Holiness is an Inside Job


Originally posted on On Target:

Now that spring has finally arrived, one of the more pressing questions to deal with is, “How green do you want your lawn to be?” Will you rely on the rain to water your lawn, or will you use a hose, or perhaps install a sprinkler system? Will you feed your lawn to insure a full carpet? Will you spread pesticides to get rid of weeds?

While a healthy lawn adds beauty to the neighborhood, having a healthy soul brings satisfaction to our heart. Which begs the question, “How holy do you want your life to be?” Will you invest time in Bible study and prayer? Will you memorize Scripture? Will you fill your mind with wholesome music, books, and thoughts? Will you examine your motives on a regular basis? Will you make yourself accountable to a close friend?

Mark 7:1-23Inside Outpaints a contrast between the traditional approach to holiness…

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Simplicity, Naïveté and the Ways of God


Christopher Perdue (thebiblestop):

So true. Jesus said to go make disciples. He did not say to go out and evangelize – that comes with being a disciple.

Originally posted on The Life Project:

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Recently a friend of mine was speaking with a small group of people; they were asking him questions about various things. One of them asked him what kind of programs and outreach activities he thought would best help a church to reach their community, and he told them that he doubted programs or activities would help them reach their community at all; they seemed surprised.

That was not the “right” answer.

Instead, he suggested they make an effort to disciple their congregation.

That wasn’t the “right” answer either.

They told him that their congregation wasn’t reaching the community because the pastor wasn’t very good at “evangelism”.

He suggested they make an effort to make disciples of their congregation: Wrong again! Nope, churches can only reach the community for Christ when the pastor is really dedicated to “personal evangelism” and gets out there and “brings the people in”.

My friend suggested…

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Ah, but for Mercy!


We have seen a progression while going through the Beatitudes. First is humility before God, and then sorrowing over our sin. Third was meekness, or quiet strength. Scripture says that those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength as eagles, finding strength for the journey. These attitudes will create a hunger and thirst for His righteousness.

As we walk this journey in the Lord, we must learn to be merciful toward others. This can be a tough one, especially as we try to balance mercy with a love for justice – another quality extolled in Scripture.

(Matthew 5:7) “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

A subtle approach of our old sin nature is a lack of mercy. For many Believers, this is a stronghold that really needs to be cast down (1Corinthians 10:3-5). How does this lack manifest?

One way is when we see someone with a particular sin issue that we don’t have, and we are quick to judge them for it. An easy example to use would be homosexuality and other perversions. Those who are solidly adult hererosexual often assume that the homosexual has chosen to be strongly attracted to the same gender. You see the argument stated several different ways, but it is typically in such a way that it heaps condemnation and hatred upon the homosexual. Instead of telling them simply to turn to Christ and turn away from the sinful actions, they take an accusative approach that does not show the love of God. While they may claim they want to see the person saved, they almost seem to rejoice in telling this kind of sinner that they are going to hell.

The same attitude can be shown regarding any other sin. Some people are fine with homosexuals, but they hate a thief. Or the murderer. Or the rapist. Or the town gossip.

And then they expect to receive mercy from God for their own sins! It is easy to forget that from God’s perspective it is all just SIN. In Romans 1, after discussing homosexuality, Paul turns to a long list of other sins, and says all those who practice these things deserve death.

Do you envy someone? Did you talk about someone behind their back? Are you boasting in some accomplishment of yours? YOU DESERVE DEATH! You deserve to go to hell for eternity, separated from God (Romans 1:32).

All to often, there are certain sins of which we approve (usually ones we also commit), while other sins we condemn (ones either we don’t commit or that we are the victim of). We get really angry with our kids for disobedience, forgetting that we were sometimes disobedient to our own parents. And certainly we have been disobedient to our Heavenly Father.

A second way the lack of mercy manifests is when it is something that God has dealt with in us already. Say that you used to gossip, but learned from God how to stop. Now you never talk about others personal lives. But you see Suzy, who has not turned away from that yet or not been totally delivered yet, perhaps does not even realize she is doing it. So you think to yourself some rather unkind thoughts about Suzy and her lack of spirituality. And in so doing, only demonstrate that you are still a spiritual baby, yourself.

(Romans 2:1, 4) Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge; For in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself, for you who judge practice the same things. … Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance.

From God’s point of view, sin is sin. If you have broken one commandment, then you are a lawbreaker and a sinner. Did you backbite or some other “minor” sin? Then you are just as guilty before God as the pedophile.

(Does that last comparison hit you, tempt you to get mad at me? Or perhaps make you want to discount all I just said? “Why that bleepity-bleep. How dare he compare me to a filthy pedophile!” That is your sin nature, trying to keep you in bondage to judgment. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4;12), and sometimes the cuts will hurt, will cause an instictive reaction. The sin nature hates correction. Seek God for His truth, and find freedom. To Him, all sin is like a well-used tampon or piece of toilet paper. For that matter, so is our own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). Disgusting? Yes, it is.)

Ah, but for mercy!! Were it not for God’s mercy we would all go to hell, and rightly so. Can we not show mercy, knowing that we also have sinned, and likely still sometimes sin.

Your salvation may depend on it! He said that the merciful will obtain mercy. Mercy is not getting what you really deserve. A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also said to judge not, or we will be judged, and we will be judged by the same measuring stick that we judge others (Matthew 7:1, 2).

Who did Jesus constantly rebuke and warn of hellfire? Read the Gospels and see for yourself. His strongest rebukes were not for the sinners. He told them to go and sin no more, and most of His actual instructions were for sinners and for those who chose to follow Him. But the ones who received a sharp rebuke were the religious folk who walked in self-righteous attitudes – the ones who thought they were better than the “sinners” because they did not commit those particular sins (so they thought).

Note that this does NOT mean we do not acknowledge or address sin. We definitely should take a stand against sin. The question is: Do we approach the issue extolling the mercies and goodness of a God who is willing to forgive, willing to help us change. …The goodness of God leads to repentance. Warn of hell, certainly, but our focus should be on the love of God in most cases.

The final question: Are you learning how to be merciful? Jesus taught that we would be known by our love, and love is longsuffering, is merciful. This is something most of us need more growth in. Pray and ask God to show you where you are lacking in mercy, then repent and start practicing it.

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Are You Hungry for Righteousness?


As we continue the series on the Beatitudes, we come to one about hunger and thirst for righteousness.

(Matthew 5:6) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

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There is a progression in the Beatitudes – that is, each one is built on the foundation of the previous. First was poor in spirit, or humility before God. Second was mourning our sins and wrong decisions. Third was meekness, a quiet strength and determination to stand for what is right.

We all are born with a sin nature. When Christ was crucified, that sin nature was crucified with Him on the cross (Romans 6:1-14). But at the same time, that thing refuses to admit it is dead; and all too often we are drawn to the stench of the old, dead thing, and go play with it. That dead thing is a little like a zombie, dead but not dead, with flesh rotting even as it moves. And just as a zombie wants to eat your brains, so this dead thing want to eat/control your mind (Ephesians 4:22-25).

The spiritual progression should be a desire to keep that old nature in the grave, to break the sin-repent-sin-repent cycle. Our goal is to go beyond just acknowledging and standing for the truth, to living in the Truth. We need to develop a hunger and thirst for true righteousness. It is our place to develop the hunger, and it is God’s part to provide and fill us.

God has provided everything we need to pursue and grow in righteousness. We have the truth of His Word to battle the lies of the devil and his offspring, the sin nature. If we have received Christ for salvation, then we have the Spirit of God to help us, to guide and strengthen us in our weaknesses. Furthermore, we have been born again as spiritual children of God – we receive a new spirit that is incorruptible.

When Adam and Eve walked in the Garden of Eden, there were two special trees in that Garden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They chose to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As one of the results, they were kicked out of the Garden, and angels were set to guard the way, so they could not eat from the Tree of Life (Genesis 3). If they had eaten from the Tree of Life after the Tree of Knowledge, mankind would have forever been bound to sin, with no remedy.

Similarly, when God commanded the building of the tabernacle, and later the Temple, a veil or curtain was placed between the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies to approach God, and that only at Passover.

Jesus was crucified in fulfillment of the Passover feast and sacrifice. When He died, an earthquake caused the veil in the Temple to be torn open. He was the true High Priest (Hebrews), and through Him we can enter the spiritual throne room, the heavenly Holy of Holies. Jesus made the way, where there was no way! He was promised to Adam and Eve when they were kicked out of the Garden, with the first Messianic prophecy.

Likewise, in a true spiritual sense, we now have access to the Tree of Life (and in eternity, will have literal access to the Tree). Revelation 12 says that the saints overcome the Antichrist (and by extension, the anti-Christ system or mindset that is in the world) by the Blood of the Lamb (Jesus), by the word of their testimony (changed life), and by not loving their lives even to the death – (in humility coming to God, mourning/repentance, meekness; see previous articles). Revelation 2:7 promises that to the overcomer Jesus will give to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the Paradise of God.

So, now we have a choice, if we are believers. We can choose the flesh nature (Tree of Knowledge – the fruit of death), or we can choose the Spirit (The Tree of Life). But be warned: 1John tells us that those who consistently choose sin do not walk in the light, and show that they do not know God. In other words, they will not make it to heaven. Do not be deceived, Paul warns: God is not mocked. He who sows to the fleshly nature will reap destruction, while he who sows to the Spirit will reap life (Galatians 6:7, 8).

1John was written to admonish and encourage us, so that we choose life, so that we “do not sin” (2:1). But John goes on to say, if/when we do sin, Jesus will be our Advocate to the Father. If we confess (agree with God about) our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us.

An Obvious Question

The obvious question: How do we choose the Tree of Life?

Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He is the propitiation (payment and replacement for) sin (1John 2:2). He is Jehovah Tsidkenu, The LORD our Righteousness. Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, thinking in them you will find life, and they are that which testify of Me. Yet you refuse to come to Me, that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40)

The Answer: We choose life by going to God for His wisdom, by going to Christ for His strength. Don’t try to win by your own human willpower. That is not spiritual fruit. You may succeed in stopping something by choosing good rather than the evil. However, if it is by your own willpower, then you are still eating from the Tree of Knowledge of GOOD and Evil.

There are plenty of “good” people who are going to the Lake of Fire (hell), because they all still have sin. Nobody is without sin, and anybody who thinks they are make God a liar, and the Truth is not in them (1John 1:8, 10). It is not just a matter of not doing certain things anymore. It is not, per se, about stopping sinning.

It is about hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It is about honoring God, and about becoming children of God in truth (John 1:12).

You can change your ways for many reasons. You can stop smoking simply for health reasons. You can stop sleeping around because you want to honor your marriage bed. These are certainly good and right. … Or you can hunger, strongly desire, to live a life pleasing to God, and stop these things for that reason – and seek Him in the process. Which of these do you think honors God?

Scripture says, whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). True righteousness comes through faith (Philippians 3:9).

When we choose to do good for other reasons, such as health reasons, respecting our wife/husband, then it is for selfish reasons – self – the natural man. Granted, it is still doing good; but this is the same tree as doing evil. (That IS what it says, knowledge of good and evil!)

On the other hand, when we do it out of simple obedience (ooh, that hated word – obey!) to God because it is right, then we are choosing life. And when we go to God in our temptation for strength, we choose life. When we speak and stand on God’s Word, as Jesus did in the wilderness (Matthew 4), and submit ourselves to God, then the devil will flee because we chose life, rather than the other tree.

As we put this into practice, we will become righteous, even as Jesus is righteous (1John 3:7). Christ was of completely righteous character, and if we thirst for and pursue righteousness, our character will also become righteous.

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How to Know that You are Bearing Fruit


John 15 is part of Christ’s final instructions to the disciples, and to the believers who would follow them (the church). In John 15:2, Jesus said,

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He (the Father) takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

Is God pruning you? Is He directing you to cut things out of your life? Does He chastise (discipline) you and correct you? And most importantly, do you love His correction and chastisement; do you receive it and learn from it?

If He is not pruning you, if you are not dying to the old sin nature, then you are not bearing fruit, either. Jesus told us that if you are starting to bear fruit, then God WILL start pruning away that which is not fruitful. In that manner, the fruit will increase.

Gardening tip: Do you want a bumper crop of tomatoes. The trick is, when the first couple branches of the tomato plant start flowering, then prune most of the other branches. The tomato plant only needs a few green leaves to provide for its energy needs. When you prune back the branches that only have leaves, suddenly the other branches will begin producing more flowers, and more fruit.

It is God’s will that we bear much fruit, just as with a natural gardener (John 15:5). He WANTS you to be fruitful. He wants you to grow to a mature faith in Him. But your faith will remain immature, at best, if you don’t let Him prune you, let Him direct you what needs to be cut out of your life and practice.

The next key to bearing fruit is to abide in Him (John 15:4). This means to be where He is at, not necessarily where you think you should be at. For example, if God wants to start cutting away lust, don’t go working on jealousy instead. You must abide in Him, live in Him. He is the Master Gardener, and you are the branch. Jesus is the vine, from which we receive the life to bear fruit. The Father is the one who prunes, and He knows which branch needs to be pruned, and when.

Several times, Scripture tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You must bear fruit – your soul depends upon it. Jesus clearly warned above that “any branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away.” A few verses later, Jesus clarified (v. 6): “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”

Notice, He said the branch is taken away. In context, He explained that YOU are the branch. If we do not abide in Him, and if we do not bear fruit, we are in danger of hell. This is not speaking of judgment day, in which our works of wood, hay, and stubble will be burned up. In that passage, it specifically says our works will be burned, but we will be saved – though as if through fire.

No. In this passage, Jesus says that the branch, the person, will be taken away, withered, and burned in the fire.

So, what is fruit. Is it putting away sin? No, that is pruning. When God tells us to work on putting to death a certain area of our nature, He is pruning us.

Fruitfulness is the changed life that results. In context, Jesus talks a lot about loving others as He loved us. Other fruits include joy, peace, longsuffering, faithfulness, and more. The things He cuts away may look like they are producing life, but there is no fruit. And face it, you can’t eat tomato plant leaves – they are actually poisonous. It is the fruit of the plant we want to eat.

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