Thursday, February 11, 2016

Swimming Up Stream in a Down Stream World

We live in days when our culture is at a critical crossroads. The foundation of life as we know it is eroding and the key words are tolerance and acceptance. How can the Christian swim against such a strong current that is flooding our culture today? In many ways we need to be like the salmon!

The life of a salmon is a very interesting. From the fresh water rivers, they go through their normal life cycle as eggs and fingerlings (young fish) and eventually live in the sea. But once they reach maturity, they have an absolute resolve to go back to their spawning grounds, hundreds or thousands of miles away. The trip back is full of dangers as they swim against the overbearing current of the rivers. They swim with purpose jumping upstream, up waterfalls against all odds many of them eventually reach their spawning grounds and are able to lay their eggs giving life to new generation of salmon. 

But as a Christian in the river of life and if life is like a river, then pursuing Christ requires swimming upstream! When we stop swimming or actively following Him we automatically begin to be swept downstream! The minute we start swimming with the stream is the minute we get lost in the current of this world!

What is the World? 
So the question we must ask is what is the world? The Bible speaks of the world in three ways; the planet (Gen. 1:1, 31, Acts 17:24), the people (John 3:16, 1 Jn. 4:9-10) and the program or system. God created the earth we live on and called it “good” and He loves the people so much that He sent His Son into this world that he might redeem, rescue and reconcile us to Himself! So what is the current of this world that we are to swim against as Christians? What is the program or system of this world? It is a system is controlled by Satan, where he opposes God and the work of Christ. It is the very opposite of what is Godly (1 John 2:16)! Three times in John’s gospel the Lord Jesus called Satan “the ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). Paul called him the “god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4). In 1 John 5:19 we read, “We know that we are of God and the whole world lies under the sway (power or control) of the wicked one.”

We might ask, “how did this happen?” If God created this world and everything in it, how is it that the world system is now under Satan’s rule? For the answer to this we have to go back to Genesis 1:26-28. There we read that when God created man, He gave him dominion over the earth. The Psalmist meditates on this in amazement when he writes, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (Ps. 8:4-6).

Adam was to have rule and dominion over everything on the earth. They were to subdue it! But in the third chapter we read of Adams disobedience and the consequences of their sin. One of those consequences was that when Adam surrendered to the temptations of the Satan, he also surrendered his dominion over the earth. Satan is now the ruler or prince of this world. The Spirit of God picks up Psalm 8 in Hebrews 2:5-9 and reminds that what the first Adam lost the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ re-claimed, “For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying: “What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.”

In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul speaks of the system of this world reminding us just whose influence this world is under, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.” 

The current of this world is very strong against anyone who resolves to follow Christ. It is a very strong current that is sweeping across the face earth, a current of wickedness, immorality, blatant and not so blatant sin. Acceptance and practice of ungodly values and activities pervade the world we live in. This world is much like the Banyan tree! Because of its unusual growth habits, the tropical Banyan tree is known as a “strangler fig.” These large trees can reach more than 200 meters (656 feet) in diameter, with a height of 30 meters (98 feet). While native to India, banyan trees exist throughout South Asia; their roots descend over the trunk of the host tree seeking out the soil below. Once they have rooted themselves, the roots of the strangler fig rapidly thicken and lengthen. Where the fig roots cross each other they fuse, creating a lattice around the host tree’s trunk. Gradually they starve the host tree and prevent it from growing by robbing all its light, water, and nutrients. Eventually the Banyan tree chokes the host until it dies and rots away, leaving the strangler fig standing in its place. 

In a similar manner, as the seeds of creeping compromise are tolerated in much in the world today and even in the professing church, spiritual life and fruit are being sapped away. 

Satan’s Tools 
 Satan has three basic tools that he uses to squeeze out the productivity of the Christian life! They are given to us in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.” Let’s take a look at each one.

The Lust of the Flesh 
This is unbridle desires of the flesh as outlines in Galatians 5:19-21, Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders] drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul goes on to teach us that “those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24) and according to Romans 6:6 our “old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be a slave to sin.” We are to “consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). We are to make no provision for the flesh or to fulfill its lust (Mt. 5:28, Rom. 13:14, 1 Pet. 2:11).

The Lust of the Eyes 
This is unlawful longings for things we see, Paul lists such things in Ephesians 5:5-7 and Colossians 3:5-7. We are instructed in to turn our eyes from looking at worthless things (Ps. 119:37, Prov. 23:5, Is. 33:5). The Bible has much to say about our eyes and what we allow ourselves to look at. The Lord Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness (Mt. 6:22-23)! If the eye is properly focused on the light, the whole body can function properly. But if the eye is out of focused and seeing double its results in unsteady movements! Immediately after this, the Lord Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other.” If we do not control our eyes it will affect our allegiance to Christ!

The Pride of Life 
This can be boasting, age wealth, accomplishments and many more things. An example of the pride of life can be found in Luke 12:16-21. The man there in that story was a hard-working man, who was proud of his accomplishments, but can no thought to God or to his eternal future! But God instructs us “not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). We are further told, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Phil 2:3).

These are the same three tools that Satan used against Eve in the Garden of Eden and against the Lord Jesus in the wilderness (Gen. 3:6, Lk. 4:1-13). It has often been said that Satan can use any of these three at any time in anyone’s life, but often the lust of the flesh targets many younger people and the Lust of the eyes targets many middle age, while the pride of life often targets older ones. But no matter what age of life we are at or what status we might have, Paul warns us “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). 

Love not the World 
We have already seen many reasons why we as followers of Christ should not love this, but it is good to look a little bit more into this. The very practical apostle James strongly states, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (James 4:4). He connects friendship with the world to committing spiritual adultery! 

This world did know our Lord, so why should we want to be so familiar with it (Jn. 1:10, 17:25)? It not only didn’t know Him, but this world hated Him and crucified our Lord (Jn. 7:7, 15:18)! Why would we go back to it since we no longer belong to it (Jn. 17:14-16, 1 Pet. 4:12-19)? Christ did not belong to this world (Jn. 8:23), His Kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36) and He overcame this world (Jn. 16:33)! When we are taught that when He died on Calvary’s Cross God sees us having died with Him and Paul declares that our boast should not be in this world, “but God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

The question that we need to ask ourselves is “What currents are we swimming with?” Sometimes we don’t even realize it until we have to start swimming upstream! 

The Danger 
In every period of time, the greatest threat to the people of God has always been conformity! We need a fixed point of truth that will not let us drift away! It has been said that, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth” and in many ways that is true!

We see this very true in the life of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, conformity and gradual compromise destroyed Lot’s life. We are first introduced to Lot in Genesis 12 when he accompanied his uncle out of the Ur of the Chaldees. At first he conformed to Abraham, but soon success and wealth caused him to fall prey to worldliness. When there was a falling out between his servants and those of Abraham’s, his uncle not wanting strife, gave his nephew the choice to pick for himself the land he wanted, “and Lot lifted his eyes and saw all the plain of Jordan (lust of the eyes), that it was well watered everywhere (lust of the flesh), before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar. Then Lot chose for himself (the pride of life) all the plain of Jordan, and Lot journeyed east. And they separated from each other” (Gen. 13:10-11). Lot began swimming with the current and was pulled down stream by the enemy’s tools. Often times the enemy slowly pulls and allures us toward the world. It is like wadding into the stream instead of plunging in! Lot started edging toward the worldly influences of Sodom. He first pitched his tent outside it (Gen. 13:12), then he dwelt in it (14:12). Soon he became so entrenched swimming downstream, compromising with each stroke! Abram rescued compromising Lot when Sodom was attacked by nearby nations (Gen 14), but by this time, Lot was living in Sodom and actually became a person of some import among the Sodomites, not that it brought him true respect or influence. He sat in the city gates, a habit of those who acted as city officials and judges. Compromise with the world will always end up hurting those we love. Though Lot was deeply disturbed by the vices surrounding him (2 Pet. 2:6-9), his compromise caused him to lose all influence and witness to his own family. His compromise caused him to hesitate and vacillate at a crucial moment. It caused him to even argue with God’s angels. It’s not surprising then that his wife also lacked faith in and obedience to follow God’s commands. She too was lost. Because they had grown up in a household where personal desires and worldly thinking took precedence over morality and God’s word, Lot even lost the morality of his two daughters (Gen. 19:30-38). Lot reminds us we will never influence the world by trying to be like it!

The Challenge 
The apostle Paul challenges us in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” In the original Greek language of the New Testament, the word used for transformation is metamorphosis. The biological dictionary definition for metamorphosis is “a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism, as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly.” Although an outward change in appearance or form takes place, the change comes from within the life of the organism. A caterpillar changing into a butterfly is an excellent picture of what the Bible speaks of concerning the transforming of the believers into the image of Christ. 

As we have seen, transformation means “change or renewal from a life that no longer conforms to the ways of the world to one that pleases God.” This is accomplished by the renewing of our minds, which leads to a spiritual transformation that will manifest itself in outward actions. The Bible presents the transformed life in Christ as demonstrated through our “bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). Transformation involves those who were once far from God being “drawn near” to Him through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

So what does this transformed life look like? It is seen in the way we increasingly reflect the likeness and glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul informed us, “You, however, are controlled, not by the sinful nature, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9). A transformed life demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit as outline in Galatians 5:23-24,“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Different Mind Set 
A renewed mind is the key to the Christian life. The reason why unbelievers do not respond to the truth is that they cannot discern spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). The gospel is a call for the unbeliever to repent of his sin and embrace Christ by faith. The Greek word translated “repentance” carries the idea of a change of mind. Our thinking, as believers, must continually be aligned with the mind of God, being transformed from old, ungodly ways of thinking into new, godly ways of thinking. What we know in our minds to be true forms a conviction in our hearts of that truth, and that conviction in our hearts translates into action and behavior. Therefore, we must first renew our minds. The only way to replace the error of the world’s way of thinking is to replace it with God’s truth, and the only infallible source of God’s truth is His revealed Word, the Bible. Psalm 19:7 reminds us that “the Law of the Lord is perfect converting (restoring or renewing) and Psalm 119:97-104 says, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts. I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, For You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” We also read in Proverbs 23:7 “For as a man thinks in His heart, so is He.” What we understand and believe develops our thinking which affects our conduct! James speaks of “the implanted word” which is able to deliver us as we practice the instruction it gives us (Jm. 1:21-27), this demonstrates true Christianity! 

Transformation through renewed minds comes as believers expose themselves to God’s Word through quite time with the Lord and personal Bible study. The faithful teaching of the Word each week as we gather with other Christians helps to keep us thinking as God would have us to. Good solid group Bible studies will help know God’s mind. A solid bible believing, Bible teaching assembly is invaluable in helping us renew our minds. There are no shortcuts. There is no magical formula for renewing our minds. We must fill our minds with God’s Word. As Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Test all Things 
We are living in difficult days where there are men who do not love the truth of God’s Word. There are those who do not want to hear sound doctrine, they would rather be entertained following after those who simply sound good, those who have a form of godliness but deny the power (2 Tim. 3:5, 4:3-4). But Paul instructs us to “Preach the Word” and “do the work the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:2, 5). But in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 he exhorts us to “test all things; hold fast to that which is good)! The aged apostle John understood how important it is to realize that you can't believe everything you hear! Listen to his instruction in 1 John 4:1, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Must be careful not to believe everything we read or hear preached! We must test all things and test what is being said by the infallible Word of God! John warns us not to believe all who claim to speak for God and claim to have a prophetic voice. John speaks of the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. What we hear preached today and taught from many pulpits either comes from the Spirit of truth, who is the Holy Spirit, so called by our Lord Himself several times in the upper room discourse in the gospel of John or the spirit of error who would be Satan and his demons. We know that God speaks truth and reveals truth and Satan speaks a lie and is a deceiver and so it is critical that we be able to discern the difference. 

As we swim upstream against the current of the world there may be much debris along the way and we need to discern what is of God, we can only do that by being in the Word, knowing the Word and rightly divided the Word (2 Tim.2:15).

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