Friday, April 02, 2010

Christian Growth in a Hostile Environment

Justin Martyr (100 - 165 A.D.), an early apologist for the Christian faith, wrote in Discourse to the Greeks, "These have conquered me – the divinity of the instruction, and the power of the Word: for as a skilled serpent-charmer lures the terrible reptile from his den and causes it to flee, so the Word drives the fearful passions of our sensual nature from the very recesses of the soul; first driving forth lust, through which every ill is begotten – hatreds, strife, envy, emulations, anger, and such like. Lust being once banished, the soul becomes calm and serene. And being set free it returns to Him who made it. For it is fit that it be restored to that state whence it departed, whence every soul was or is."

The theology of war (James 4:1-4) helps us understand that lust is the driving force behind the nations casting off the rule of God. This is not a lust limited to sexual immorality and can include lust for power, wealth, and kingdoms (to name a few). Lust is a complete abandonment to self- gratification, hedonism. Our granddaughter was celebrating her first birthday with a number of friends who brought an abundance of gifts. Nearly every time Jude opened one her gifts another small child (perhaps four years old) would run up to her and, turning to her mother would ask, "Is that for me?" I am thankful each negative response was not met by screams and a fight with kicking feet. Regardless, that is how war rages: the eruption of sinful hearts from sinful desires. The problem is not the desire--we were made to have desire. The problem lies in the control of desire. Justin Martyr was simply stating that obedience to God's Word drives out wrongful desire and brings restoration.

The Christian is incomplete because he or she is not perfect and must live in a hostile environment. We have good news to share with a world that does not want to hear it, and is rather unforgiving. The reason is that lust stands in direct opposition to the gospel, for lust blooms in independence. Salvation from the power and penalty of lust blossoms from dependence on Christ. The apostle Paul describes how he thrives by pressing on, "in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus . . . I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:12, 14). The Christian life of victory of sin is not a dream we live for ourselves; rather, the Christian life is Christ's dream for us, if you will. True spirituality is not the apprehension of experience and warm fuzzies; rather, it is the acquisition of freedom to do everything we should from a love motive.

"Pressing on" means "pursue and overtake," or "take and capture." This means the Christian is to grow in truth, standing against the false teaching and legalism of the world. There is a progession of faith. Paul says, "Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us." (Phil. 3:17). We are to be like Paul, for he models for us what pressing on involves. There are many other present-day models for each one of us. Many know of Eric Liddel, by virtue of the Chariots of Fire movie and how he would not run on Sunday but enjoyed great victory in the Olympics. This was nothing compared to the real victories in his life. He died in a Chinese concentration camp, where he was held captive along with school-age children and their teachers. He let those children race him, and at times, beat him; rather, he modeled pressing on for them because afterwards, they would study the Bible. He did the same thing with their teachers, holding Bible studies, and holding out hope, running the race set before him in Christ Jesus. Even few guards were affected by his pressing on.

Those who oppose the gospel are enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:18) and they will have to stand before God on Judgement Day, whose "end is destruction." Notice how Paul describes these enemies: appetite (the belly) is their god and shame is their glory because they are earthly-minded (3:19). Those who claim to be Christian and love the world are enemies of God (James 4:4) and are blaspheming, taking the name of Christ upon themselves then misrepresent Him on the earth. One does not win the right to bear His name in any way except by the new birth (John 1:12). Those who resist the gospel because of lust make themselves evident.

Paul reminds us that "our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3:20). This reminds us of Psalm 2, where we have read that the Son is Sovereign and there are only two responses: worship in reverence, or a casting off of His rule. Heaven (and notice that Paul says we are already there, positionally) is where we enjoy God forever, or try to cast Him off forever. Regardless, He is omnipresent and eternal. God's enemies have no place to stand but under His feet. When we move through this world, we have nothing to fear of God's enemies, for they are not ours, but His. We can only be threatened with heaven.

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