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Charles Spurgeon, in his exposition of the Psalms, talks about the progression of sin in Psalm 1:1. This isn’t something discussed in polite circles anymore. In fact, today using the word ‘sin’ itself, is a trigger word for those who are opposed to even exploring the concept the word represents.
And I can agree with them. Sin is not a safe word. Not safe at all. But if we refuse to discuss it, the eternal consequences will eventually crash upon a person’s life as inevitably as death itself; truthfully a double death, as temporal death gives way to the blinding light of Truth, and convicted by their own thoughts, words, and deeds, the person is resigned then to am eternal slow death in regret, for having rejected Truth when opportunity to embrace It had been held out to that person, again and again and again.
So how did this person end up awash in pain, bitterness, and regret for eternity? Psalm 1:1 outlines it for us.
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers,
(Psalm 1:1 NIV)
Walking within the scope of the modern day culture leads to standing with them. Forward momentum toward spiritual maturity has slowed, and then stopped. This led to falling in line with the culture, a spiritual standstill. Then came sitting in the mocking section; the person has forsaken any thought of spiritual sensitivity and has hardened their mind and heart against it, to the extent that he now scoffs at having even tolerated those who hold such antiquated and boorish and exclusionary beliefs. In the modern vernacular, he considers himself “woke” from such tolerance.
However just the opposite has actually happened… and his spiritual blindness is now replaced with a bitter spirit of victimhood, a necessary mindset for the ability to mock.
“When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God… The evil is rather practical than habitual… But after that they become habituated to evil and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God’s Commandments and if left alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful.”
– Charles Spurgeon
He goes on to say that the one blessed by God goes out of their camp, bearing the reproach of Christ. Moses also had experienced this, as he learned the reproach of the Egyptians for turning down the privileges and delights of the palace, and the power and prestige as a grandson of Pharaoh.
Oh for the grace to forsake the siren call of sin, to lash ourselves to the mast and resist; and for the grace to bear up under the rejection of God’s existence and standards by the culture around us; and to confront in the power of the Risen Christ the deception of evil spirits who work continually to convince men that being woke is actually freedom instead of bondage for eternity.
Oh. My. Word. I just realized the lie of Santa Claus. His love for children is conditional. Only the “good” children get their heart’s desire; “bad” children get lumps of coal. When Santa asks a child what gift they want for Christmas, he is asking them to search their own hearts and tell him what they desire most in the world. It sets a child up to focus on tangible things as the solution to the longings of the soul. It tells a child that playthings will satisfy the inner hunger they feel.
And as adults, we still behave as if we are three and sitting on Santa’s lap. We are still trying to satisfy the longings of our hearts with tangible things, yet knowing deep down inside that even when we get the thing we asked for, it doesn’t take long before that rush of delight to fade.
Santa’s elves make toys. They don’t make emotionally mature adults who will love a child and fill their world with loving interaction, satisfying the inner need for healthy relationships.
Nothing comes into my life unless it first passes through His hands. Nothing catches Him by surprise; He stands outside time and He intimately knows the timeline of my life, from beginning to eternity. So when things don’t go ‘my’ way, when He doesn’t answer my prayer in the way that I want, that means He has a greater purpose in mind, one which is for a better good than if He had said yes. My prayer wasn’t big enough; my desire wasn’t big enough, and I need to adjust my emotions to His plan, be patient and not act out, and trust in His grace at work in my life.
“We must never let go of the blood and righteousness of Christ as the ground of our right standing with God and guarantee of all God’s promises. By faith in Christ, we embrace Him as our righteousness and we embrace all that God promises to be for us in Him. The Fulfillment of those promises, grounded in the work of Christ, is what I mean by Future Grace. This is the way we fight sin. Or, to put it positively, the way we pursue righteousness and love is to fight for faith in future Grace.” (John Piper, “Battling Unbelief”, p.89)
This book is turning my perspective in a new direction, changing my focus. We sing the old hymn, ‘Standing on the Promises of God’… but do we really truly DO that? Because if we did, then anxiety and impatience and fear and doubt would melt away like a morning mist. I’m reaching for this kind of faith, fighting to grab hold of it, battling my own habits of unbelief to reach it. It’s like trying to run through emotional jello! It really is. But I can see it ahead of me and I am choosing to stand on those promises regardless of how the circumstances are, and what my emotions are. I have to RETRAIN my emotions, like a dog obedience school.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies [dedicating all of yourselves, set apart] as a living sacrifice, holy and well-pleasing to God, which is your rational [logical, intelligent] act of worship. And do not be conformed to this world [any longer with its superficial values and customs], but be transformed and progressively changed [as you mature spiritually by the renewing of your mind [focusing on godly values and ethical attitudes], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His plan and purpose for you].” (Romans 12:1-2 AMP)
In Christendom, there are two ways to look at being a living sacrifice.
In one view, a person who seeks this kind of life must be a special (unusual) person, who is called to a monastic life. In that view, being a living sacrifice is something that only a select few people among the host of believers will be called to do. For example, the Roman Catholic Church makes this living sacrifice an official designation, and calls it the “Consecrated Life”. It is described as “a stable form of living by which the faithful, following Christ more closely under the action of the Holy Spirit, are totally dedicated to God who is loved most of all, so that, having been dedicated by a new and special title to his honour, to the building up of the Church, and to the salvation of the world, they strive for the perfection of charity in the service of the kingdom of God and, having been made an outstanding sign in the Church, foretell the heavenly glory.” (1) The idea given here is to leave the daily grind and live a cloistered life which is solely dedicated to focusing on worshiping and serving God, day in and day out.
Another view of this living sacrifice comes out of a less official vocational designation and more as the calling on all believers to live lives that are consecrated right where they live: ‘in the world but not of the world’. This concept is given by Jesus himself in a prayer to the Father just before His crucifixion:
“I have given them Your word [the message You gave Me]; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world and do not belong to the world, just as I am not of the world and do not belong to it.” (John 17:14-15 AMP)
In. Not Of. Living Sacrifices. So which is it? Is it truly a special job of only certain believers, or is it something every believer is supposed to be?
I think the answer is Yes.
Whether or not a person enters into a Monastary or lives on Main Street, there is a tug on the heart to go deeper in relationship with God. Sadly only few will recognize, and fewer still will respond positively to, this tug. That’s because this tug on the heart says, “Sacrifice yourself to Me”. It calls,
“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33 NIV)
“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1 NIV)
And most people who just read those verses will think to themselves, ‘Oh. I can’t do that. I have a job and kids and a mortgage. I can’t just leave all that and walk away to focus on God all day.’
Totally, I get you. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, reverend, nun or priest. But an official job description isn’t only what we’re talking about here.
Let’s take a fresh look at Romans 12:1. It says that this sacrificial living style is your rational [logical, intelligent] act of worship. So purifying your life is rational, logical, and intelligent. And verse 2 tells you specifically what to sacrifice, what to purify yourself from: the superficial values and customs of the culture around you.
Can you have a job and kids and a mortgage and live a purified life from superficial values and cultural customs? Of course you can. Is it easy? Of course not! That’s why it’s called sacrifice. No pain, no gain. There is a cost that must be accounted for.
That cost is the active pursuit of the renewing of your mind. A transformation. A spiritual metamorphosis. A process of rationally, intelligently, persistently, progressively being changed, in how you think and your attitudes and the deepest subconscious motivations of your heart and mind and will and emotions.
What it is not, is a solely outward religion, a conforming to a set of ‘rules to live by’. That’s putting the cart before the horse. Only an inner transformation – metamorphosis – will result in the ability to live that set of rules without hypocrisy. Eventually ‘fake it til you make it’ falls apart when it comes to spiritual disciplines. If you doubt me, the nightly news is frequently filled with top stories of how those who profess Christ as Lord have fallen far from the standard of ethical behavior He set for us.
“This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.” (Matthew 15:8 AMP)
So let’s get down to the How-To section.
if God wants our hearts to be consecrated, set apart, what does He want, exactly? The synonym for consecrate is sanctify. An old fashioned word, it means to make holy, to set apart for specific worship-related purpose. Like a school uniform for your kid is just for school; they don’t wear it as play clothes. A wedding dress is for a wedding, not a church picnic. Those garments are set apart for a specific purpose. This is like that.
The antonym for consecrate, by the way, is desecrate. Think about that in terms of your daily life. I hope that helps make you feel uncomfortable. You’re welcome.
But if you still aren’t uncomfortable: if you’re a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit living within you. You are His home. So if that’s the case, is He with you when you are watching pornography? When you are listening to that favorite song that talks so excitedly about illicit sex and drunken partying and recreational drug use? When you are yelling at your child to shut the f- up? When you are tailgating someone in the fast lane on the freeway and when they move over, you’re honking at them as you scream past, 15 miles per hour over the speed limit?
Now do you see why having a renewed mind is so crucial? The Holy Spirit isn’t pleased with these activities, which are just outward manifestations of a heart that is desecrated by the superficial values and customs of the culture around you.
If you think I’m standing behind a holier-than-thou pulpit wagging my finger, let me set that straight. I had a come-to-Jesus moment about my entertainment choices recently. I love whodunit shows. I love Netflix. I love binge watching Netflix. I also love binge watching shows on Amazon Prime Video. I love network TV. And I have a job where I am free to watch TV all day, every day. I also love most styles of music, but disco has been a favorite since I was a kid. My very first ever record album that I owned was Saturday Night Fever.
And the Holy Spirit wasn’t pleased with the things that occupied my thought life. The bits and pieces of songs that get stuck in my head and play in the background when I’m brushing my teeth; the thoughts and deeds and plots of characters in my crime dramas. The flotsam and jetsam that would float to the surface of my subconscious mind in moments of idle thought.
In studying Romans 12:1-2, the Holy Spirit convicted me about consecration and desecration and what these meant in terms of living sacrifice. It meant I would need to sacrifice things I loved in order to obtain something I needed to love more: His Presence.
Lord, this consecration and becoming a living sacrifice is hard. You know how hard it is (and how much harder it was for You). You knew we couldn’t do it without Your help, so you sent the Holy Spirit, to dwell in us. Holy Spirit, I apologize for disappointing You, all the times I’ve desecrated Your living space within me, with giving priority to my selfish desires. I don’t mean to show a low opinion of You by giving you cheap digs. Help me to surrender all that I am, to work toward that progressive transformation, both in soul first and body second. Help me to have the desire and the will to clean this place up so that my heart and mind are a beautiful living space, that is not only inviting for You to live in, but that others would also find it an inspiring and inviting place to visit. Jesus, in Your name I pray. Amen.