him holy and set apart in our lives, to make Him our Lord and master.  And it is that love that drives us to not care about ourselves, to not care about our wants but to follow and worship Jesus and to love what He loves, which includes His mission.

When we have that love, we can’t help but love others more than ourselves.

When we realize that love, we can’t help but want to give away our stuff to help others and to spend our money helping others rather than spending it on ourselves.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

But how do we fan the flames of our relationship with God?  The absolute biggest way is to spend time with Him.  Read the Bible, pray, focus your thoughts and attention on Him.

Want a crazy thought to show us how much Jesus loves us?  Ask yourself this, how much does God love Jesus?  Do you think it is a lot?  A whole lot?

Of course it is a lot!  But then Jesus says

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you – John 15:9

That is crazy! Jesus, the one who is perfect and Holy and who knows me and every wicked, sinful, evil thing I ever did or ever will do, He  loves you as much as God loves Him?

Do you believe that?

If you do, that is awesome.

If you don’t, if you are like me and struggle with believing the fact that God loves you completely and fully this very moment, then do not fear.  Pray that the Holy Spirit will show you this love that “surpasses all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen – Ephesians 3:20-21

When we do not love God

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 6:   A couple embraces as...
HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 6: A couple embraces as they worship in audience of the non-denominational prayer and fasting event, The Response on August 6, 2011 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Thousands attended the event organized by Gov. Rick Perry in order to pray for God to help save 'a nation in crisis' referring to America. The event garnered an estimated 30,000 participants who came to worship through day. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

In the past few articles I talked about how we have neglected our primary mission field because we have turned our mission field into a comfortable home that we do not want to risk loosing or downgrading.  And I mentioned that instead of spending all of our time on the mission we distract ourselves with games, movies, and entertainment  and just doing things that keep the focus on us.

The answer, though, is not to give away all of your stuff, cancel your cable TV, and spend all of your time at the local food pantry volunteering and never have any fun again.

That is because those issues are not the problem, they are just the symptoms.

It is like when you get sick, running a fever and coughing so much you cannot sleep.  The fever and the coughing are not the problem.  The problem is that you have a virus running through you destroying your body.  The coughing and fever are just the symptoms, the signs that you have a problem.

Likewise, the fact that we spend all of this time focused on ourselves and our wants, focusing on our desires for now instead of the future in eternity, they are just a symptom; a sign that says we have something much deeper wrong.

There are two problems which are related to each other.

  1. We lack an understanding of how much God loves us
  2.  We are not in love with God

according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. – Ephesians 3:16-19

A lot of times we as Christians (or just as humans) find things wrong with our lives and we want to fix them ourselves.  We know we are not tithing enough so we try harder, we know we have too much stuff so we discipline ourselves more and drop the stuff we think is hindering us.  We come up with lists and plans and accountability groups and fasts and all these actions to make us act better.

But the true issue is that we have not fallen in love with God.

I cannot say or do anything to make you fall in love with Jesus just like I cannot make you fall in love with any person.  If you fall in love or not is dependent on you and how much you see and reflect God’s love towards you.

All I can do is make the introduction, but after I introduce you to Jesus – the creator of the universe who was beaten, bled and died because He loves you so much He doesn’t want you to pay the penalty of your own sins against Him – after I make that introduction, you will either fall in love with Him and bow down before Him, or you will just say “meh, that’s cool” and continue on with your life.  The only thing I can do on a continual basis is pray for your heart to change towards Him and keep reminding you that He is there.

And that’s hard for me.  I created Eternal Truth Ministry to share Christ with as many people as I could, and to know that nothing I say can persuade you to follow Christ, that in the end it is still up to you to fall in love with Jesus, is hard.

I say that this issue is the root cause of why we do not care about our mission field here because once you get it, once you see and understand how much God loves you and once you fall in love with Him in return, then you don’t need to be told that you spend too much time on unimportant things.  You do not need to be told this because your love for God will drive you to want to fulfill His mission for you on Earth.

And Then There Were Fewer

Once you realize how much God really loves you, then you will want to share that love with others more than sit in front of the TV watching Big Bang Theory, Family Guy, or American Idol.

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