Godzilla in the garden

 

When we moved into our house over a year ago, we noticed this big green, ivy-like bush growing in the corner of the back yard.  Consultations with green thumbs yielded no answers as to which species it was. Once we determined its uselessness, we decided to eradicate it in order to clear space for more pleasant landscape possibilities. So, we had our lawn guy come out and chop it down after which he recommended that we poison the root of this green monster that was sure to come back. So for several months, we initiated a cycle of Round-Up squirts aimed at the leafy shoots which arose from every square inch of the area where the bush resided. Once poisoned, the shoots would begin to wilt and die followed by a good mowing over by our lawn guy.  But funny thing, new vines would pop up again and again followed by more Round-Up and mowing. No matter how much weed killer we squirted and how often we mowed, new leaves would continue popping up in different spots. Finally, I contacted a landscape friend of mine and told him our problem with killing this menace.  He recommended a more powerful solution… a broad leaf weed killer! Now as you probably have deduced, yard maintenance is not one of my gifts, which is why I hire a guy to do it.  After applying the new poison, I began to see results immediately, and after a few applications, I can happily say, our Godzilla has left the premises!

Likewise, as believers in Christ, we must deal with ugly bushes that crowd the landscape of our souls. The apostle Paul calls this “indwelling sin” and like my backyard ivy, it needs to be put to death to allow beauty to flourish. (Col 3:5). The theological term for this process is called mortification. To mortify means to put to death.

Often we neglect this necessary discipline due to an incomplete view of salvation. Perhaps our evangelical traditions have trained us to think this way by reducing salvation to a decision we made once (or twice) as opposed to the lengthy process that it is.  Indeed, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus we are declared righteous in God’s sight. Like the prodigal son, our filthy selves have been embraced by a loving Father, and we’ve been clothed in a fine robe and celebrated as His son. So, our identities, our standing, and our future have been secured by this atonement. Though our justification is immediate, however, we are still in the process of being saved. You see, though we have made the identity switch from rebel to son, sin still resides in us. Paul writes in Colossians 3 that this righteousness with all its benefits, especially that of knowing Christ, has not been attained or realized, yet is “the prize” that he is striving for.  He encourages us to “press on” even though he knows that we have a dim view of what this will eventually look like (1 Cor. 13:12).

In John Owen’s classic work, “The Mortification of Sin”, he reminds us that “sin doth not only still abide in us, but is acting, still laboring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh” and “in every moral action it is always either inclining to evil, or hindering from that which is good”. Owen knows Paul’s teaching well about the need to kill sin and goes on to write “He that stands still and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance, will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue.” All this can be summed up in Owen’s well known quote “be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”

Now, it’s easy to see this idea of killing one’s sin as yet another religious activity or behavior modification we have to keep up with. Indeed, our sin nature beckons us to improve ourselves externally, but this is motivated by receiving the approval of others or even the approval of God and not by the desire to truly know Christ.  The apostle Paul should know. His life as a Pharisee was fueled by his religious pursuits and in his bitterness and hatred he sought to kill and persecute those who followed Christ. But one day, he was knocked off his donkey by the very presence of Christ and converted and it is through his pastoral writings that he encourages the churches he founded, as well as the ones we are a part of, to be disciples of Christ in a continuing effort to truly know Christ. The catch phrase of the past century most familiar to those of us with an evangelical background is to “accept Jesus as your personal Savior”, yet Paul is saying that to truly know Jesus personally is to die to self and kill the deeds of the flesh every day.

When John Owen admonishes us to “kill sin or it will kill us”, he is saying that our natural bent toward sin moves us farther from Christ and kills our relationship with Him.  Therefore, knowing Him intimately and deeply IS our life and the very reason we were created for.

Just like the bush in my backyard, sin must be diligently fought against daily, but to fight is not merely mowing over it and spraying weak poisons on the shoots that pop up. This will not address the root itself and this brings us to the most important thing to remember when talking about killing sin. We should never forget where the power to do this comes from. Owen reminds us where the power does NOT come from when he writes, “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religions in the world.” In other words, we can’t do this work from our sin nature because our sin nature only desires to be glorified in this work, thus echoing Paul’s words of “not of works, lest any man should boast”. (Rom. 6:33)

So, if we’re called to this discipline of mortifying our sin, yet we are unable to achieve this with our own pragmatism, then where does the power to kill sin come from? Back to Owens once more. “All other ways of mortification are vain, all helps leave us helpless; it must be done by the Spirit.”  He points us back to Paul in Romans 8 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

This work of killing our sin ultimately is not ours. It’s not the white-knuckles of weed-chopping; it’s the effective “poison” applied by the Holy Spirit who ravages the root of our sin by daily pointing our hearts to the scarred hands of a resurrected Christ.  We not only trust in this power for the perfect garden of the life hereafter, but for the landscape of our souls here and now.

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The answer to a lie

truth
In “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis takes us to the Garden of Eden and the place in history where mankind fell from God’s grace. It was at this point where, as the Genesis 3 narrative goes, the Serpent (Satan) enters the scene and delivers the great lie. As Lewis explains, “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.” In summary it was a belief that God wasn’t good enough (even though good is derivative of His name), and that God could not be trusted to determine what was good for them. The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1 is Elohim which describes Him as the Creator and Judge of all things. In fact, this name makes perfect sense as we read the rhythmic words in Genesis 1 at the end of each creation day, “and God saw that it was good”. In other words, God judged His creation to be good. Later, in Genesis 2, God even judges what is “not good” – the fact that man is alone – and this results in the creation of woman. Subsequently, he joins them in holy matrimony and sanctions the first marriage, and in doing so, demonstrates what he judges to be good.

Defamation to Destruction

Essentially, Satan defamed the very name of God – Elohim – the creator and judge of all – and portrayed God as incompetent in determining what is good for his creation. (I believe this is why the Bible puts great emphasis on the name of the Lord.) And “Out of that hopeless attempt (to be god), Lewis continues, “has come nearly all that we call human history- money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery -the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

God had instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it was this simple command they failed to obey because they believed the lie. When we examine their disobedience, there is a human tendency to become pragmatic here. We might be tempted to think that the tree in the “midst of the garden” was inherently dangerous – that it had some sort of magical powers -and that God was issuing a warning against it. We should resist this temptation in order to see what’s happening here. God had put the first humans to the test by allowing the Serpent to tempt them, but He wasn’t testing their ability to obey, He was testing their belief! They heard the lie, believed it, and disobeyed and this cycle has continued “ad nauseam” throughout human history. Today we still listen to the Serpent’s two-lies-in-one solution for a God who doesn’t know what’s good for his creation, is for us to manufacture our own happiness by enticing us to focus on our inherent goodness. This futile endeavor began as a bite of fruit, but it is far more complex now. This self-help is played out over and over in every aspect. Rather than believe what God said about the goodness of his creation and how he designed it to function, we have believed we are good on our own and we know best about how things should work. James 1:14-15 describes this cycle in this way. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” In short, we follow our desires – what appears to us as “good” – instead of believing what God has created and judged to be good. When James wrote this, he might well have been thinking about Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” The Genesis 3 narrative continues on to show how Eve trusted her own desires above God’s Word which in turn led to the sin resulting in death not only for her, but for all of mankind. You can see this played out not only throughout all of scripture, but in any history textbook, newspaper, or news website. We see the sins (attempts at securing our own happiness),and we could never name them all here. In reality, every sin is symptomatic of the sin-disease which is at its root is unbelief in the very Name of God/His goodness. There are many band-aids for the wounds in our society such as self-help, self-esteem, increased education, increased legislation, better ideals, or better politicians. But the cure is not born of our ingenuity. The answer comes from outside of our depraved self-righteous wills. It stands to reason that if our problems began with a lie about God, the only solution is to turn back the lie with the truth.

The Answer

God, our perfect all-knowing, all-powerful, creator and judge of all good things condescended from lofty heights of unfathomable beauty to become one of us. He was born in a barn with dirty animals, lived a sinless life obedient to the Father to the point of death. There is no other image which better refutes the lie of the Serpent than that of a crucified Elohim. When the Christ is seen hanging from a Roman crucifix, blood flowing from his sinless body, and the pure injustice of it all causes the Father to turn his back from the spectacle, it’s the greatest statement of finality and truth the world has ever witnessed. This Answer was here before we dared pose the question. We are here because of it and designed to live by it. Believing anything else will not bring happiness. It can only lead us to ruin. Lewis says, “Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it it not there. There is no such thing.”

That’s an answer we can all live by.

The answer to a lie

truthIn “Mere Christianity”, C.S. Lewis takes us to the Garden of Eden and the place in history where mankind fell from God’s grace. It was at this point where, as the Genesis 3 narrative goes, the Serpent (Satan) enters the scene and delivers the great lie. As Lewis explains, “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.” In summary it was a belief that God wasn’t good enough (even though good is derivative of His name), and that God could not be trusted to determine what was good for them. The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1 is Elohim which describes Him as the Creator and Judge of all things. In fact, this name makes perfect sense as we read the rhythmic words in Genesis 1 at the end of each creation day, “and God saw that it was good”. In other words, God judged His creation to be good. Later, in Genesis 2, God even judges what is “not good” – the fact that man is alone – and this results in the creation of woman. Subsequently, he joins them in holy matrimony and sanctions the first marriage, and in doing so, demonstrates what he judges to be good.

Defamation to Destruction

Essentially, Satan defamed the very name of God – Elohim – the creator and judge of all – and portrayed God as incompetent in determining what is good for his creation. (I believe this is why the Bible puts great emphasis on the name of the Lord.) And “Out of that hopeless attempt (to be god), Lewis continues, “has come nearly all that we call human history- money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery -the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

God had instructed Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it was this simple command they failed to obey because they believed the lie. When we examine their disobedience, there is a human tendency to become pragmatic here. We might be tempted to think that the tree in the “midst of the garden” was inherently dangerous – that it had some sort of magical powers -and that God was issuing a warning against it. We should resist this temptation in order to see what’s happening here. God had put the first humans to the test by allowing the Serpent to tempt them, but He wasn’t testing their ability to obey, He was testing their belief! They heard the lie, believed it, and disobeyed and this cycle has continued “ad nauseam” throughout human history. Today we still listen to the Serpent’s two-lies-in-one solution for a God who doesn’t know what’s good for his creation, is for us to manufacture our own happiness by enticing us to focus on our inherent goodness. This futile endeavor began as a bite of fruit, but it is far more complex now. This self-help is played out over and over in every aspect. Rather than believe what God said about the goodness of his creation and how he designed it to function, we have believed we are good on our own and we know best about how things should work. James 1:14-15 describes this cycle in this way. “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” In short, we follow our desires – what appears to us as “good” – instead of believing what God has created and judged to be good. When James wrote this, he might well have been thinking about Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” The Genesis 3 narrative continues on to show how Eve trusted her own desires above God’s Word which in turn led to the sin resulting in death not only for her, but for all of mankind. You can see this played out not only throughout all of scripture, but in any history textbook, newspaper, or news website. We see the sins (attempts at securing our own happiness),and we could never name them all here. In reality, every sin is symptomatic of the sin-disease which is at its root is unbelief in the very Name of God/His goodness. There are many band-aids for the wounds in our society such as self-help, self-esteem, increased education, increased legislation, better ideals, or better politicians. But the cure is not born of our ingenuity. The answer comes from outside of our depraved self-righteous wills. It stands to reason that if our problems began with a lie about God, the only solution is to turn back the lie with the truth.

The Answer

God, our perfect all-knowing, all-powerful, creator and judge of all good things condescended from lofty heights of unfathomable beauty to become one of us. He was born in a barn with dirty animals, lived a sinless life obedient to the Father to the point of death. There is no other image which better refutes the lie of the Serpent than that of a crucified Elohim. When the Christ is seen hanging from a Roman crucifix, blood flowing from his sinless body, and the pure injustice of it all causes the Father to turn his back from the spectacle, it’s the greatest statement of finality and truth the world has ever witnessed. This Answer was here before we dared pose the question. We are here because of it and designed to live by it. Believing anything else will not bring happiness. It can only lead us to ruin. Lewis says, “Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it it not there. There is no such thing.”

That’s an answer we can all live by.