People on Renewal-Empowered Mission
My hope and prayer is that, as a church, we will be on a renewal-empowered mission - that our desire for others to meet Jesus, to see Orange County renewed by the Gospel will come out of hearts and lives that have been renewed by the same Gospel we want others to know.
I hope these help towards that end.
We do what we love.
To say it another way, before we ever act we desire. For example, why do we lie? We usually lie because we want to win the approval of another or because we want to avoid the consequences of the truth. Before we lie, we are loving something else more than the truth. Why do we gossip or slander? Because we love our self-image or status enough to tear down others rather than build them up. Before we say a word, we are loving something. Or how about sex outside of the confines of marriage? Maybe we just love the immediate gratification, the rush of excitement, the sense of power or acceptance, the comfort and security of the relationship, and on and on. Whatever it is, before a person ever gets naked with someone they’re not married to, they are loving something more than God and his wisdom.
Seeing this runs counter to much of contemporary problem solving. When it comes to problems in our lives, families, or cities, the ways we most commonly try to address them is through legislation, medication, or education. While those may restrain behavior, they fall short in addressing many problems where they actually are, in the human heart.
God is not primarily after your behavior but your heart.
In Galatians 5 and a parallel passage Romans 7, Paul talks about this internal war that all Christians have between the “flesh” and the Spirit.
This war is primarily one of desires not behavior. We, by nature, in our ‘flesh’ are born loving ourselves. Apart from God, there is no struggle, there is only “flesh”.
But God, knowing the true nature of our problem, doesn’t work outside in, but inside out. He gives us new hearts. This, regeneration, or new birth, was promised in Jeremiah 33 and described by Jesus in John 3.
Now, wouldn’t you say that Creation, God creating everything from nothing is a mind-boggling miracle? What a display of his power; he only spoke words and all of existence came to be! What a display of his goodness; he made humor, love, beauty, pleasure, for us to enjoy!
Wouldn’t you also say that the Resurrection is an absolutely astounding miraculous claim? A man rose from the dead. Not just any man, but Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Again, what a display of God’s power over life and death, and decay! And what an act of his goodness that freed us from sin, Satan, and anchors us in the hope that one day 'he will make everything sad come untrue’.
In the New Testament, God’s work of regeneration is seen in parallel to Creation (2 Corinthians 4) and the Resurrection (Romans 8). It takes a miracle tantamount to creation and resurrection to give human beings new hearts and turn them away from self to God! God did all of that through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you believe in Jesus, you are a recipient of that miraculous, gracious work.
God knew that the true nature of our problem is not our behavior but our heart. By giving us the Holy Spirit we are freed from the slavery of self to choose to worship and obey God. (see Luther’s Bondage of the Will or John Piper’s Finally Alive on this point) From a new nature flow new desires and new behavior. God is after your heart.
Christians grow by building their affections for God instead of for lesser things.
Remember, God is primarily after your heart not your behavior (Mark 7:6), however our behavior flows out of what we love (Mark 7:21, Luke 6:43-45). So how does a Christian grow?
If the picture of the Christian life, the Fruit of the Spirit, fall at the end of Galatians 5, it is important to remember what came before it. We, sinners, have been made right with God by grace. Not only are we declared innocent by God the judge, but we are adopted by God the Father. At our worst, we were known, rescued, loved. It is that kind of love, and only that kind of love, that truly frees a human being. In the freedom of that love we can grow in the Fruit of the Spirit. We grow by remembering who God is, what he has done for us in Jesus, and what he has called us to in his Kingdom.
Maybe more practically; how can we grow in love?
- By, when we sin by being selfish and unloving to someone else, remembering that God’s love for us was so great that he gave everything for us (John 3:16). The cross is the extent of God’s sacrificial, selfless love towards us when we were unlovable (Romans 5:8).
- When we sin by lashing out in impatient anger at another, we remember the patience God showed in not lashing out in his anger at us, but by putting the anger owed to us on his Son (1 John 4:10). The cross is proof that God has been and will continue to be patient towards us.
- When we find only bitterness and entitlement in suffering, we remember that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross for us (Hebrews 12:2). The cross is culmination of the King laying down his rights for you (Philippians 2).
Perhaps you could say a shorthand for the Christian life is "Repent, believe, rejoice, repeat".
Practically, what does that look like?
The further good news is that God gave us some very good, very helpful gifts to sustain us in the Christian life.
How does a Christian grow? In response to God’s grace towards them in the Gospel, availing themselves of the gifts God has given them. When I want to be healthier and grow in my skills at the gym there are some practical steps I can take. First, I can simply show up! I can follow my coach’s instructions during training diligently rather than lazily. I can push the friends training with me and let them push me in return. I can follow the diet my coach recommends and allow time for my body to recover. So what has God given us?
• Sunday worship. If we are exiles in the midst of war happening both around us (God’s Kingdom v. the kingdom of darkness) and within us (the Spirit v. the flesh), then what could be more necessary than gathering to worship Jesus? As we read, sing, proclaim, and hear the truth of God’s story; as we take communion and pray; as we celebrate, the weary are comforted, the fearful are assured, the unrepentant are softened, the listless rejoice.
• Community with other Christians. God works through people. Isolation doesn’t put you outside of God’s reach but it does lead to destruction (Proverbs 18:1). The Fruit of the Spirit involve others. How can a person grow in love, patience, or kindness without others? Living life with other believers can be complicated or messy but it is God’s good gift.
• Bible reading. We believe that the primary way God speaks to believers is through what he has revealed in his story of redemption in the Bible (Luke 24). It would be natural for me to feel far from my wife if I didn’t listen to her, if I didn’t seek to understand and appreciate her story. God wants you to know him and his story. Personally, I love the ESV reading plan. The simple delivery of an email or text message every morning with the scripture for the day is helpful.
• Listen to solid, biblical, Gospel-preaching outside of Sundays. You can redeem your commute, housework, exercise with a podcast. Kim and I like to watch sermons from guys like Matt Chandler, Eric Mason, John Piper, and Tim Keller on our Apple TV. I also enjoy the Mockingpulpit podcast.
• Incorporate a devotional into your routine. With it’s videos, prayers, & commentary, the New City Catechism is a great tool for this. Kim and I have read Charles Spurgeon’s Morning & Evening together and loved it. I’d also recommend The Mockingbird Devotional as a great everyday devotional. The Valley of Vision is dense, beautiful, and a great gift for your prayer life.
• Practice spiritual disciplines. The disciplines are not the end in and of themselves, but should lead you to greater intimacy with Jesus. I’d suggest the uncomfortable practice of doing disciplines that upset sin or issues you struggle with. If you struggle with a need for control or the affirmation of other people that makes your life relentlessly busy, you could practice a day of solitude. If you struggle with your social media and electronics, you could do a day of silence or intentional times of prayer. For me, its service. There are times I really want my ‘own time’ at the end of the day. As a rhythm or when I feel that desire, I will do the dishes to serve Kim and challenge that selfishness in me. As I do it, I talk to God about what is going on in my heart and remind myself of how God has served me in Jesus (Philippians 2).
• Simply do practical things that build your affections for God. It helps that Kim is a photographer, but the plethora of pictures around our house are a constant reminder of God’s faithfulness and goodness in our lives. Maybe you enjoy working with your hands - gardening or woodworking - and that is a time where you can commune with God. Maybe you paint or do some kind of art, and beauty or creativity leads you gratitude and love towards God. Maybe you don’t know; ask yourself or others what they do!