The Fruit of Lawlessness

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’– Matthew 7:21-23 ESV

Jesus is not done addressing the danger of false prophets. He has referred to them as ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, whose appearance may be deceptive, but whose fruit is not. They can disguise their true nature, but they can’t hide what comes out of their hearts. They can claim to be followers of Christ, but Jesus makes it clear, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV).

In today’s passage, Jesus will go on to describe their fruit as lawlessness. The Greek word is anomia, and it literally means “without law.” It can be translated iniquity or wickedness but refers to contempt for and violation of the law. These false prophets may claim to prophesy in the name of Jesus, but He refers to their actions as lawless and, therefore, wicked. And they are not alone. Jesus lists others who will claim to be His followers, but who will prove to be nothing more than fakers and posers. Calling Jesus “Lord” is not what gets you into heaven. Expressing allegiance to Him is not what saves you or brings you the approval and blessing of God.

Later on in His ministry, Jesus is approached by a group of Jews who had been present the day He had miraculously fed a large crowd with nothing more than a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. Jesus knows why they are there and exposes their motives:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” – John 6:26 ESV

In other words, they were there for more food. So, Jesus told them:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” – John 6:27 ESV

Jesus was trying to offer them something far greater and more beneficial than temporary food. He was inviting them to discover eternal life, but their minds were stuck on a horizontal plane and driven by their base desire for more food. So, they responded:

“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” – John 6:28-29 ESV

The work of God, that which God would have them do, was to believe in Jesus as their Savior. Addressing Him as “Lord, Lord” did not qualify as proof of belief. And Jesus made it clear that a day was coming when those claiming to be His followers would be exposed for what they really were: Hypocrites. The difficult thing is that these very people will appear to be doing all that they do in Jesus’ name. They will prophesy in His name, cast out demons in His name, and do mighty works in His name. But Jesus describes their actions as lawless because they do not truly represent Him.

In our current age, there are many who claim to be speaking on behalf of Jesus. They speak His name and call Him, “Lord, Lord.” Some even do miracles and perform mighty works in His name. But Jesus would have us investigate their fruit – the fruit of their hearts. They may not be all that they appear to be. And the outward display of their allegiance to Christ may be nothing more than a cover-up for their true motives. The trouble is that, while we are here on this earth, we will be surrounded by fakers and charlatans. And many of them will be placed in our midst by Satan himself. Jesus makes this clear in a parable He told.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away. When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’

“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.

“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.,

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’” – Matthew 13:24-30 NLT

We will not always be able to tell the wheat from the tares. But Jesus assures us that both will be there. It is a guarantee. But when He says, “On that day…”, He is referring to a future day when the wheat and the tares will be divided, and those that don’t belong will be judged and dealt with. There is a judgment coming, and God will separate the sheep from the goats, the saved from the lost. And there will be those who will claim, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” But they will hear Jesus say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23 ESV).

There have been and always will be those who claim to followers of Christ, but who are really nothing more than false professors. Their spirituality is not what saves them. Their use of Jesus’ name and faithful church attendance do not bring them approval with God. Why? Because they refuse to do the will of God, to believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Instead, they believe that their religious fervor will save them. They put their trust in their good deeds, prayers, fasts, and acts of generosity. They go to church. They attend Bible studies. They listen to countless sermons. But they refuse to do the one thing God has commanded that all must do if they desire to be made right with Him and gain His approval: Believe in His Son as their sin substitute.

When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do to be saved, they simply stated: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31 NLT). Belief, not behavior, is the key to salvation. That is not to say that behavior is not important, but that behavior is a byproduct of true belief. That is why Jesus said, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 ESV). The fruit of the Spirit is what flows out of the life of the one who has placed His faith in Christ. But the fruit of those who refuse to believe in Him is of a completely different character. The apostle Paul describes it as “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT).

Just a few verses earlier in his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). Here Paul is referring to believers who find themselves living their lives according to (in the power of) the flesh rather than according to the Spirit. When a Christ-follower chooses to live according to their old sinful nature, even the good things they want to do, their “good intentions” (NLT), will result in “works of the flesh.” Their attempts at producing the fruit of righteousness apart from the power of the Holy Spirit will prove woefully unsuccessful. So, even legitimate believers can produce the wrong kind of fruit if their efforts are flesh-based and not Spirit-induced.

But back to Jesus’ main point in today’s passage: False professions. There will be those who claim to be followers of Christ, but their motives will be wrong. They will say all the right things. They will do many of the things a Christ-follower would be expected to do. They will sit next to us in the pews on Sunday morning, attend our small groups, go on mission trips, give their money, and devote their time to worthy causes. But the day will come when they will say, “Lord, Lord” and He will say, “‘I never knew you; depart from me.”

Remember, Jesus has already warned us that the gate is narrow and the path is difficult that leads to the Kingdom of God. And while there are few who will take that path, there will still be some who appear on it who don’t belong there. Their presence on the path will have nothing to do with faith in Christ but will be based on human effort. They will profess to be followers of Christ, but will really be relying on their own merit to earn entrance into the Kingdom. They will appear to be on the path, but rather than relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, they will be walking in the flesh. Rather than depending upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they will be following the desires of their own hearts and the counsel of men. And the day will come when their false professions will come face to face with the truth of the gospel and Jesus’ claim, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When God’s People Live Ungodly.

Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjaminite. And he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel!”

So all the men of Israel withdrew from David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri. But the men of Judah followed their king steadfastly from the Jordan to Jerusalem.

And David came to his house at Jerusalem. And the king took the ten concubines whom he had left to care for the house and put them in a house under guard and provided for them, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as if in widowhood.

Then the king said to Amasa, “Call the men of Judah together to me within three days, and be here yourself.” So Amasa went to summon Judah, but he delayed beyond the set time that had been appointed him. And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us.” And there went out after him Joab’s men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men. They went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. When they were at the great stone that is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was wearing a soldier’s garment, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened on his thigh, and as he went forward it fell out. And Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. But Amasa did not observe the sword that was in Joab’s hand. So Joab struck him with it in the stomach and spilled his entrails to the ground without striking a second blow, and he died.

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. And one of Joab’s young men took his stand by Amasa and said, “Whoever favors Joab, and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” And Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the highway. And anyone who came by, seeing him, stopped. And when the man saw that all the people stopped, he carried Amasa out of the highway into the field and threw a garment over him. When he was taken out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. – 2 Samuel 20:1-13 ESV

David had not yet made it back inside the walls of Jerusalem when another disaster struck. He had just eliminated one rebellion, when another one raised its ugly head. The ten disgruntled tribes of Israel, unhappy with what they viewed as David’s favoritism for his own tribe of Judah, decided to throw in their lot with Sheba, a Benjaminite. This “worthless fellow” took advantage of the unstable conditions in Israel and called for another rebellion against David. It is impossible to read this account and not recall the curse God had placed on David as a result of his affair with Bathsheba.

“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.” – 2 Samuel 12:10 ESV

There was going to be more bloodshed. And more people were going to die unnecessarily, all as a direct result of David’s sin. The conditions in his kingdom remained unstable and insecure. Even when he finally made it back to Jerusalem, David had to deal with the ten concubines whom Absalom had sexually violated and publicly humiliated. It must be remembered that what happened to them was also tied to David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba. God had told David:

“Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.” – 2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV

So these women were shamed and forced to remain in a state of widowhood, not because of anything they had done, but all because of the sins of David. The wake of human misery and destroyed lives that David left behind him is unprecedented. He had lost three sons to death. His daughter had been violated by her own brother. Tens of thousands of his own people had been killed in an unnecessary civil war. And the death toll would continue to rise. When David called for his troops to put down the uprising led by Sheba, he put Amasa in command. It’s important to remember that David had replaced Joab with Amasa, as the commander of his army, all because Joab had disobeyed a direct order and had killed Absalom. Now, Joab was going to take the life of Amasa, in an attempt to eliminate the competition and get his old job back. And the day would come when Joab would get what he deserved. But it would not be under David’s watch. Once again, just as we saw with Shimei, David would put off meting out justice and leave it to his son, Solomon, when he took the throne. It would be Solomon who would eventually deal with Joab and his murders of Abner and Amasa.

“Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah. So shall their blood come back on the head of Joab and on the head of his descendants forever. But for David and for his descendants and for his house and for his throne there shall be peace from the Lord forevermore.” – 1 Kings 2:31-33 ESV

But there was no peace in Israel. At least not during David’s day. The body count was mounting. The violence was escalating. And the instability of David’s kingdom seemed to be getting worse, not better. All in spite of the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart. David’s relationship with God did not protect him from failure or inoculate him from the ramifications of sin. The people of God are just as prone to bad decision-making as anybody else. Believers can undervalue the wisdom of God and overlook the sins taking place around them. We can surround ourselves with bad counselors, put off making difficult decisions, give in to impulsive desires, and leave God out of our daily lives. And when we do, we can find ourselves facing the same kind of unnecessary outcomes. David loved God. He had a deep-seated desire to serve God. But our desires must who up in our behavior.  His love for God must be accompanied by a commitment to obey God. Any hope he had of serving the people of God as the faithful shepherd of God was totally dependent upon his complete reliance upon God.

As believers, we are God’s people living in a godless environment, surrounded by ungodly people who don’t share our views or our love for God. It is difficult to live as child of God on this earth, but we can make it even more difficult by refusing to rely upon Him. There will always be a temptation to do things our own way and simply assume that our relationship with God will provide us with some kind of invisible force-field, protecting us from the dangers of sin. But our salvation, while it has delivered us from the judgment of sin, does not inoculate us from the temptation to sin. That is why Paul so strongly urged his readers to rely upon the Holy Spirit.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. – Galatians 5:16-17 NLT

A man after God’s own heart who refuses to let God have is heart, will find himself surrounded by discord and difficulty. Our ability to survive and thrive on this planet is dependent upon our commitment to remain totally reliant upon God. David would continue to learn that invaluable lesson. He would discover the reality that being God’s hand-picked king meant nothing if he did not live as a God-dependent man.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Instruments for Righteousness.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. – Romans 6:12-14 ESV

It seems quite obvious that Paul knew the power and reality of indwelling sin. He would not have told his readers “let now sin therefore reign in your mortal body” if the possibility for it to happen had not existed. In verse 16 he writes, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16 ESV). Each and every day, Christ-followers have the choice to give in to and be enslaved yet again by sin or to live in obedience to their God-given, Spirit-empowered new nature. The temptation to give in to sin is an ever-present reality. That’s why Paul warned his readers, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desire” (Romans 6:12 NLT). There is a conscious choice to be made. We can present our bodies to sin as instruments for unrighteousness or to God as instruments for righteousness. We can allow our sin nature to dictate the behavior of our bodies and determine our actions, or we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, use our bodies as instruments or tools for God’s will. These physical bodies in which we live are the means by which we can accomplish God’s work in this world. With these bodies we can love one another or we can lust after one another. We can use these bodies to accomplish God’s will or to selfishly fulfill our own. The natural inclination of our sinful nature is to produce some very damaging and destructive fruit. Paul describes the outcome of a life in which sin is allowed to reign. “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). If you allow sin to reign in your physical body, you will end up obeying its passions and desires. That’s why Paul said, “I discipline my body and keep it under control” ( 1 Corinthians 9:27 ESV).

Paul wants us to know that, as believers in Jesus Christ, we have died to sin. It was as if we were crucified alongside Christ. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24 NLT). Those things are no longer to have control over us. And yet, our physical bodies are constantly tempting us to satisfy its passions and desires. We have to fight constant cravings and desires that are opposed to God’s will for us. Paul puts it this way: “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other” (Galatians 5:17 NLT). But Paul also gives us the key to resisting the urges of our flesh: “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16 NLT). We can choose to live under the control and influence of the Spirit or we can allow our sin nature, working through our physical bodies, to dictate our behavior. That is why Paul so strongly encourages us to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). He warns us, “Run from sexual sin!” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT). He encourages us to “throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT).

We belong to God. We have been purchased by the blood of His Son. And while these earthly bodies are temporary and will one day be replaced with new, redeemed bodies, we are obligated to use them for God’s service as long as we live on this earth. At one time, Paul had used his earthly body to persecute Christians, throwing them into prison and attempting to eliminate them altogether. But once he was redeemed from his old way of life by faith in Jesus Christ, he did everything in his power to make his body his slave and to use it for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom. Rather than live as a captive to his body’s desires, he made his body his slave, using it to accomplish God’s will. His sin-prone flesh became an instrument for righteousness. And that is God’s call to us. He has not yet redeemed our bodies. But He wants to use them for our good and His glory. Paul describes our current condition in these terms: “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). Sin’s dominion or control over us takes place primarily through our physical bodies. It is with our bodies that we fulfill our sinful passions. We use our tongues to lie and deceive. We use our eyes to lust and covet. We use our entire bodies to commit acts of immorality. We use our hands to steal. We use our feet to take us places that are against God’s will for us. We use our brains to think inappropriate thoughts and plan unrighteous acts. But because of Christ, we have the capacity to use these fallen bodies as instruments of righteousness. We can use our hands to serve others. We can use our eyes to see needs and meet them. We can use our bodies to accomplish God’s will. We can use our tongues to encourage. We can use our feet to take the gospel across the street and around the world.



For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. – 1 John 2:16 ESV

John has just issued a command: Do not love the world. Simple. Direct. Straight forward. But for most of us, it is easier said than done. Loving the world comes naturally to us. It is part of our nature – our sin nature. And the world is more than willing to accommodate and return our love. But at the end of the day, our love of or for the world is really self-love. It is motivated not by what we can give the world, but by what we can get from it. Yes, it is a reciprocal relationship. It is give-and-take. We give and we get. But for the most part, we give TO get. And John gives us three evidences of that give-to-get nature of our love affair with the world. The New Living Translation provides a very up-to-date and in-your-face interpretation of verse 16. “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.” I think this gives us a very clear idea of what John is attempting to say. He is providing us with three distinct characteristics that mark a love affair of the world or, better yet, a love of self. The first is “a craving for physical pleasure.” The NASB translates it as “the lust of the flesh.” The NIV reads, “the cravings of sinful man.” The ESV has “the desires of the flesh.” The word John uses that gives us any insight into what he is talking about is the Greek word sarx. It can refer to the human body, but in this case, John is using it to refer to “the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God.” It is our sin nature and even though we have been redeemed and renewed by Christ, it remains alive and well within us. Paul puts it this way: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV). He goes on to describe the very dark side of our flesh or sin nature. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 ESV). So when John refers to the craving of sinful man, the desires of the flesh, this is what he is talking about. The real issue here is self-gratification. What I like to refer to is saying yes to what God has said no to. Self-gratification is the act of pleasing or satisfying oneself, especially the gratifying of one’s own impulses, needs, or desires. If you look at the list given by Paul, it provides a comprehensive catalog of sinful actions and attitudes that have been forbidden by God. They are aptly summed up in the Ten Commandments. God has forbidden us to do these things. But self-gratification causes us to say yes to what God has said no to. Rather than obey him, we give in to our sinful desires. And the world is more than willing to accommodate us. It gives us exactly what we crave, but not because it loves us, but because it hates us. Jesus warned His disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19 ESV). Self-gratification is ultimately self-destructive. Paul tells us the only way to protect ourselves from this dangerous human tendency is by living in the light, by listening to and obeying the wisdom of the indwelling Holy Spirit. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV).

The Spirit gives us the strength to say no to what God has said no to. He provides us with the capacity to turn away from self-love and self-gratification so that we can love others. The problem with a life of self-gratification is that it not only destroys us, it damages all those around us. Every one of the characteristics listed by Paul has a negative relational aspect to it. Jealousy, anger, immorality, impurity, strife, envy, and rivalries – they all involve a form of hatred toward others. They use and abuse others. But we have been called to love one another – as Christ has loved us. Yet the enemy is out to get us to say yes to what God has said no to and to say no to what God has said yes to. God had told Adam and Eve that one tree in the garden was a “no” for them. But Satan caused them to doubt God’s word. He tempted them to say yes to what God had said no to, and they gave in to their fleshly desires. What looked good to them ended up being highly destructive. The same is true for us today. Living a life of self-gratification appears to seductive and alluring. And the world whispers in our ear that what we desire is good and right. But God has said, “No!” He has something far greater in store for us. Whether we believe it or not, He is telling us that a life of selflessness is the key to fulfillment and satisfaction. A life of sacrifice is the path to joy and contentment. A life marked by a love for others will leave us feeling loved by God and more gratified than we could ever imagine.

Colossians 3:1-17

Heavenly Minded.

Colossians 3:1-17

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3 NLT

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “Some people are so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good.” The gist of that statement is that we can become so focused on spiritual things that we never do learn to live them out on a practical level. While I agree with the general idea, I think there are very few of us who suffer with this problem. In fact, I don’t believe there are that many Christians today who are truly heavenly minded. Sure, we think of heaven on occasion, when a loved one is nearing death, we attend a funeral, or when we’re going through a particularly bad spell of trials with no end in sight. But for the most part, if life on this earth is going well, we tend to think about the things of this earth. We enjoy the things of this earth. And before we know it, heaven becomes an afterthought. It becomes that nice reward that awaits us some time in the distant future. But for now, our minds remain set on earth. And that’s understandable, because we’re human. We have a human nature, which for the most part, is synonymous with our sin nature. It’s what Paul called “the flesh.” That part of us that is of this world, and longs for and craves the things of this world. In fact, our “flesh,” as Paul describes it, is in love with this world, and it is opposed to the things of heaven. One of the greatest battles we face as Christians is an internal one. It takes place between our sin nature and the new nature provided for us by Christ’s death and the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Paul told the Galatian church, “The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other…” (Galatians 5:17 NLT)

Paul knew full well what this war within was like. He shared his first-hand experience with it in his letter to the Romans. “…if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?” (Romans 7:17-24 The Message).

So what’s the cure? Paul gives the answer in the very next verse: “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.” Jesus provides the answer. He not only provided for our salvation, but He made possible our ongoing sanctification, by giving us the indwelling presence of His Holy Spirit. We have a power source available to us that is like no other. It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. But Paul reminds the Colossian believers that they have to reset their minds, reconfigure their thought processes. They need to focus their attention on the things of heaven – where Jesus Himself is and where our future lies. This world is not our home. We don’t belong here. It is a temporary holding place, but is not intended to be our permanent residence. And it is not to garner all our attention. It should never distract us from the reality of heaven and the eternal nature of our souls.

Over in Romans 13, Paul warns his believing readers, “…make no provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts” (Romans 13:13-14 NASB). The Greek word translated “make no provision” means to “know ahead, to have forethought.” It conveys the idea of preparing ahead to sin. We actually provide for sin in our lives by cultivating a climate in our minds in which it can grow and prosper. How do we do it?

–        By focusing our thoughts on the wrong things

–        By concentrating our attention on impure things

–        By participating in the “deeds of evil and darkness” that mark this world

–        By applauding evil and rationalizing our involvement with it

–        By glamorizing sin and growing complacent about wickedness

–        By refusing to expose sin in our own lives and the lives of those around us

–        By becoming lazy about our lifestyle and flippant about God’s will

–        By failing to recognize that we live in evil times

That’s why Paul says, “Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” This was a common theme for Paul. He told the believers in Philippi the same thing. “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8 NLT). The things we fill out minds with are incredibly important when it comes to how we live our lives. Paul reminds us to “put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). So rather than feed the flesh, we need to starve it. He goes on and makes it even more specific. “Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires” (Colossians 3:5 NLT). And I don’t think he is restricting our involvement in these things to the purely physical level. He is also addressing our thought lives. He are to have NOTHING to do with these things. That includes not watching others act them out on TV or in the movies we watch. He also tells us to refrain from greed because it reveals that we worship and love the things of this world. He warns against anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, lying and dirty language. All these things are characteristics of our sinful human nature. But we have a new nature and are being renewed into the likeness of Christ by the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit. But we have to fix our minds on the things of heaven, not the things of this earth. We have to desire what the Spirit desires, not what the flesh desires. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 5:19-21 what the fruit of feeding the flesh looks like. But he also tells us what fixing our eyes on heaven looks like. When we live heavenly minded lives, we will exhibit heavenly minded fruit: tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love, and peace.So what are you going to fix your thoughts on today?

Father, we are surrounded by the things of this world and it is so easy to become fixated on what we see. We can’t see heaven and we can’t see You. But give us a heavenly perspective that allows us to see the things of heaven more clearly with each passing day. Help us to live by faith, because “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

1 Corinthians 3

Worldly Wise.

1 Corinthians 3

Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. – 1 Corinthians 3:1 NLT

In John Bunyan’s classic work, Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, meets up with a gentleman by the name of Mr. Worldly Wiseman, a resident of the town of Carnal Policy, who was wise in the ways of the world. Christian was on his way to the Celestial City, seeking a means to relieve the heavy burden he was carrying on his back. He had been told that he would find his solution in the Celestial City. But Mr. Worldly Wiseman offered a better way. “But why wilt thou seek for ease this way, seeing so many dangers attend it? especially since (hadst thou but patience to hear me) I could direct thee to the obtaining of what thou desirest, without the dangers that thou in this way wilt run thyself into. Yea, and the remedy is at hand. Besides, I will add, that instead of those dangers, thou shalt meet with much safety, friendship, and content.”

The ways of this world always seem to contradict and run counter to the ways of God. In Paul’s mind, worldliness was a thing to be avoided, not embraced. It was a sign of immaturity and an indication of a life controlled by the sinful nature. The world represents our old life, before we came to faith in Christ and were set free from sin and our own sin nature. For Paul, some sure signs of worldliness were jealousy and quarreling among believers. He gives us an even more extensive list in Galatians 5: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). As far as Paul was concerned, these characteristics were evidence of someone who was worldly wise, wise in the ways of the world. Because the world is always attempting to get us to do God’s will its way. Like Worldly Wiseman, it comes alongside us and gives us “wise” counsel, offering an alternate way to relieve the burden of sin and the guilt of our own sin nature. For the Corinthians, they had been deceived into choosing sides, finding their spiritual value by associating themselves with either Paul, Peter or Apollos. They had begun to fight over who was more spiritual based on which of these three men had led them to faith in Christ. But Paul reminded them that they were only God’s servants. It was God who had made them grow.

Paul’s concern was that their behavior was evidence of immaturity and worldliness. The believers in Corinth were living like they belonged to this world, like they were citizens of this kingdom. But Paul wanted to remind them that when they had come to Christ, they had had their citizenship transferred to a new Kingdom. They no longer belonged to this world. They were not to exhibit the characteristics of worldly people. Their jealousy, infighting and choosing sides were evidence of worldliness and immaturity. They were to be spiritual, not worldly. Paul warned them: “Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Corinthians 3:18-19 NLT). Too often, we find ourselves listening to Mr. Worldly Wiseman, accepting his advice and following his counsel – only to end up disappointed in the results. His ways are not God’s ways. His directions will never get us where God wants us to go. He will always offer a different path and the promise of an easier journey. And our sin nature will naturally gravitate to accepting his advice, because it is of this world. To our sin nature, what Mr. Worldly Wiseman says makes sense.

In John Bunyan’s classic allegory, Mr. Worldly Wiseman offers Christian some sage advice. He gives him an alternate route to take and a different solution to his problem. “Why, in yonder village (the village is named Morality) there dwells a gentleman whose name is Legality, a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine is from their shoulders; yea to my knowledge, he hath done a great deal of good this way; aye, and besides, he hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their wits with their burdens. To him, as I said, thou mayest go, and be helped presently. His house is not quite a mile from this place; and if he should not be at home himself, he hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility, that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman himself: there, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; and if thou art not minded to go back to thy former habitation, (as indeed I would not wish thee,) thou mayest send for thy wife and children to this village, where there are houses now standing empty, one of which thou mayest have at a reasonable rate: provision is there also cheap and good; and that which will make thy life the more happy is, to be sure there thou shalt live by honest neighbors, in credit and good fashion.”

Morality. Legality. Civility. All viable-sounding options that the world offers up to as replacements to a maturing faith in God. The problem is that they are all human-oriented and based on self-effort. They may sound worldly wise, but they will leave us living spiritually immature lives. Worldliness is subtle and we are naturally susceptible to it, because it appeals to our sin nature. It sounds easier and more attractive. It offers a different way. It provides us with a quick fix and a pain-free solution to our problems. But it is not God’s way. It is not God’s will. Better to be a fool for God than to be wise in the ways of the world.

Father, open our eyes to the dangers of worldliness. Don’t let us fall prey to the ways of this world. Don’t allow us to take the easy road, because it always results in a dead end. Keep us on the path You have marked out. Don’t let our lives be marked by worldliness and spiritual immaturity, but by increasing spiritual maturity and faith in You. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men