Monday, January 31, 2011

Have you worked out how to follow Jesus?

A little Romans update.

After I became a Christian, I understood and witnessed something very profoundly. My own sin. Prior to this I was merrily 'having a laugh' with, as I foolishly discerned it, no consequences. Then I powerfully encountered Jesus and everything changed forever. I knew my sin. What I had been doing as sin, having received the Spirit, I now had awareness of. There was joy in my salvation, at least until I got turned into a legalist, but there was also a terrible awareness of my own sin when I grieved the Spirit.

I remember sitting down about a year and half into my new life and being terribly 'theologically' confused (which remained for over a decade). I had tried to read Romans 6. It was goobledeegook to me but I have to say with hindsight- not entirely. The basic argument was that because of the grace that flowed from the cross how could we go on sinning? We know as Christians that because of imputed righteousness through justification by faith we are free and saved so why do we continue in sin? Why do we still lie, worry, get angry, go out and get smashed, watch porn, have sex, get depressed, fail to sleep, spend money recklessly, not love our spouses as they deserve, ignore the poor, neglect our parenting, go on expensive holidays rather than give our time to bless others, bitch about our friends when they are not around or as has happened to some I know, give up following Jesus altogether. None of this can be what Jesus is hoping for in his followers- surely? (And yes, I am aware of spiritual warfare). I understood the principle of grace but I wilfully sinned anyway. Oh, and by the way I still do, it's in my nature and it's in yours too I'm afraid.

Doesn't this question interest you? It has captivated me over the last few months and my journey through 'The Greatest letter ever written' is slowly, wonderfully and amazingly clearing the fog. It is as though my heart is being transformed afresh by grace-new every morning. I have now reached Chapter 6 and this sermon 'Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?' is the first step in the answer to the question that vexed me for years until 'New Freedom New Family' and vexes and defeats most Christians.

If you don't get this nailed down one of three things will happen:

1. You will end up liberal about holiness (these types, at least the one's who are saved, ignore their personal sin failures and inconsistent inner and outer worlds, become self-justifying and instead bang on about 'justice' and 'issues' making everyone else feel guilty. They sometimes consider themselves 'evangelicals' who have been enlightened and grown up but, as I observe it, their gospel has worthy words but little power. They quite often are very clever and have a PHD and you won't find them reading Romans)

2. You will end up defeated by unholiness (these types are longing to serve and follow Jesus and love him deeply but are plagued by their own failure and hypocrisy which saps them of effective witness and over time squeezes out all the joy of the Christian life. You won't tell others about Jesus because inside you are miserable and a contradiction and you can't see the point. Satan and his temptations, accusations and lies have silenced you.)

3. You will end up ignoring holiness altogether (these types say blow this for a game of soldiers I was mistaken with the whole Jesus thing. I've tried it and it doesn't work so I'm off. Don't whatever you do try to tell this lot they may be wrong because they will tell they have heard it all before and aren't interested. The bars, offices, universities and various others places across my city are full of these much-loved, hurt and wounded souls. They love Jesus but hate the Church, what it did to them and now every time they encounter a Christian they shrivel inside feeling condemned as a failure)

Here I turn to Lloyd-Jones who himself was much perplexed by Romans 6. He says what I have tried to but does it far better than I can:

"Nothing happens automatically in the Christian life. That is a very profound principle, for I believe that most of our troubles arise from the fact that we tend to assume that they do happen automatically. We persist in holding on to a semi-magical notion of regeneration which teaches that, because of what has happened to us, the rest of the story is, quite simply, ‘they all lived happily ever after’. But of course we know that that is not true . . .Obviously the antidote to that is to think, to have an understanding, to reason the thing out thoroughly. The world does not do that. The trouble with the world, ultimately, according to the teaching of the Bible, is that it does not think. If only people thought, most of their problems would be solved . . ."
Grace, that's the word. I say it again grace. There is hope and the way can be found and walked in freedom, in fact eventually, it can even be run. It is possible to be full of Jesus, be overwhelmed by grace and love and minister in the power of the Spirit. It really is possible to be released into peace and joy. I can testify to it. There is just the teeny-weeny hurdle of dying (John 12:24). Just a small hurdle someone may have failed to mention to you. It's a must for you to experience lasting rather than momentary joy. Most ignore this bit about dying but its reality and the unpreparedness of most Christians to undergo it explains most of the above. Death, the theme of Romans 5-8, is the secret that births the Spirit-filled life and it's power and the reality of joy. How does this happen and work? Why not get on the Romans bus at Chapter 6 and let's think these things through together.

Or you could start at the beginning......

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