No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

1 John 3: 6

John sets a very hard standard here. For there is no question in my mind that even as a follower of Christ sin is not absent from my life, and the same hard reality is attested to by others that I know and by the witness of many as set out in God’s Word. Accepting Christ is not some form of magic wand that immediately changes this aspect of who we have been for the prior duration of our lives. In addition, He does not take control over our hearts and minds in a manner that overrides all of the impulses, desires, and conditioned responses that we have to life. Through the work of His Spirit on and within us, Christ does change His people in ways that are both subtle and profound. Yet, He does this through a process that takes place over time, and this process involves us in on-going acts of submission to His will and of surrender to God’s holy and righteous way of engaging with life.

 This would seem to put most people at odds with God, or at least with John’s view of the way that God works in the lives of His people. There were very few people who knew Jesus better than did John. He was closer than almost anyone else to Jesus while He was living on earth as a man, and John’s continued service and leadership in the fellowship of faith became legendary due to its singular length and his intense devotion to the gospel of love as known only by and through a relationship with Jesus Christ. So, when John speaks, it is wise to listen, and when he says something this powerful about the fundamental nature of what it means to be in relationship with Christ, we should take his statement seriously. John was not a person who said things for their shock value alone; rather, he was a disciple of Christ who was charged with guiding many into an ever deeper form of living out their calling to service to God.

John is not saying that true followers of Christ will live sinless lives. Instead, he is indicating that people who have in fact given themselves to Christ and entered into a relationship with Him will never be comfortable with the sin that is remaining in us as we engage with and conduct life. In Christ, sin loses its hold on us and its rule over us is ended. (John 8:31 cf.) So, as we remain close to our Lord, as we abide in Him, the contrast between living as Christ’s true follower with its characteristics of love, grace, mercy, justice, and peacemaking and the way of the world with its characteristics of a drive toward power, control, personal gain, and self-determination of right and wrong, becomes ever starker and more uncomfortable to us. John is providing us with a strong warning and a clear reminder that we are to seek out the Lord and His righteousness as the primary focus of our days. We dwell in the presence of Christ when we turn to Him through consumption of God’s Word, in meditation and prayer, and by holding God’s view of what constitutes holiness and righteousness as superior to personal comfort, our long-established habits, or to life, itself. Thus, as we remain attached to the source of wisdom, truth, and gracious love, as we abide in the vine that is Christ (John 15), the sin that seeks to control our lives is driven off, and our souls are set free to live out the Lord’s calling and purpose for us.    

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Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

1 Corinthians 5: 7

 

There is a real sense of urgency in these words. The sacrifice of the lamb has already taken place, and the blood of atonement is poured out. Yet, there is still an element, a trace, of the old sinful self present in the lives of the faithful followers of Christ. This is generally a situation that we all face at times and from time to time as well. We know Christ; yet, there is still sin present in us. We have given our lives to Him, but we are holding onto some aspects of our old self with a tenacity that almost seems to defy God’s ability to pour out grace upon us. As it was in Corinth, these elements of sinfulness in us and so in the fellowship of faith cause trouble and bring about dissention as they shatter our unity.

 

In Christ, we have the way and the means to clean out all that is corrupt, unloving, and broken in our lives. The cleansing property of His blood is far greater than any of the sins or sinfulness that we may be clinging onto, and Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection have also permanently defeated the hold that death had upon us. Christ has granted to us the final assurance that death’s terrible angel will pass us by, for although we all die in the body, in Christ all are eternally alive in the spirit. So, as we have come to know Christ as Savior and Lord, we are made new, and the old self with all of its weakness and unrighteousness is done away with in the eyes of God. It is not any lack of interest or capacity on the part of God that causes us to continue living in various states of rebellion from God, it is our own stubborn and fearful hearts and minds that grasp onto this leavening in our lives.

 

The journey into Christ’s righteousness is not a simple one. It takes commitment, happens over time, and is impossible to accomplish in our own strength and power. Additionally, it is not a solo adventure, for like all aspects of the Christian life, seeking after righteousness is something that is best done in the company of like-minded travelers. Yes, removing the leaven, the sinfulness, from our own lives and out of the body of faith is an urgent need, and we all are caught up in this important endeavor. Yet, Christ has gone before us, and His sacrifice on the cross gives us the power and the capacity to be victorious over all of the aspects of our old selves that are attempting to hold us down in our witness and to defeat our ability to live in the full expression of freedom that is ours as citizens of God’s Kingdom come to earth. Again, living righteously is not simple to do and it is not easy to accomplish, but the Spirit will guide us into knowing our sinfulness, surrender to Christ is effective in gaining His power and resources for change, prayer and meditation will lead us deeper into the Lord’s will, and the fellowship of other believers can be the support that we need to stay the course to its glorious end.

They shall not hurt or destroy in all of my holy mountain;

for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11: 9

 

What a time to consider; what a glorious day this will be! Think about what it would be like to walk out of your door into an environment where everyone and all things were not just filled with an understanding of God and of His ways, but they are actually infused with the Lord. The essential make up of this world is all God. That is the picture that Isaiah paints for us here.

 

Although this is a future promise, and we can do nothing to influence the moment in history when God will make it so, this is also a statement of the potential that exists within each of us. As we stop fighting against God and make peace within our own hearts with His will, we begin to move into this eternal state of shalom with the Lord. I know for myself that the more I set aside my will and seek the Lord’s, the more His presence will fill me.

 

As I am filled with this intimate knowledge of the Lord and as I allow His Spirit to change my being into the one that He calls me to become, my life is changed into one that reflects more fully the Lord’s desired state of being as a person who is intended to carry God’s image into my world. In these days, this is an important way for this full knowledge of God to be communicated to the world; for the Lord uses the lives of His followers to make His love, grace, and redemption real to other people and to bring His healing touch to all aspects and to every corner of this world.

 

But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18: 16

 

On the surface of it all, it would seem that Jesus liked children. Now I think that He probably did enjoy them. Although, He had none of His own, it is easy for me to envision Jesus playing with a group of children, telling them stories, and comforting them when they fell and were scraped and bruised. All of that seems reasonable, and it all fits into my image of how God views the behaviors of children, too. The Lord delights in the simple innocence that they bring to much of what they do, and He also is overjoyed when that innocence in life transitions into a simple and easy faith in God, Himself. God is fully aware of just how much harder in becomes to have faith in Him as we gain in years and grow in the depth of our human understandings. The knowledge and the experience that we acquire tends to get in the way of accepting Christ based upon faith alone.

 

So, Jesus wanted to have the opportunity to engage with the young ones who had not become too wise and gained worldly understanding that was greater than their own good. They were easier to talk with about living in the manner that God desires for us to live. They were open to having their lives shaped by God’s Law as they gave themselves over to following the Lord in all aspects of life. Unfortunately, this sort of total and absolute surrender becomes ever more difficult for us as we become older, for then we believe that we know better than do others, including God, and we think that we have too much to lose in surrendering our lives to Christ. All of this is untrue; yet, this is the sort of thinking that holds people back from entering into a relationship with Christ, and this is also a part of what keeps those of us who already know Him from opening up and yielding all of ourselves to the transformative work of the Spirit.

 

In fact, we do not need to be young in years in order to come to Christ and to enter into a full and complete relationship with Him; however, it helps greatly if we have an attitude of youthful enthusiasm for Christ and for His Word and if we can set aside complex reasoning and simply accept eternal truth as being real, valid, and absolute. There come times in all of our lives when we must enter into this sort of surrender. We will all encounter situations and conditions in life that are beyond our ability to reason them out or to think our way to a satisfactory conclusion. The necessity of faith is inevitable, for we all will come to a place where the only option available to us is the one where we come to Jesus and let Him give us the comfort, care, and strength that we need to continue on through the day. There will be a time when everyone needs to be like a little child in the presence of the One who loves us beyond this life and into eternity.

 

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation, having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.

Ephesians 1: 13

 

When we come to accept the salvation for our souls that Christ brings to us, there is a mark placed upon us by God. It is a bit like a trademark or a seal that signifies the place where we were made and tells the world whose hands did the making. Christianity is so much more than just a belief system. It isn’t a membership, for claiming Christ means accepting the fact that a very active and totally involved Creator God is going to work inside of you to transform what had been a flawed and fatally broken person into one who is righteously living out his or her God-image bearing nature.

 

The seal of the Holy Spirit is much more than just a mark signifying ownership or even craftsmanship; for it is also the mark of a promise. God made a commitment to all people that He would defeat evil in our lives and in our world, and it would happen in that order. He has given each and every person on this earth the answer to that personal victory, and we are, therefore, granted the means to gain the victory in our lives. When we accept Him, the Spirit of Christ moves into our hearts to bring the love of the Creator into residency there, He begins to change our minds into ones that grasp the truth of God’s righteousness, and He works ceaselessly to move us out of the grip of sin and into the joy of the Lord’s freedom.

 

Thus, God’s promise to us becomes the beginning point for living in the fullest realization of our own potential. Every person who has ever lived and who will exist on this earth has been created by the hand of God and is formed with the image of the Creator as the template for formation. Through the work of the Spirit in us, we are shaped and molded into people who are finally free to fulfill the limitless promise that God designed into us. This is all accomplished through the strength of Christ, not through any might or force of personal will, and it occurs as we surrender ourselves fully to Christ, and in so doing, we enter into this process of transformation that is God’s promise of redemption to each of His people.

 

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12: 18

 

This statement is about as conditional as Paul ever gets, for he rarely leaves this much to our own discretion and understanding of the situation. Yet, here in this proverbial saying that is placed within a string of similar expressions, we are told to do something “If possible.” So, whose possibility is to make that determination? If it is mine, then there may be very few times when I am really going to live peaceably with people who rub me the wrong way, or hold views about issues that differ from mine, or come from a different cultural background than mine. The possibility for exception to that directive to live peaceably gets to be very long quite quickly, and the list of people with whom I am living in peace becomes short enough that I can readily handle it on my own.

 

Perhaps that is really the point. God’s desire for us in all aspects of life is that we would let go of control and surrender all of it to Him. So, in this very challenging area of relationships with other people, God is giving us the option of releasing our grip upon the rules for acceptance or rejection of others or of holding onto them so that we manage the way that we interact with the human elements of our world. To me, this places the idea of possibility into an entirely different light. It says that my relational boundaries and barriers can be either as narrow as my own definitions and comfort or they can be as expansive and inclusive as are God’s. This is the real choice that Paul is proposing to us, and it is one that he had entered into, himself, as a significant aspect of Paul’s coming to Christ involved the reordering of his view of God’s mission for him in relation to accepting or persecuting people who viewed their relationship with God differently than did Paul, the Pharisee.

 

It seems to me that entering fully into the possibilities in connecting with and caring about and for others is predicated upon surrender to Christ. The more of myself that I give over to my Lord in submission to His will, the more likely it is that I will see the lovable and the beautiful in people who would otherwise make me uncomfortable or worse. There is no one on this earth who Christ cannot love. There are no people for whom He did not die in order to redeem them from the death that belongs to all who are born into this world. So, there should be very few people who I am unable to care about and to love with a similar passion and redemptive desire. Now, I am not Christ, and all of this depends upon the response of others in order for me to be able to live peaceably with them, but, in so far as I am able to impact the outcome of the interaction, I can yield my attitudes, actions, and responses to Christ with my heart and mind set upon doing all that I can to enter into productive life together with all of the people that God grants me the gift of encountering during my days.

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5: 5

 

Promises, promises, promises; our lives are interlaced with commitments received and given, others that are kept or broken, and trust or lack of it that is developed through these interactions. Sometimes people fail to keep their pledges because they honestly tried yet failed to follow through. Other people can be disingenuous or even deliberately deceitful; and circumstances can conspire to defeat our best intentions. Additionally, we all know that governments and large corporate entities often lack the sort of fundamental integrity that makes their word good; at least that is how it too often seems.

 

Here, Paul gives us a promise from God that we can truly count on, for this is one that we can stake our lives upon. In the verses just before this one Paul has been discussing the fact that this life is filled with pain, struggles, and hardship and that the very fabric of our earthly existence is flawed, failing, and will be destroyed. He also has shared with us the fact that, in Christ, this is actually a good, hopeful, and desirable state of affairs. As the old person with our sin damaged and ravaged makeup is set aside and surrendered to the transformative work of Christ in and on us, we begin to be reformed into the new beings that God has planned for us to be. This process will not be completed in this life, and it is, at best, just a preview of the glory that we will know in eternity with Christ. Yet, God promises this new relationship with Him and this new life in His complete presence to everyone who accepts His gift of salvation through Jesus.

 

Throughout the history of human interaction with God, He has continually provided us with a clear picture of His intent to have an active and ongoing relationship with us, and the Lord has made the sincerity of His intentions known to us by making promises to us. This is another of those promises. Here God has done more than give His word. Here God has provided His presence in our lives as a tangible sign that functions much like the earnest money that we put down when we commit to make a major purchase such as a house. The Spirit of God is with us throughout our lives, and He is an ever present and very tangible reminder of the fact that God has promised to never leave us in this life, and He helps us to see and to hope for the promise of our eternal future.