Archive for the 'Sin Nature' Category

Sinless Perfection

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Among the comments I’ve received on my recent series of posts about confession of sins was the suggestion that I have dumped rebound for the old Wesleyan doctrine of “sinless perfection.”

I had to go look up what that was.

After a quick reading of the Wikipedia article I’m still not sure what it is. Wesley himself said he never used the term “sinless perfection” for fear of contradicting himself, but did maintain that Christians were on a “journey to perfection” where they would reach a point where “the heart of the believer is cleansed from inbred sin by the infilling of the Holy Spirit.”

I don’t think we’re on a “journey to perfection.” I don’t think God left us here with a sin nature so we could reach perfection. As believers in Christ, when we die, the flesh will be gone and we’ll have perfect resurrection bodies just like our Lord’s. But not because of anything we do along the way.

I think of what the Bible describes as the “heart of the believer” as being where we do our thinking, where our conscience is, our standards, memory, understanding, our will, etc. I believe it’s a combination of the soul and human spirit (the latter made alive at the moment of salvation). The Bible doesn’t say there’s inbred sin there, but rather in the flesh, the physical body referred to as the “old man” in Scripture. This can and does influence the soul/spirit/heart and will until the day we die.

I certainly do not believe the Bible teaches that it is possible for a Christian in this life to attain “spiritual perfection,” that is, to reach a state where he or she no longer sins.

I have to laugh here, because I remember years ago (when I was about 2 years old, spiritually speaking)  getting into a debate with an older gentleman who claimed he no longer sinned.

My husband and I were attending one of the many home Bible studies we tried out before we settled on the one where we listened to Col Thieme’s tapes (augmented by regular Sunday/Wednesday attendance at a Baptist Church). We’d already received the teaching of 1 John 1:9 (that we must confess our sins to be forgiven) from Orville and our LS Chafer book and here we were faced with this man who was claiming he no longer sinned. We quoted 1 John 1:10 – whoever says he’s without sin is a liar. I don’t recall the man’s argument against that, only that he grew quite angry about it all and began insulting us, and  it didn’t help the situation when my husband pointed out that he was, indeed, angry and that was a sin, so clearly he HADN’T stopped sinning.

In any event, I do not believe the Bible teaches we can ever as long as we are alive on this earth, reach a point of sinless perfection. We still have the flesh setting itself against the Spirit (Gal 5:17), and tempting us to go back to the old ways (Ro 7:14-25); we live in the Devil’s world, which is permeated by a system of thinking that’s totally against God  and which will also constantly tempt us to go back to the ways of the flesh (1 Jn 2:15,16); finally, we have an active enemy in the person of Satan and his minions, who are working to keep us from going forward in the Christian life (I Pe 5:8; Eph6:11,12). They have been doing this with members of the Body of Christ for almost two thousand years and they are VERY good at it.

Moreover, the flesh is not getting better, it’s getting worse (2 Co 4:16). So, no, as long as we’re in this fallen world, in these corrupt bodies, we aren’t going to reach sinless perfection. We won’t be without sin until we’re in heaven in our Resurrection Bodies.

We do sin, regularly. Probably daily for most of us, even if it’s only falling into a wrong mental attitude (fear, worry, guilt, selfishness, resentment, pride…the options sometimes seem endless).

Because I believe confession of sin is not something the Bible teaches that we are told to do (as related in my recent posts)  some have asked, “Well what DO we do about it, then?”

Short answer: STOP it!

Longer answer: Lay it aside, and put on something new.

For an even longer answer, check out tomorrow’s post. 🙂

The Flesh is Perverse

Our human body is a marvel, to be sure, but it’s also perverse, given to auto immune disorders wherein it attacks itself with its own antibodies intended to defend against outside invaders — like Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, CREST syndrome….

Or, an even better example, cancer, where some region of cells will suddenly start growing all out-of-bounds and out of whack, distorting the organ or tissue where they begin until it can no longer function properly.

Recently an even more egregious aspect of this perversity has emerged in the results reported in a newly released study on the effectiveness of chemotherapy. You probably know that there are various kinds of chemo drugs — powerful toxins — developed and administered to cancer patients with the intent that these toxins will target the cancer cells and kill them. And so they do.

The first time around.

But often after the first round has been successful and the cancer has been eradicated, at some point it will return in the same or a new location. In the case of my mother, the first cancer cells developed in her breast. Surgery, chemo and radiation treatments resulted in her being pronounced “cancer free” some eight months after the cancer was first discovered. But only six months later, it returned, this time in her thigh bone.

This is so common an occurance that at a routine post-cancer visit, the minute she mentioned having pain there — after we’d spent three months going to various other doctors for answers — her oncologist sat up straight and took strong notice. He ordered an immediate CAT scan and sure enough, the cancer was back.

Scientists have long sought to understand why, especially since cancer cells outside the body are so easily killed. Apparently they have finally discovered some answers.

Turns out that while the initial round of toxins are killing the tumors, they are also affecting the healthy cells that surround the tumor, changing their DNA, and provoking them into eventually releasing “a protein that sustains tumour growth and resistance to further treatment.” This protein, called WNT16B, “interacts with nearby tumor cells, [causing] them to grow, invade, and importantly, resist subsequent therapy.”

“‘The increase in WNT16B was completely unexpected,” study co-author Peter Nelson of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle told AFP.”

Indeed, who would expect our own bodies, already killing themselves with the mad growth of cancer cells, to use the intended cure to actually help the mutated cells survive and prosper? Typical of the flesh, though, and the way so many of us, when in its grip, attack our own lives, tormenting ourselves with self-debilitating thoughts, or self-destructive behaviors.

I do not believe this is coincidence, but rather a vivid illustration of the death and perversity that lives in our bodies — the outer man, which is decaying even now — and yet another reason to give thanks for the new life we have received through faith in Christ, that inner man which has the potential of being renewed day by day, regardless of what’s happening to our flesh.

Self-Disicipline is a Boxing Match

A couple of weeks ago, on the advice of my agent, I attended an online Webinar by Michael Hyatt, former CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, and its present chairman. He’s a “professional blogger, author and speaker whose blog is consistently ranked in the top three for Productivity, Leadership, Publishing and Social Media Marketing.”  This last from the jacket copy of his latest book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World.

The webinar was very informative, and I took a lot of notes, though I have yet to go back through them. I ordered his book, as well, though I have yet to officially read it. I have sampled here and there, and it looks good.

My lack of reading notes or book, however, is due to one of the first pieces of advice Mr. Hyatt offered during his webinar, which was that if you’re going to blog, commit to doing it regularly. He has himself committed to posting five days a week for some years now (though he invites guest bloggers to present material on Fridays). 

Since I’ve been anything but consistent with my own blogging  for the last few months … years?… I thought maybe I’d make a change. I know I had a schedule of four posts a week for some time, so I’m pretty sure that’s doable. For the last  couple of weeks though, I thought I’d try out five days a week and see if that might work, reserving Fridays for something fun and easy, like pics of Quigley.

And so I have done that. 

In addition to that, using a technique I discovered through Hyatt’s website, I’ve been working steadily on Sky. Well, until last Thursday when I sort of wandered off the track. Sometimes things come into my life that get my flesh going… it can be anything from worry, frustration, self-pity, guilt… and it’s hard to turn that off and get to work.

I also got caught up in the blog posts and the comments and… just never seemed to get around to Sky again. I don’t really know why.

Sometimes at the end of the day I can’t recall how I ended up doing the things that I did. I wonder… am I getting dementia?

Or might it be…

lack of self-discipline?

Oooooh nooooo!  Not THAT again! I thought I’d put all that to bed. I thought I was done wrestling with all that. Self-discipline is a fruit of the Spirit. I’ve learned well and truly that I can’t do much with it apart from Him.

But… have I consistently asked Him to help me in this area? Have I confessed my sin of self-indulgence when I wandered off? Or maybe not self-indulgence, because often  it’s more… mindless distraction. Sometimes I feel like the dog in one of Koontz’s books (I think it was Dragon Tears) who had been given an assignment but on the way kept getting distracted:

“Ooh! An old shoe! What a lovely smell. must stop and investigate this … and what’s this? a puddle of water… and a bee… ooh, chase the bee…. now the smell of cat… there it is!  Off!  After it! “

That was all a paraphrase. I no longer have the book to quote from, but it was something like that. I particularly remember the bee. And the whole portrayal was so spot on….

But I digress. The fact is, this bugaboo of self-discipline has returned for another round. And why not? The last time I wrestled with it, I ended defeated, not really understanding how it was to be implemented.

If it’s a fruit of the Spirit, are we to TRY to have it? But then might we not run the risk of doing it in the flesh? It’s clearly something those who aren’t saved can exercise, like the very athletes that Paul references in 1 Corinthians 9:25 – 27

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

Strong’s definition of hupopiazo, which is the Greek word for “discipline,” means “to hit under the eye (buffet or disable an antagonist as a pugilist), that is, (figuratively) to tease or annoy (into compliance), subdue (one’s passions), to keep under, to weary.

That is not at all the notion I had of “disciplining the body”. My notion was of one who ALWAYS ate the right amount of food, got up at dawn to exercise, went down the gym on schedule every day to train… whether you felt like it or not. The above definition gives quite a different image.  One of a battle.

A boxing match where you’re hitting your opponent again and again with a lot of effort while he keeps hitting you back. Paul’s seeking to make his body a slave, and slaves don’t want to be enslaved. They rebel. They fight. They run away. Especially arrogant and willful slaves like our flesh, determined as it is to set itself against the Spirit.

This metaphor implies a lot of effort and tenacity. A lot of sweat and blood and bruising. The opponent is not going to go down easily.  And in fact, the only way it’s going to go down is if you are boxing under the power of the Spirit.

So that would mean confession of sins, so as to be under His control,  and bringing the word of God to bear upon the situation. Not necessarily in recalling this verse where Paul talks about what he’s doing, so much as the part about why he’s doing it. So that he won’t be disqualified for reward — that imperishable crown he mentions first. 

Wow. I never thought of it like this. It definitely warrants further consideration…

Demonism or the Depravity of Man?

A month and a half ago, I did a post on the Dean Koontz novel What the Night Knows in which the villain, a nightmarishly cruel, self-absorbed, power-lusting, bitter, angry, hateful, lonely, unloved and unlovely psychopath, is urged along his path of the “art” of murdering families by a demon named Ruin. (Demons, says the narrative, are sometimes named for the sins they “most  particularly advocate — names like Discord, Envy, Jealousy or like Perdition, Disease, Ruin.”)

This got me to thinking about the depravity of man, the implication here being that on his own, man could never be as bad as someone like Koontz’s villain, Alton Turner Black. Or Jack the Ripper. Or Nero. Caligula. Ted Bundy. Adolph Hitler… No, man would need the help of a demon to be that bad.

Whenever there’s a story — fiction or real life — about a really nasty psychopath, the suggestion almost always arises that he’s demon possessed. I’m guilty of falling into that thinking myself, most recently regarding the “South Beach cannibal” down in Florida.

Lately I’ve been rethinking that.

Part of the reason for that is because of teaching Ive received from a book I’ve been studying called Satan, by Lewis Sperry Chafer (written in 1919, reprinted ins 1964). It’s fantastic.

Chafer  was a prominent dispensational theologian in the early 20th century and founder of Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas. He was mentored by C.I Scofield (of  Scofield Bible fame), and was in turn a  mentor of Colonel R.B. Thieme, Jr. I was introduced to Chafer’s work immediately after my salvation, when the man who led me to the Lord and taught our college and home Bible studies used Chafer’s book Major Bible Themes as a his class outline. Additonally, my first Bible was one of those above mentioned  Scofield Bibles.

What I like about Chafer’s work is how Scripture-based it is, and how clear;  he sets the various applicable verses in comparison and draws what seem to be the obvious conclusions.

In this case, talking about Satan’s plans, he cites the passage in Isaiah 14 where Satan’s motivations are clearly stated:

 “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars (angels) of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly (of angels) in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I WILL MAKE MYSELF LIKE THE MOST HIGH.”

In other words, he wants to be like God. Not a fiend. Not a destroyer, per se. But like God. He wants authority, control and worship.  His motivation is to oppose God and exalt himself, to take God’s place, and his primary method is deception. Chafer describes it thus:

“He who was the measure of perfection, full of beauty and wisdom; he who made the earth to tremble; who shook kingdoms; has been willing to be ridiculed by the world as a being without reality, that he might , in the end, realize his own deepest desire.

“Again, his own subjects (unbelievers and ignorant believers) have strangely neglected the plain teachings of Scripture on his real power and authority.

” To them he has been an imaginary fiend, delighting only in the torment of unfortunate souls; making his home in hell, and himself the impersonation of all that is cruel and vile: when, on the contrary, he is real, and is the very embodiment of the highest ideals the unregenerate world has received; for he is the inspirer of all those ideals.

“With his own he is not at enmity, and he, like the most refined of the world, is in no sympathy with the grosser forms of their sin. He would hinder those manifestations of evil if he could. And certainly he does not prompt them; for they are the natural fruit of an unrestrained fallen nature…”

Matthew 7:21-23 confirms this last, stating:  “For from within, out of the hearts of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, amplifies this, speaking of man in his natural state: 

“As it is written, there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.

Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace have they not known.

 There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Having read that, cannibalism seems to fit right in. Yet how many of us reading the above passage would almost instinctively attribute such traits to other people, to another society in another time? Or even, unthinkingly, to demons?

We live in an era that promotes the good of man, the universal brotherhood of man. So many of our countrymen are engaged in making the world a better place, bringing about justice for all, perhaps even believing or at the least, assuming that their good intentions and efforts will ensure them a place in heaven. Or good status in their next life, if that is the direction of their beliefs. Of at the least make their life worthwhile if they think this is all there is.

In our times, people are outraged and incensed should someone even say something bad about another (unless the “other” happens to be George W. Bush :-)) . Oddly, should they happen to eat someone or shoot a bunch of them in a public venue, there doesn’t seem to be outrage so much as hand wringing and wonderment over what could have driven that poor perpetrator to do such a thing. Was it Sarah Palin? Talk radio? Incivility in public discourse?  Western Imperialism? Poverty? Drugs? Racism? Demons?

Never is it  just the fact that people — all people — are depraved and where’s the big shock when they act like it?

And yes, I do mean all people, for even us Christians still have that depraved nature inside us — that power that is totally against God, seeks always and insidiously, every chance it gets, to exalt self, and inevitably at times gets the better of us.

“For you were called to freedom, brethren (note Paul is talking to Believers– Christians); only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

“But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Note that we have a choice!) For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. (ie, Godly things, like love your neighbor as yourself).

I’m not saying there is no demon possession. There is. But it’s done with a purpose, under the authority of the Prince of this world, the one who possesses all the kingdoms of the world (Lk 4:5-7) And his purpose is the same as that of our flesh: to oppose God and exalt himself. And his means of executing his purpose is almost always deception.

If he can get us to think we’re not that bad, not as depraved as the Bible says we are, well, then we won’t think we even need a Savior; or if we have believed, won’t understand what that Savior has truly done for us; won’t have the gratitude we ought to have; will think more highly of ourselves than we ought… won’t realise our need for the complete and total overhaul in our thinking and motivation that can only be effected by our daily immersion in God’s word.

Nor the ease with which we can be led astray, by others or by that deceitful power within ourselves.

Guilt is a Sin

Guilt, according to the American Heritage dictionary is

  1. Remorseful awareness of having done something wrong.
  2. Self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing.

It’s a sin because it’s adding to the work of our Lord on the cross. If He took all the punishment for all our sins — and He did — then why would we feel we need to punish ourselves?

1 Jn 1:9 says, “If we confess, [name, cite] our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Jeremiah 3:13 says, “Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the LORD your God…”

Acknowledging that you have sinned carries no merit. You’re just agreeing with God that what you’ve done/said/thought is a sin, and at that point He forgives you the sin and cleanses you from all unrighteousness. The cleansed vessel of the soul is then suitable to be filled or controlled by God the Holy Spirit and fellowship is restored.

Guilt — beating yourself up for what you’ve done — has no place in that. It’s human works, human effort to atone, to make sure you’ll never do it again… I struggle a lot with the guilt function so I’ve had ample opportunity to consider it in all its ramifications and it really is quite arrogant. After all the word of God says our hearts (the way we think and perceive the world and ourselves) are deceitful and desperately wicked, that from the tops of our heads to the bottom of our feet, there’s no soundness in us, that we are stubborn and willful and none of us in ourselves is good. Not even one. (Ro 3:10)

We were all born in sin, we still have the sin nature after salvation. We are going to sin. We are going to make mistakes. We’re stupid sheep, we are easily entangled in sin and deception… guilt assumes that we can do better. Guilt assumes that somehow our sin is an aberration, a shock, something we should very well be able to avoid. If only we’d work hard enough or hurt bad enough, then we won’t do it again. It’s the flesh’s mode of self-improvement, and like all else the flesh produces, God finds it disgusting.

Guilt is something that has motivated me almost all my life, something carried over from my first 21 years as an unbeliever.  I’ve talked about it on this blog before… that feeling that I must do X or something bad will happen. Usually the “something bad” is that “they” will think poorly of me. But who is they?

At first I had no idea, but gradually I realized it’s something in my own conscience. Not something based on the word of God, but on stuff I picked up as a child and internalized. It doesn’t matter if God says there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, if my conscience says I should do or be a certain way, then that’s all that matters. If I fail to toe the line, then my conscience will punish me.

Because, apparently, Jesus didn’t do enough. Because, apparently God really didn’t mean it when He said there is nothing good in us, and that the only way to actually live the Christian way of life is the same way as we received it… by grace, through faith.

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing (the Gospel) with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?   ~ Galatians 3:1-3

Flagellants

As I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I struggle with guilt about the most inane things. And guilt about things not so inane. Guilt is a sin and is never a proper motivation for anything. Guilt is arrogance, helping Jesus out in punishing yourself, ignoring or disbelieving that His death on the cross was enough. No for some sins, I need to punish myself a little more. Yuck.

Anyway, recently I was researching asceticism, which is a trend of the sin nature and a great source of religion, legalism, self-righteousness and guilt… and I came across self-mortification, which is part of asceticism. Self-mortification is voluntary self-punishment in order to atone for some wrong doing (“You twit! Why in the world did you do that? Now what’s everyone going to think? How can you even call yourself a Christian! Sheesh!  I canNOT believe you did that!”); self-abasement, penalization.  It’s degradation or humiliation of oneself, especially because of feelings of guilt or failure…

I do all that stuff.  But on the page for self-mortification, I came across mention of medieval flagellants.  People who took the Word very literally where it talked about putting the flesh to death and went around whipping themselves with one or more cat o’ nine tails to atone for whatever wrongdoing they’d committed. There was even a picture.

I love it. They look soooo stupid. I’m going to hold this image in my head for the next time I start doing this to myself mentally!

Kevin in the Parking Lot

Anyone out there watch 24? My husband and I have been fans since the first season and pretty much haven’t missed an episode. This season is the first time I’ve gotten a really cool visual image for a spiritual reality, however: Kevin, the creepy boyfriend? partner in crime? stalker? from computer analyst Dana Walsh’s past.

If you aren’t a 24 watcher, here are the salient details. Dana Walsh is a computer analyst with CTU about to marry one of the star security operatives (Freddie Prinze, Jr). As he is sent out to deal with the crisis of the hour, she gets a call from this creepy dude, Kevin, demanding she come out and meet him. Little by little details are revealed. Seems Dana Walsh is not her real name, but her new one. That in her past she was involved with this Kevin loser in some sort of crime. Both went to jail. She got out early for good behavior and because she was a juvenile. She changed her name, her identity, left her past behind and now has a new, respectable, successful life.

Perhaps, given some of what I’ve written about lately, you see where this is going…

Kevin threatens to reveal all unless she does what he says. It will surely destroy her new life. At first she hangs up on him. But he keeps calling, and finally reveals he is out in the CTU parking lot and wants her to meet him there. She resists, he presses, and eventually out the door she goes to the parking lot to meet with Kevin. Next he convinces her to let him stay in her apartment, for the night, promising to leave the next day. Instead he calls her later and demands she come over… and on it goes.

Kevin is the perfect metaphor for the old man. He calls you up. “Hey, come and meet me in the parking lot.” He cajoles, he presses, he threatens, he won’t quit… You know it’s stupid, you know you can’t trust him, you know that this is only going to bring disaster, but … like Dana, you do it anyway.

My husband thought she was an idiot to have anything to do with the guy. I was wildly uncomfortable with it, too, but I have been made very aware of the power of fear and the resultant irrationality it produces and our capacity to deceive ourselves. Kevin is played by an actor who looks somewhat like Leonardo DiCaprio, and just looks very evil. I can’t stand him. I can’t stand that she’s doing what he wants, thinking he’s really going to go away. Finally he persuades her to help him get past security into a police storage unit where some impounded drug money — cash — has been stowed. He can take it and no one will ever know because it’s a cold case.

We all know that’s not going to be enough, but she believes him when he says it’s only this once.

So much like our old man. It cajoles, it threatens, it manipulates, it promises. We give into it, even when we know better. For me, the battles are almost all thoughts. I am astonished at how often I have to fight against it, and lately, with the teaching we’ve been having, I’ve become even more aware of all the ways it tries to slip in and take control. I’ve started thinking of Kevin, when it does. “He’s calling you from the parking lot,” I tell myself, “and you’re answering the phone. You’re going out to meet with him. Where do you think this is going to end?” Nowhere good.

It’s perfect. The visual image and the emotional revulsion I feel for what Dana lets him do, has lately been strong enough to break me out of the pattern. And after last week, when the whole carefully orchestrated plot was turned into a total mess far beyond what I even dreamed might happen, the metaphor got even better.


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