One of my favorite verses is the first two verses from these passages. This is the essence of the Christian life. This is the starting point, where the Christian begins his spiritual journey! The words of Romans 12:1 are echoed in the instructions of Jesus “if any man will come after me he may first LOSE his life”. To be called Christ followers, in order to begin that journey of following Christ and being made daily into his likeness we are instructed to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God. Now if you thought it was rather unreasonable for God to demand of us a sacrifice not of time or money but of our very selves, the verse seems to be a step ahead of us, amending our errors in judgment: “this is our reasonable service”! The second element it appears towards our transformation, after our sacrifice of “self” is to not be conformed to this world and to renew our minds. As Rev. Osei said, just because you’ve (once again the notion of self-sacrifice) given your life to Christ and are saved does not mean your mind is on vacation. It is one of the sources of your daily transformation, a part you can actually take an active role in by the thoughts u permit to enter and the ideas u allow to dominate your actions. The heart is a transformation that should be left to God. For the heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it! Daily sacrifice self, and become transformed by daily renewing your mind!!
For my quiet times I have been using a devotional entitled “Soul Detox”. The logic behind was that I found my soul to be in great need of rehabilitation and healing from the toxins that was gradually draining the life of the inner man. I had veered of track and read the passages presented in the text each day NOT under the light of theme of the devotional – “soul detox” but rather with the intention of hastily trying to put in my own words what I thought the verse meant. Whether this was a mistake or not proved to be irrelevant, for I still derived great benefit just from reading the scriptures. For the remainder of the devotional, I will try my best to keep in mind the overarching theme, and to read the scriptures in light of that theme (soul detox). The passages thus presented today are 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 7:1, John 15:1-17. In 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 we are told that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lamp. In Corinthians 7:1 we are instructed to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit”. The passage in John 15 can be summed up as Christ’s command to us to abide in Him, and to allow Him to abide in us. Every sinful act is ingesting poison into one’s soul. Timothy Keller once said something to the effect of “sin is not just bad because it is wrong, it is stupid.” “Sin is self-suicide”. It is the gradual weakening, and eventually death of the person in us. When you fornicate and keep fornicating, you kill that part of you that takes pleasure in the act. For example, the consumption of alcohol to an alcoholic gradually results in a lack of pleasure in the drinking, but rather becomes an activity of relief from the pain of being sober. We must allow ourselves, our true selves, every opportunity to grow as healthy as it possibly can. We must not hinder its health with sinful acts. Just as we are advised to watch our eating habits, we must pay diligent attention to what our souls digest. May we abstain from the pleasures of sin, or else suffer the consequences of losing the pleasure altogether!
All things are lawful but not all things are beneficial. No one would arrest you for eating McDonalds every day, but as to whether it benefits your health is quite another thing. Just because there aren’t any legal consequences to your actions doesn’t mean it benefits the health of your soul! The latter half of 1 Corinthians 6:13 which says “now the body is not for fornication but for the Lord”, at first glance appears to have nothing to do with the preceding verse. But if you think about fornication in a quite blunt sense you begin to gain further insight into the passage. First, in relation to the preceding verse, yes, fornication isn’t illegal, unless of course if done in public in which case the law uses the euphemism “public indecency”. But why is the word “fornication” used here. Well I believe because essentially fornication means to give yourself over to another. To allow another to in a very real sense penetrate you. To allow another to enter you. In our perverse society it goes beyond just people. It can even mean to allow objects, to allow “things” to penetrate and to enter us. God essentially says in verse 13, don’t give your soul over to a person or a thing. Don’t give it over to money. Don’t give it over to power, influence, fame. Don’t allow these things to “enter” or to “penetrate you”. Yes it isn’t unlawful to seek after wealth and riches! It isn’t unlawful to live your life for a beloved. But is it beneficial? I submit to you that the only benefit to the human soul is in allowing God to penetrate you, in allowing God to enter you! “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” says the Lord. Yes God doth have a sense of humor and he doesn’t shy away from the sexual connotations and bawdiness of what He says. He chooses His words carefully and He says them for a reason!
Timothy Keller once identified the notion of “God at the top of the ladder” as being a distinguishing factor between Christianity and all other religions. All other religions, he explained, place God at the top of a ladder, where man ascends the ladder by obeying a set of rules in order to reach the top and accept God’s approval. Christianity stands in stark contrast and says “no it is impossible for man to ascend the ladder, but rather God came down the ladder to save man”. Presented in Psalm 24:3-4 is a verse that upon first sight seems to contradict the notion of God descending the ladder to save man. It reads: “Who shall ASCEND unto the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in his Holy place. He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity or sworn deceitfully.” A person reads this, especially if of a different belief, and argues that is this not yet another example that Christianity like all other religions is a set of rules man must obey in order to ASCEND to God! In other words as long as a I live a life where I keep my hands clean God must accept me. The mistake here is in assuming the word “hill” and the word “ladder” are one and the same. When the Bible uses the word “hill” it speaks of a high place where one encounters the glory of God, where the glory of God shines upon a person. For example, the account in Exodus 34 speaks of Moses ascending to Mount Sinai where he caught a glimpse of God’s glory and says in verse 29 of the same chapter that after descending “he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD”. To illustrate my point think of a mirror. A mirror reflects light. The brightness of the light reflected by the mirror is a function of how many blemishes and spots are on the mirror. The more blemishes and spots on the mirror, the dimmer the brightness reflected. The purpose of keeping our hands clean and our hearts pure, in other words obeying the set of rules presented in Christianity, is not to gain God’s approval. But rather our souls are like mirrors. With every sinful act and disobedience of the commands of God, we are stained with envy, lust, jealousy, hatred and the like. We become by operation of spiritual principles, souls with blemishes unable to reflect God’s light. God’s light becomes dimmer and we are unable to see Him clearly. When we like Moses do descend after our encounter with God’s glory, our faces are not radiant. In order words, we do not reflect God’s glory. This is why a Christian still living a life of sin is unable to “let his light shine before men that they may see God’s glory”. The purpose of God’s commands are NOT yet another set of rules to be obeyed to seek His approval but rather are a fundamental component of our relationship with Him. For in obeying Him can we truly see Him, and in seeing His glory can we reflect His light in this dark world!
The question presented in my devotional’s text today is “why do you think it is so difficult to filter out cultural toxins in today’s society”? 2 Timothy 3:1-7 provides a compelling answer and gives a perfect depiction of the direction our society is headed in. In the NIV it begins by saying “but mark this”, almost as if to say you can bank on this happening, or this is as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow. It leaves no room for doubt. As our society approaches the last days people grow more “lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God”! If our society were a person, the description in 2 Timothy 3:1-7 would be the reflection it sees staring back at it in the mirror. The spirit of our society has become one in which sin is embedded into the very fabric of our culture and is spreading and growing like cancer. Only a few decades ago certain “evils” taken for granted today were unheard of. What makes up a society are people, individuals coming together with all their uniqueness under a common culture or authority. As a person we can grow worse or better. Were there not days in our lives as well when certain “evils” we committed for the first time were appalling and shocking. And as we repeatedly committed them did those very same “evils” not become the norm. As the individual is a reflection of society, likewise a society grows worse or better as the people grow worse or better. The two are positively correlated and mutually dependent. Society cannot be growing worse as the majority of her people growing better. As a Christian living in a society of “evils” which have become the norm, it has become more difficult than ever to filter out the cultural toxins that is deteriorating the health of our society. How often do you see any representations of God littered about in our society? How often do you see representations that elicit sexual pleasure or encourage love of money? As Christians, we are in this world but we are not of this world. We must filter ourselves from this world and rid our souls of the toxins that is chocking the life of our society. Just because our society is slowly dying in sin, doesn’t mean we too as Christians must die along with it for we are not of it. As we approach the last days, our society grows weaker, the people grow weaker as they reject God . On that last day, we must either suffer the death of sin and separation from God, or celebrate the new life in Christ and perfect union with God!
Goals are akin to a finish line on a track field or the destination of a journey. At the beginning the end goal may be unclear. In some cases the finish line or destination if you will can’t be seen at the outset. However, as the race or the journey approaches the end, the goal of the race or the journey become more and more concrete. Life is one big race with a finish line. Within life herself are many races. Attending a university is a race that begins with the first lecture, the first homework assignment, the first exam and progresses till one attains a degree. In the pursuit of marriage, the beloveds begin their journey with a profession of their affection for each other, and engage in courting behaviors till the ring falls on the finger. There seems to be between the start of a goal and the end of the goal, lapses of time. Some goals require extensive lapses of time, others are much shorter. But regardless of the race in question, the one who keeps at the forefront of their mind the end goal is likely to behave in such a way to minimize the distractions along the way and to maximize their chances of meeting the objectives that is back of the goal. The runner who is less distracted by the crowd is more likely to finish their race quicker than the one who pauses at every cheer or applause. The question then naturally arises: If life is the BIG race, then what is the end goal? Are we here to gather great riches? To be people pleasers who can boast of a wide network of relationships? We are instructed in 2 Timothy 6:18 that the goal is to be “rich in good works” and in 19 to “lay up in store for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, that we may lay hold on eternal life”. We must not be distracted along the track of life. We must not pause at every fancy that calls for our attention. We must not make our ultimate goal anything that doesn’t cross over beyond the finish line of life! “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out”. We are to “fight the good fight of faith to lay hold on eternal life”. We are to flee the “love of money” and turn towards the pursuit of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness”! These are the objectives that is back of the goal of LIFE! With each passing day we approach nearer and nearer the ultimate end, and those who can maintain the focus of the purpose and goal of life at the forefront of their mind, are the ones likely to live lives in sync with this goal.
In his remarkable lecture “Aristotle on Friendship”, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Daniel N. Robinson identified Aristotle’s three foundations of friendship. In all three forms of friendship there is reciprocity. The first foundation of friendship is where A befriends B and B befriends A because in each other’s company they derive some form of sensual pleasure. It may be that they make each other laugh, or they just have a good time in each other’s company. The second foundation of friendship is where A befriends B and B befriends A because of utility. A is useful to B and B is useful to A. For example, a rich man seems to have lots of “friends” so long as his pockets are bulging, and he in return, enjoys the utility of being a man of “many connections”– for knowing people tends to have in its own right, great usefulness. Now before I move on to the last foundation of friendship, a comment on the first two. In the first two forms of friendship just described, it appears that an expiration date is set on the friendship. The friendships last so long as the pleasure or utility last. They are friendships motivated by selfishness where the parties to the friendship are only friends so long as they are getting something out of it. In essence, were the right person to come along at the right time, that person can fulfill either the pleasure or usefulness the friendship requires. So when B ceases to be either a source of pleasure or utility to A, A leaves B and befriends C who now provides that pleasure or utility. I would like you to pause for a moment and observe your own friendships and see if you do not find this to be the case. I know in my case some of my so called friends who I have ceased to be a source of pleasure and utility to have all but ceased to call or text me. Now in the last form of friendship we find the highest or intended purpose of what friendships ought to be about. Daniel N. Robinson goes on to explain that Aristotle uses the Greek word “teleia philia” to identify the basis or foundation of this last form of friendship. “Teleia philia” he goes on to explain is poorly translated into English as perfected or completed friendship. Teleia is derived from the Greek word “teleos” which means the goal or the end of something. All things have a purpose or an end, so in saying that a friendship is grounded on “teleia philia” is in essence to say that the friendship is grounded on a foundation which completes the intended design, purpose, or end of a friendship. In this highest form of friendship therefore, A befriends B for the sake of B, and B befriends A for the sake of A. B is friends with A because B wishes to help A become the best person that A can be, and vice versa. What we find in Christianity is just this form of friendship. Christ laid down his life for his friends. Christ who was God, who could possibly derive NO pleasure or utility from us, befriended us for our sake, and died for us to save us. In my experiences I have come to see that my friendships which are grounded in Christ seem to be the friendships that last for a lifetime. Christ is the rock upon which the house must be built, and WHEN the winds and the storms come the house remains standing. Christ the rock, upon which friendships are built last through the winds and the storms of life. 1 Corinthians 15 in brief dispels the possibility of the Christian truth ever being a lie. For nothing can ever truly stand on a lie. But what we find in Christianity is that even friendships grounded on Christian truth last forever, and complete the intended design, purpose, and end of friendship. Which is why in 1 Corinthians 15:33 we are discouraged against being associated with “bad company”. Bad company may not necessarily be a company of people committing tremendous wickedness — killing, or nothing of that sort. It is simply a company of sin. Sin is “I” in the center. Sin is wanting to be God, wanting people to revolve around your own interests. Sin is selfishness. Friendships with bad company are toxic relationships. They are relationships where A is friends with B, but if B is to become successful, A grows envious of B’s success because the friendship was never about B in the first place, but about A. “Be not deceived, bad company corrupts good character”. As sin is the disease that deteriorates a person’s soul, so friendship with bad company, grounded on self-interest, on SIN, corrupt a person’s character. On the other hand, friendships grounded on “teleia philia”, on selflessness, Philia or Love, builds up a person’s character!
I believe one desire that resonates with many Christians can be expressed in the lyrics of the song “if you can use anything Lord you can use me”! Other Christians are just as content with being a simple church attendee — spectators warming up the empty chairs enjoying the beauty of an exceptional choir or the blessings of a classic sermon. Others not only wish to be spectators, but eagerly wish to come off the bench and get in the game. They essentially ask God to place them into whatever position is available. Yet still others know or think they know just what position they should be in and demand of God to be put in that role. They say things like “I am a gifted solo artist and my talents shouldn’t be wasted sweeping up the floors”. My aim at this point is not to fix any amount of blame on any one of these groups or to praise one group over the other. For all I know whether knowingly or unknowingly they are all playing their essential roles in God’s eyes. In a game, not everyone should be on the field at the same time. There ought to be fans who cheer the players on. There ought to be backup players who can fill any role in case a player on the field goes down with an injury. There ought to be players who have an accurate awareness of their potential and demand of the coach to be placed into specific roles. But especially for those groups interested in working for God, one thing to note about the work of God is that it requires a tremendous amount of study. No one becomes a heart surgeon overnight. Likewise, in the work of changing not the physical heart of a person, but the very heart which is the person himself, ought such a job not require a lifelong study? 2 Timothy 2:15 says “study to show thyself approved of God, a workman that neeedeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” A workman. We are to study to show ourselves approved of the Employer who hires us in His work. Not only is study a must, but there are requirements to be met that makes one an eligible workman of God. In various professions, certain exams must be passed and qualifications earned in order to practice that respective profession. Furthermore, in practicing that profession there are rules and regulations to adhere to in order to retain one’s professional license. Similarly in the work of God there are “rules common to the whole house.” In verse 16 we are to “shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness”. In verse 19 — “let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity”. In verse 22 — “flee youthful lusts but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace”. It appears that the main requirement God demands of his workmen is that they rid themselves of iniquity. As vessels in the Great House of God, God requires that we be “purged and sanctified” in order to be “meet for the Master’s use, prepared unto every good work”. The work of God is a good work, and nothing is more contrary to a good work than workers who are filled with sin and iniquity. “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but of wood and earth”. Regardless of the role one plays in church, we must all understand that the point is that not everyone ought to be vessels of gold and silver. Not everyone ought to be in the spotlight. For ultimately the purpose of the work of God is not that we might get glory, but that we should reflect His glory.
As Christians, it seems as if one of the most daunting duties is to be utterly and completely obedient to all of God’s commands without excuses. Especially in the case of the baby Christian still maturing in his Christian walk, the idea presented in 1 John 3:9 that “whosever is born of God doth not commit sin” seems to be an impossibility, as he stumbles and continues to fall time after time. Oh the numerous times resolutions are made to not compromise the faith. Oh the constant dread of failing before one even begins. It reaches a point in our Christian lives that we throw our hands up in frustration and buy into the lie that it is impossible to live a holy life in a society where evil beckons and entices at every corner. We might even argue that John and Jesus alike issued such commands at a time when society was more favorable for a holy life. I do not argue that the acreage of society by and large has grown far more unfertile for the seeds of a holy life. But what I would like to submit to my readers today is that as Christians we need not accept the LIE that a life, holy, and acceptable to God is unreasonable. Indeed does not Romans 12:1 assure us that the sacrifice of a holy life is a reasonable service? Speaking from my personal experiences and my struggles and constant stumbles in my walk with Christ, I believe that the main mistake I made when I still struggled with sin was that I attempted to live a holy life by my own steam. I was like the Galatians to whom Paul says in Galatians 3:3: “How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” See the root of the problem is that sin has been passed down from our parents (Adam & Eve) — and is embedded into our spiritual DNA. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot by our own moral efforts rid ourselves of the sin in us. We must be born again of the Spirit. And thus having been born of the Spirit, we are instructed in Galatians 5:16 to walk in the Spirit, and we will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Likewise the first half of 1 John 3:6 reads “whosoever abideth in Him sinnet not”. The first thing to note about living a Christian life is expressed in the words of Paul when he says “it is not I that liveth, but Christ liveth in me”. In making resolutions to live a better life, in living morally by our own efforts we are quite literally attempting to be our own saviors. We are still holding on to our lives and are living our lives as we see fit. We have become our own Gods and it is no longer Christ living in us. Pride or the sin of wanting to be God has been defined as “being full of yourself”. The virtue of humility on the hand has been defined as “being empty of yourself”. Without emptying ourselves, we cannot make room for Christ to fill us. Without losing our lives, Christ cannot gain our hearts. Which is why he instructs that if any man wants to come after me, to walk the Christ walk, he must FIRST lose his life. It is true that the odds in our society are stacked against us, that everything in this world is tailored to bring the Christian down. But we are not of this world, and we need not buy into that lie that we must live like the world. Having begun by the Spirit, we must continue to walk in the Spirit, and we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
One of the questions that has intrigued me a great deal quite recently, that I have also put to a few of the people I come in contact with, without receiving an adequate answer is “what is reality?” It is ludicrous for a second to think and to quite literally believe that our individual experience of life is ultimate reality. Think for a second of the billions and billions of people on this planet. Think of the infinite varying ranges of experiences each individual is going through at any particular moment in time. Some are experiencing the pains of torture at this very second. Some are experience the thrill of a breathtaking event, or enjoying the company of a loved one. Still yet, some might be in a coma experiencing nothing whatsoever. To extract out of all these billions and billions of individual experiences, our own experience, and to exalt our experience of reality as ultimate reality seems to me a disastrous fallacy. We have been making this mistake virtually since birth. The problem lies in our definition of the word “reality”. If by reality we mean what is accessible to our senses at the present moment, we have in my opinion only got the answer half right. We know man is a body, a soul, and a spirit. Of all these components of man, it is the soul and the spirit that essentially experience reality. It is the inner man in us and the interpretations, the beliefs, the prejudices and biases, that he or she brings to bear on every waking moment that attribute to every experience of “reality” in the vague sense of the word, its substantive meaning. In other words it is the way the inner man experiences our world that gives our experience in this world any meaning. We cannot for a second believe that the “stream of immediate sense experience” in and of itself, void of the experience that goes on inside each one of us is all there is. Now what fascinates me is that the part of us, namely the soul and the spirit, which provide all meaning to our experience of life are themselves something we cannot see with our physical eyes. That fact alone ought to teach us something about “what is real”? What is real therefore isn’t simply all that is accessible to our five senses. For the scientists even tell us that certain sensory experiences escape us. There is a whole other world going on — an eternal, supernatural, spiritual world we cannot see with our physical eyes. Jesus’ rebuke to Peter in Matthew 16:23 “Get thee behind me Satan” shows an acknowledgement of a spiritual entity that Peter couldn’t see with his physical eyes, but which was every bit as real as the physical Jesus standing in front of Peter. The scripture in Ephesians 6:12 which reads, “for we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” is yet still more evidence of a spiritual or supernatural world. To live our lives solely on the basis of things we experience physically, or in the natural, is to devote our lives to what is only half-real, indeed even ephemeral. To ignore the inner man, to neglect its relationship with a supernatural, spiritual God, is to not live reality out to its fullest. Furthermore, it is a neglecting of that part of us which actually provides meaning to the natural world we do see. Each waking moment of our lives, we will do well to remind ourselves of the fact that we are not just physical beings inhabiting a natural world, but also spiritual beings inhabiting a supernatural world. For all that we do in caring for the “flesh” we must also devote attention to the hidden, inner, unseen yet very real person in us.