Falling from Grace by Keeping God’s Law? Is That Possible?

There is no doubt that the Bible teaches we can fall from God’s grace. That is, having received the gift of God by His grace, we can so live as to abandon that gift. In fact, the Bible is so plain about this that I’m amazed anyone disagrees. Galatians 5:4 says, “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen from grace.”

However, have you ever noticed what these folks were doing for which they had fallen from grace? They weren’t living in sinfulness. They weren’t giving themselves over to immorality and idolatry. They weren’t abandoning their faith in God. Now don’t get me wrong, these would all be reasons for which someone would fall from God’s grace. We can see that in other passages like II Peter 2:20-22; Hebrews 6:4-6; et al. I’m simply pointing out that wasn’t the problem in Galatians 5:4.

What was the problem in Galatians 5:4? They were trying to be justified by law. They were trying to be justified by being righteous according to the Law. They were working hard to obey everything the Law said. Had they done well at that, they would have been pretty holy people. How can people who are working hard at living such holy lives fall from grace?

Is the issue here they were trying to be justified by the wrong law? Since Paul goes back and forth from talking about “the Law” and simply “law,” I believe he was using the Old Law to make a point about being justified by a system of law. The problem was that trying to be justified by the Law, or any law, meant trying to be justified by their own power and will. The Law was not intended to justify anyone according to Galatians 2:16. Why? Because people wouldn’t obey it. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). Think about it. If our problem is we haven’t kept the Law, how would throwing more law at us help?

What concerns me is we might end up doing the exact same thing today and never even know it. Do we try sometimes to justify ourselves by law? Do we think if we “go to church” enough we’ll be justified? Do we think if we cut out enough sins we’ll be justified? Do we think if we do enough good works we’ll be justified? Do we think if we get enough things right we’ll be justified? Why do we think we are going to heaven? Is it because of how well we’ve kept God’s law? If so, aren’t we doing the exact same thing Paul condemned in Galatians 5:4? Can we fall from grace and all the while still be trying really hard to do God’s will? It appears that we can.

While we can fall from grace when we run headlong into sin (II Peter 2:20-22) and the sacrifice of Christ will do us no good if we simply go on sinning willfully (Hebrews 10:26-27), it appears we can also fall from grace by thinking we can justify ourselves through our strength and ability to keep God’s law. We need to remember that the entire purpose of the Old Law was to capture us under sin, to prove we are sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:22). If righteousness could come by law, then that Old Law would have been able to do it (Galatians 3:21).

Here’s the rub, of course. Hearing this, some of us might think, “Great, it doesn’t matter if I go on sinning. In fact, that might be good because of God’s grace.” That is exactly the flaw Paul anticipated Christians following. In Romans 6:1-4, Paul demonstrated that we have died to sin. Jesus didn’t set us free so that our faith in Him would allow us to disregard God’s will. Rather, Jesus died so we could die to sin and be free to live in His righteousness. He died to set us apart for good works (Titus 2:14). We pursue those good works.

However, if we pursue those good works from a motivation to be justified for our ability to keep God’s law, Galatians 5:4 says we fall from grace and are severed from Christ. Instead, we pursue those good works because of our love for God. We pursue those good works because God deserves to be glorified. We let Him worry about justifying us through His grace. We focus on glorifying Him because we know how much He has done for us. Isn’t that the story we see from the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. We love much because we have been forgiven much.

Obviously, if we disregard God’s will and follow our own path, we’ll end up outside of God’s grace (cf. Proverbs 14:12). But if we think we can justify ourselves by keeping God’s law, we’ll just as equally fall from God’s grace. The problem is we may not realize it because we are convinced we are doing so good that He has to give us His grace. But grace doesn’t work that way.

Let’s not fall from God’s grace either by turning our back on God or by trying to justify ourselves and earn God’s grace. Let us stand in God’s grace, surrendering to Him, living by faith in Jesus, and relying on His grace for our salvation.

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OMG! Doesn’t Mean O Majestic God!

I need to share a concern with my fellow Christian Facebookers, MySpacers, Pleonasters, Twitterers, texters and other social media types. “OMG!” doesn’t mean “O Majestic God” or “O Magnificent God.” It is not a means by which God is honored. It doesn’t even mean “oh my goodness.” When people read that, they see and hear in their minds the phrase, “Oh my God.”

Please recall that under the Old Covenant one of God’s 10 laws was, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). God’s name was to be held in honor or God would curse His people (Malachi 2:2).

The New Covenant demonstrates the same principle of honor for God. I Timothy 1:17 says, “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 4:11 says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” In Revelation 7:12, the angels, elders and living creatures cried out, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

I’m seeing a trend that concerns me among Christians online. More frequently I see Christians use texting shorthand for taking God’s name in vain—“OMG.” I just want to ask you to think before you type that shorthand on your computer. If you typed the longhand phrase, “Oh my God,” would it be appropriate? Would you think this use of God’s name was intended to honor Him, to give Him glory and praise?

Certainly there are times when saying “Oh my God” is appropriate. We have songs that use that phrase. As we pray, we may praise God by calling out to Him, “Oh my God.” We are recognizing that He is our God; we are not. We are recognizing that He is our God; money is not. We are recognizing that He is our God; idols are not.

However, when someone has said something surprising or said something that really resonates with us and we want to accentuate it simply by typing, “OMG! That’s amazing,” are we really calling on God, honoring Him? Were we even addressing Him? Or were we just taking His name in vain because it was so easy and every one else does it?

God’s name is not meant to register our surprise, our shock, our amazement. God’s name is meant to be held in honor, to bring glory to Him, to address Him.

Please think about this before you type your next update. Let’s honor God in our speech and our online posts. He deserves it.

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A Special Day for Us

Today is a special day for us. For nearly 2000 years, this day has been commemorated by the disciples of Jesus. In an unbroken chain, disciples have set aside the first day of the week to remember that Jesus died and was resurrected.

On the night of Passover, Jesus gathered with His disciples and partook of that Old Covenant memorial. As they ate their memorial supper, Jesus took some of the unleavened bread, broke it and gave to His disciples telling them it was His body. Then He had them take the fruit of the vine, already divided among them, and told them it was His blood shed for the remission of their sins. He told them as often as they partook of this memorial, they were to remember His death (Luke 22:14-23). Paul explains that when we participate in this same memorial, we are proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (I Corinthians 11:26).

This memorial was a central part of the Christian faith and practice. Paul referred to it in I Corinthians 10:16-22. The Christians broke bread and drank the cup of blessing. It was not a meal; it was a memorial and a participation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. According to Acts 2:42, the disciples were devoted to breaking this bread. They were devoted to remembering and proclaiming Christ’s death through this memorial.

In Acts 20:6-7, we see that Paul, though in a hurry to get to Jerusalem for Pentecost (Acts 20:16), waited for an entire week in order to gather with the disciples to break bread, that is, to remember Jesus in this memorial. He waited in order to partake of this memorial on the first day of the week with the disciples. He did not wait for a quarterly or an annual observance. He waited until the first day of the week and the disciples gathered then to break bread.

In I Corinthians 11:20, Paul rebuked the Corinthian church because when they were gathering together they were not partaking in the Lord’s Supper. They had corrupted the memorial and were not doing what they were supposed to when they gathered. This explains that when the Corinthians church was assembling, they were supposed to take the Supper. In I Corinthians 16:2, we see that the Corinthian church gathered on the first day of the week, otherwise they could not gather a collection so that there would be no collecting when Paul came.

We are gathered today to edify one another, to worship God, and to proclaim the Lord’s death on the same day of the week on which Jesus resurrected. Every first day of the week, we gather to do this. If you are our guest, we welcome you to remember that Jesus died and was resurrected, not because this is a special holy day to be observed annually, but because this is the first day of the week. It is the day our Savior was resurrected. It is the day His disciples have remembered His death and resurrection for 2000 years. We are excited to once again recall what Jesus did for us. We are excited to proclaim to you that God became flesh, dwelt among us, died among us and was resurrected among us. May we glorify Him until He returns.

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Traditions and God’s Law

In Mark 7:1-13, the Pharisees questioned Jesus and His disciples about washing their hands before they ate. This was not simply a matter of hygiene for them. To the Pharisees, this was as good as Law. Of course, there was no law that said this. Certainly, the Law spoke of cleanliness and defilement. But there was no law that mandated the washing of hands, cups, pots, and vessels simply to make sure they hadn’t been defiled. The philosophy was apparently that any time they had been out in public, they needed to wash just in case they came in contact with someone or something unclean. By washing, they wouldn’t make their food unclean and wouldn’t internalize any uncleanness while eating.

That makes some sense to me. I can see how a logically minded person might take these steps, just to be on the safe side. After all, defilement is serious business. For the Pharisees it became extremely serious business. It was a test of spiritually. It was a test of fellowship. They were sure that through their logical deductions, it was part of God’s pattern for them.

Yet, Jesus turned that understanding on its head. This was a tradition they had built up around the Law. It was not God’s Law itself. Jesus accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy. They honored God with their mouths and not really with their hearts. They elevated the teachings of men to the level of God’s command.

Was it wrong to wash their hands before eating? No. Was it wrong to wash their hands if they feared defilement? No. What was wrong was to mandate this tradition as if it were equivalent with God’s law and treat others as if they were disobeying God when they didn’t follow the tradition.

If we are not careful, we can make the same mistake. I can and have heard some similar questions today. “Why don’t you have two assemblies on Sunday as is the tradition of other churches?” “Why don’t you have Gospel meetings that last an entire week or two weeks as is the tradition of other churches?” “Why don’t all of you wear a suit and tie or a dress to the assembly as is the tradition of the older generations?”

Is it lawful to have two assemblies on Sunday, Gospel meetings that last all week, and to dress up for our assemblies? Of course it is. Does God mandate it? No. Are we allowed to do these things? Certainly. Are we allowed to mandate these things for anyone else? No. Are others allowed to mandate these things for us? Absolutely not. Are we more spiritual for doing these things or for not doing them? Of course not.

However, Jesus didn’t stop with this. He continued His rebuke. The Pharisees had another problem. While they were willing to elevate their pet traditions to the level of God’s Law, they were equally willing to disregard the laws of God that they didn’t really like. God’s Law said they were to honor father and mother. Obviously, God saw caring for father and mother as they aged as a necessary part of honoring them. The Pharisees didn’t seem to like this Law or pattern. They dispensed with it by coming up with another seemingly great tradition. They declared the portion of their goods with which they would have supported their parents as Korban, or devoted to God. “Sorry, Mom, Dad, I would take care of you, but I can’t give you what is devoted to God.”

Today it is pretty to vogue to notice the side of this teaching that rebukes equating our traditions with God’s law and pattern. But we must not forget this other side. We cannot refuse to follow God’s pattern and Law by our traditions. Do you notice that nowhere does the Law specifically say that caring for elderly parents is part of honoring them. Rather, God expected right thinking people to realize caring for elderly parents was part of that pattern. They had to use their logic to realize this. But it was, nevertheless part of God’s pattern.

We certainly cannot mandate traditions like multiple assemblies, week-long Gospel meetings, or formal dress for assemblies. However, when the pattern says sing, we can tell folks they should sing and not add instruments. When the pattern says celebrate Jesus’ death through the Lord’s Supper, we can tell folks they should not add extra holy-days. When the pattern demonstrates using unleavened bread and fruit of the vine for the Lord’s Supper and taking it only on the first day of the week, we can rebuke others for violating it.

God expects us to use our common sense and our logic. But He also expects us to use it to understand what He has written, not mandate whatever we like and disregard whatever we don’t. We must not add our traditions to God’s laws. Neither must we allow our think-sos to disregard God’s laws.

We must forever recognize that God’s word provides us the pattern and authority for good works and continue to look to it as the guide for our behavior as Christians and work as congregations (II Timothy 3:16-17).

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Confessions of an Internet Junkie

Some time ago, I confessed a sad television habit that was taking up too much of my valuable time. As I said in that article, I deleted my DVR scheduling and quit watching too much Law and Order. Not long after that, we actually got rid of cable all together. I should be the most efficient time manager of all now that I got rid of my cable, right? Sadly, we learn once again that nature abhors a vacuum. In true Matthew 12:43-45 fashion, the evil television spirit has gotten seven other spirits to attack and the last state might well be worse than the first. However, these spirits are called The Internet. (Please know that I’m speaking tongue in cheek about the spirits.)

The Internet is great. I can keep up with old friends. I can communicate with new friends. I can chat with brethren from all over. I can conduct Bible studies across continents. I can answer most questions with a click of a button. Want to know who was the 16th President? If you don’t already know, the Internet will provide an answer. Bible study is cheap and easy on the Internet. Podcasts of the preaching of God’s word abounds. Blogs with great inspiration, deep education, and powerful instruction can be found in plenty. The Internet is a veritable treasure trove.

However, if we’re not careful the Internet can suck us in to the swirling black vortex of virtual non-reality. It can drain our days of precious time. Paul said we should look carefully how we walk. If not, we might end up walking like fools. Instead, we need to make the most of our time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16). I believe that is a reference back to Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, which claims we are all like the fish taken in an evil net or the bird trapped in a snare. Death and destruction come suddenly, therefore, we need to take this moment very seriously. Am I using it wisely?

When I get on the World Wide Web, I need to ask myself how I’m using my time. I am reminded that anything I do for 30 minutes every day equals more than a week of my year. Over a lifespan of 80 years, that will be more than a year and a half.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying every second of every day must be spent in some all-wise, life-changing, earth-shattering pursuit. We are allowed entertainment and relaxation. However, I sometimes fear that I’m entertaining and relaxing my life away without realizing it. A 5-minute break to check Facebook, can easily become an hour long look at endless status updates, searching for new friends, writing updates, sending messages, and playing games. And that can be after already checking Facebook three times that day. Hopping online to search for a book price can easily become an hour surfing Amazon for different products, reading their reviews and profiles. They put those “other people also bought” links up for a reason. They want to tangle us in the Web. Making a brief point in a religious forum can easily turn into an obsession for the rest of the day seeing if anyone responded, did they agree? disagree? care? Even the most innocent and noble pursuits can become a labyrinth, trapping us and endangering us.

There are plenty of great things to be done on the Internet. As soon as I’m done typing this article, I’ll spend some time on the Internet posting it for people to read on the church’s blog. But, we need to remember that God wants us to do more than surf and read. We need to get out and go. We need to spend most of our time in the real world, talking to real people, accomplishing real acts of service, performing real good works (Titus 2:14; Ephesians 2:10).

I’m not saying we should get rid of the Internet completely. However, I think we should all, no matter what our job, take a look at our Internet time and hold it alongside Ephesians 5:15-17. Are we keeping our Internet time in its proper perspective or letting it get out of control?

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Withstanding with Gentleness

I have heard and read Christians make some very harsh, mean, and cruel statements as they strive to defend the truth against error. Sadly, in the heat of a discussion even we Christians can get downright nasty with each other if we’re not careful. We can forget that God told us to restore others with gentleness (Galatians 6:1). We can forget that the servant of God is not to be quarrelsome but rather correct our opponents with gentleness (II Timothy 2:23-25). We can forget that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Instead we seem to think we can speak hatefully, cruelly, spitefully, condescendingly, and mockingly but we are still being gentle and loving because our words were the truth. That is just not so. If we are directed to speak the truth in love, that means it is possible to speak truth but not do so in a loving way.

Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying sin must not be rebuked. I’m also not saying there is never a place for sternness and firmness. I am saying that no matter what the situation, we are to be gentle and loving.

However, when some are accused of violating these principles, they will often turn to Galatians 2:11-14. “See, Paul withstood Peter to his face. I can do the same.” Yes, Paul withstood Peter to his face, but does this mean Paul was harsh or cruel? Does this mean Paul yelled at Peter, belittled him, called him names, and held his error against him for the rest of his life? It doesn’t mean any of those things and it doesn’t justify any of those things.

Regrettably, I fear we may read our own emotions and actions into Galatians 2:11. The text says Paul withstood or opposed Peter to his face. Too many of us picture this as Paul getting up in Peter’s face with finger wagging and voice raised. We read anger, wrath, and vehemence into this passage. That is what we read into it. It is not what is there. The word translated “withstood” or “opposed” means “resisted.” It doesn’t mean that he yelled. It doesn’t mean he got up in Peter’s face. It simply means he stood against Peter. He didn’t go along with Peter but resisted Peter’s actions. He did that to Peter’s face, not behind his back. He didn’t hide his opposition to Peter. Being opposed to someone or something doesn’t mean being cruel to them.

Further, take a look at how Paul actually withstood or opposed Peter. Did he say, “What’s wrong with you, Peter, you stinking hypocrite?” Did he make all kinds of accusations or call Peter names? Did he even chastise Peter for not holding the proper standard? Actually, he asked Peter a question. He prompted and provoked Peter’s thinking. He asked, “If you though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:14).

But what about the fact that he did it in front of everyone? Doesn’t that show his intent to embarrass and shame Peter publicly? Actually not. In front of whom did Paul demonstrate his opposition? In front of those who were going along with Peter’s error. Paul was addressing the “ringleader” in front of those who were following him. He wasn’t blasting Peter in front of everyone; he was correcting a group by speaking to their leader in their presence.

What does this passage actually authorize about our conduct? It does authorize opposing error. It does authorize opposing error publicly. It does authorize rebuking sin. However, it does not authorize calling people names, shaming them, being mean to them, cruelly treating them, mocking them, abusing them, belittling them, berating them no matter how wrong they are. We must withstand, oppose, resist error and wrong practices, but we must do so with gentleness and love.

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Jesus Can Save Us to the Uttermost

God established His covenant with the Jews, providing them with laws and Levites. They offered daily sacrifices to provide forgiveness and a limited access to God. Once a year the High Priest entered God’s presence, even if only metaphorically, in the Most Holy Place of the temple. The Jews did their best (sometimes) to keep the law God had established.

But it never worked. They vacillated between being failing strugglers to keep the law, hypocrites who only tried to keep the outward requirements of the law, and outright rebels against the law. Try as it might, the law couldn’t keep them in check. The Levites could not contain the people. In fact, the Levites themselves were sometimes leaders in the rebellion (cf. Nehemiah 13).

That was why something new was needed. “If perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood…what further need would there have been for another priest to arise…” (Hebrews 7:11). Therefore, God set aside the former commandment because “the law made nothing perfect” (Hebrews 7:19). It was weak and useless, not because of God’s inability to make a good law, but because of man’s enslavement to sin. Over and again, we demonstrated that we would not keep a law.

Jesus was the only man who ever kept the law. However, God did not use Jesus as the great example that we could be perfect. He did not use Jesus as the example that we should be perfect. He did not use Jesus as the example that if we weren’t perfect, we only had one recourse: death. Instead, of demanding we step up to the plate and make ourselves perfect, He put Jesus to death that He might make us perfect by Jesus’ blood.

The blood of bulls and goats could never perfect the conscience of the worshiper (Hebrews 9:9). However, the blood of Jesus Christ can “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). Therefore, God has made Jesus the mediator of His New Covenant so that we may receive our promised eternal inheritance.

The great comfort we can take is that while neither the law nor the Levites could save us, Jesus Christ “is able to save to the uttermost, those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Here is the great thing. We don’t have to try to save ourselves (in this sense). We cannot. The law was given by which we could try to be our own savior. We could strive to follow its precepts and keep its rules. Maybe if we tried hard enough, we could be perfect and save ourselves. But we didn’t. We no longer have to rely on ourselves and our own strength. Jesus is our Savior. He is able to save us to the uttermost. We must simply strive to approach God through Him. Jesus will save us.

This week, let us simply lean on Jesus and let Him run our lives. He’ll lead us to our eternal inheritance if we’ll let Him.

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Does Having Bible Authority Matter?

Can we use mechanical instruments of music to worship God and edify one another?

Can a church rent/own an assembly place?

Can a church host a potluck?

Can a church buy a first aid kit?

Should it be churches or Christians that provide benevolence and welfare to the community?

Is it okay to take the Lord’s Supper on Monday?

Is it okay to have a “make-up” serving of the Lord’s Supper in an evening assembly?

Do you ever begin to think that we are majoring in minors and nitpicking about issues when we start asking questions about Bible authority? It seems that some churches are free to work on big issues because they don’t worry about authority, they just do what seems right to them?

In a moment of frank honesty, I admit that I worry about this sometimes. Sometimes I do think about the fact that I’m in a daily life and death struggle to overcome sin. I know people that are daily struggling to quit taking drugs, drinking alcohol, committing adultery, practicing homosexuality. I know some people that don’t even seem to be trying to quit gossiping, slandering, lying, coveting or whatever sins they view as small and insignificant. With all these personal and individual struggles going on, does it really make sense to spend time worrying about whether or not it is scriptural for a congregation to allow weddings in their meeting place?

However, every time I start travelling down that road, I can’t help but remember that Jesus believed it was important to act based on a higher authority than Himself. In John 8:28, Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” In John 5:30, He said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus did nothing on His own authority. Jesus’ judgment was just not because most people agreed with His judgment, not because He had good judgment, but because He was seeking the Father’s will and not His own.

In John 12:49, Jesus said, “I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment.” Jesus refused to speak on His own authority but relied on the commandments He had been given by God. Further, in John 5:19, Jesus said, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.” Jesus did not simply rely on what He wanted to do, He looked to the example of His Father and acted based on that.

No matter how frustrated I get with some of the discussions we have about New Testament authority, I can’t help but come back to the fact that Jesus believed it was important to act based on a higher authority. If God the Son in the flesh refused to act without authority, why should I think I can?

Am I worried that sometimes I get involved in straining out gnats and swallowing camels? Yes, I do. I certainly think we should recognize that not every issue carries equal weight with the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:34-40). I think there are perhaps some disagreements we can simply continue to study together without making them tests of fellowship, even though I’m not completely sure where to draw the line on that. However, I also can’t help but notice that when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for straining out gnats and swallowing camels, He didn’t tell them to quit straining out the gnats; He told them to quit swallowing camels (cf. Matthew 23:23-24).

I’m certain there is a need for balance and proper prioritizing. As I said above, I’m not always sure exactly where the right balance is. However, I am sure we shouldn’t go to extremes. We shouldn’t act as if every little question has the same weight and importance on our soul. At the same time, we shouldn’t travel to the opposite extreme by believing whatever we do doesn’t matter.

Jesus believed a higher authority mattered. We need to believe the same.

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I’m Allowed to Love Myself

This will probably become a sermon sometime in the next few months, but in a discussion with someone this morning something really struck me and I can’t help but begin my exploration of it right here.

What are the two greatest commandments? See Matthew 22:34-40.

1. Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul, and mind.

2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Look at that second commandment again. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I’ve often looked at the first three words–love your neighbor. But what about that ellipsis at the end? “As you love yourself.” What about that?

In my conversation this morning, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’m allowed to love myself. In fact, more than allowed, I’m commanded to. If I don’t love myself, how will I love my neighbor properly?

Maybe this is nothing to you, but this was an epiphany for me. I spend most of my time hating myself. I see all my mistakes and sins. I know that I’m unworthy. I’ve trained myself to think that if in any moment I actually think I might be someone lovable, then I am being proud and arrogant. I’ve trained myself to believe I’m supposed to notice all my bad choices and bad actions. I talk to myself about them all the time. I call myself names. I’m one of those people who likes to express what is bad about me before others get a chance to. That way the hurt won’t sting as badly. 

But look at what Jesus said. I’m allowed to love myself. I’m supposed to love myself. Loving myself isn’t selfishness. Loving myself isn’t refusing to love others. In fact, loving myself is the path to love others truly.

How do I love myself? I Corinthians 13:4-7 provides some clues.

Am I patient with myself? Do I realize that today’s mistakes don’t define me? Do I realize that God is still working within me? Do I know that He will conform me to the image of His Son in His time so I don’t have to hate myself today for my mistakes?

Am I kind to myself?  Do I take care of myself? When I’m tired do I let myself rest? When I need solitude, do I seek it? When I need to eat, do I? When I need to express how I feel, will I? Do I speak kindly to myself?

Am I envious? I know this one seems to be about others. If I love them, I won’t envy them. However, I think I can see this about myself too. If I am envious of others, I don’t love myself. Do I see the gifts God has given me? Am I thankful for them? Do I love me for those gifts of God?

Do I boast or am I arrogant? This one lets me know that loving myself is not about personal pride. If I’m boasting in myself, them I’m puffing myself up. Instead, I need to boast in God, His grace, His love, His work in me.

Am I rude to myself? Sometimes I talk to myself in ways I would never talk to others. I miss a turn and start berating myself, “Idiot, moron. How could you do something so stupid?” This gets back to patience and kindness. 

Do I insist on my own way? I’ve learned that the way that seems right to me ends in death. I need to follow God’s way. Loving me means giving me the freedom to surrender to Christ and follow His will.

Am I irritable? I’ve found that I’m most irritable or easily-provoked with others when I am irritated with myself. I think this goes along with patience and kindness. Can I accept that I messed up earlier without letting myself be bogged down for days in personal anger?

Am I resentful? Do I take into account wrongs suffered. If I spend my days keeping score of all the wrongs I’ve done, I won’t be able to love me. Here’s what I need to learn. God knew all the wrongs I would commit and sent Jesus to die for me anyway. That’s how much He loved me. Loving myself doesn’t mean ignoring my wrongs. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean keeping a running total of all the wrong I’ve committed to bring up when I might start thinking something nice about myself either.

Do I rejoice in wrongdoing or in the truth? This ties in with the resentful demonstrating that not keeping score of my wrongs does not mean I’m just allowed to do wrong without concern. Loving myself means learning to rejoice when I do surrender to Jesus’ truth. All too often, when I do have victories I don’t rejoice, instead I let past defeats tarnish present victories.

Do I bear, believe, hope and endure all things? Loving myself means recognizing that whatever I’m facing right now will pass. I don’t need to escape into fantasy. I don’t need to escape into sin. I don’t need to escape through death. I can sit in God’s arms, with Him as my refuge and face whatever is going on. I can know that I will get through this. I can know that whatever mistakes I’ve made, God will work it out for good for me and I can hang on.

What a revelation for me today. I’m allowed to love myself. Then I’ll be able to love you. I think I’ll start today.

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Be Angry and Do Not Sin; But How?

“Be angry and do not sin;” Paul wrote, “do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27).

I did not realize the importance of this passage until relatively recently. It’s only been within the past few years that I’ve recognized how many of my sins came about because I was angry. I didn’t see it because I often didn’t view myself as angry unless I was yelling or absolutely incensed. However, I’ve come to recognize that if I’m not careful I carry a controlled anger around with me. We might call it resentment or bitterness.

I’ve often overlooked that because I didn’t think there could possibly be any harm. I was keeping myself under control (as far as the yelling goes) so I was all right; or so I thought. However, when I let that seemingly low-level of anger linger it opens the door for many sins. It does, as Paul wrote, give the devil opportunity.

When do I gossip? When I begin to resent someone or am angry with them. When do I clamor? When I’m angry. I’ve found it is easier to lust when I’m angry because I want to get into a fantasy world instead of deal with the reality of whatever has angered me. When do I display my arrogance? When I resent someone and want to try to be better than they are.

Do you get the picture? I’m frankly amazed at how often sin follows on the heals of anger that I don’t deal with in a healthy way.

As amazing as that discovery is, one of the things I learn from it is if I want to avoid a good number of the sins with which I struggle, I need to handle anger appropriately.

5 Ways to Become Slower to Anger

First, I need to learn not to be so easily angered. As James 1:19 says, I must work on being slow to anger. Those who are slow to anger have wisdom, but the easily provoked exalt folly (Proverbs 14:29). Those who are slow to anger and rule their spirits are stronger than mighty conquerors (Proverbs 16:32).

I’d like to share five keys that are increasingly helping me develop slowness to anger (though I’m by no means a master of this):

  1. Sense of reality: People make mistakes. It doesn’t mean they are worse than me. It doesn’t mean they are ignorant or malicious. It means they are people. When I’m anchored in that reality, I am not as easily angered when I recognize people acting like people will.
  2. Humility: When I recognize my own mistakes, I’m not so easily angered by the mistakes of others. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I can remember the number of times I’ve made the same mistake and have patience with those others.
  3. More concerned for others souls than for my own defense: When I’m focused on defending my honor or demanding my rights, I get easily angered. However, when I’m more concerned for the souls of others, I don’t get angry as easily. Rather, their sins sadden me, not because of how it impacts me, but because I know what it means for their souls.
  4. Examine personal involvement: Sometimes someone has angered me but I’m actually the root cause. For instance, I may have started some sarcastic banter but the other person took it to a level I wasn’t expecting. They probably did that because my sarcasm hurt them. If I can see my own involvement, I can defuse my anger by apologizing for what I did wrong. Sometimes someone has angered me because they hurt my pride. They may not have even done anything wrong, but because of my arrogance I’m angry. When I see my own pride and arrogance, I can defuse my anger by understanding that the other is not really to blame, I am.
  5. Proper sense of importance: Sometimes I get absolutely enraged and then come down off the emotion to realize what I was so angry about was really not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Does it really matter that Tessa drank my last root beer? Is it really all that important that Marita is five minutes late to our dinner appointment? In ten years, will this thing I’m enraged about matter? What about in ten days?

If I work on these five keys, it will be increasingly hard to anger me.

7 Ways to Deal with Anger Once It Has Started

However, Ephesians 4:26-27 doesn’t say that anger is a sin. It simply assumes that sometimes we will be angered. Anger is just an emotion, neither good nor bad. It simply is. The question is what will we do with it when it happens. Thus, no matter how well we learn to be slow to anger, there will be things that anger us. In fact, I think there are some things so bad that if we weren’t angered it would mean we were abnormal. If we’re not angered when someone abuses our spouses, parents, or children verbally, emotionally, or physically, there is something wrong with us. If we’re not angry when someone attacks our Lord, His church, or our brethren, there is something wrong with us. However, even healthy anger can lead to sin if we don’t respond correctly. What should we do when we’re angered? How can we keep the sun from going down on it?

  1. Sit in the feeling: Don’t try to escape the feeling. Don’t make yourself feel guilty about having the feeling. Simply understand that is the feeling you have and be honest with yourself about it.
  2. Determine the cause: Why are you angry? At whom are you angry? What did they do?
  3. Consider the impact: How did their action impact you? Did it injure your pride? Did it affect your pocketbook? Did it hurt your feelings? Did it tarnish your reputation? Did it cause you inconvenience? Did it cause you to fear? How did their actions actually affect you in a practical way?
  4. Be honest about your own sins: Sometimes you’re carrying this low-level anger because of your own sinfulness. Perhaps you’re carrying a grudge. Perhaps you’re seeking revenge. I can give you a personal example. I get angry when Marita asks me things like, “Did you brush Trina’s teeth when you put her to bed?” My first thought is, “How stupid does she think I am? How dare she question me on this basic thing?” But then I remember, there have been times when she asked and I had to say, “No, I forgot.” It was my own untrustworthiness that prompted her question. How can I be mad at her about that?
  5. Talk to the person: When someone has sinned against you, you need to go to them with gentleness and let them know how they hurt you. Many times when we get those feelings in the open there will be a very quick apology and reconciliation. When there’s not, at least you can have the peace knowing that as much as depends on you, you are at peace with them.
  6. Pray about it: Take your anger to God. He can handle it, even if you are angry with Him. Let Him know it is there and seek His help in dealing with it. Read the psalms, they are filled with the anger of men turning their emotions over to God for deliverance.
  7. Cast it out to others: Sometimes you are angry and you can’t talk to the person who caused the problem. Perhaps you are carrying a long time resentment against someone who is dead, moved away, or that you don’t even know. Perhaps you are angry at someone because they died. Perhaps you are angry at someone who hurt you and then was gone (thief, hit and run, rapist). Perhaps you are angry at someone you did try to talk to and they rejected your efforts. Perhaps you are angry at someone but your fear of them is too great to talk to them directly just yet. Find someone you can talk to about your anger, not as a cathartic dump, but as a means to find reality in the situation. Don’t talk to them to gossip about the person at whom you are angry but as a means to help you find peace in the situation, focusing on your side of the issue. Sometimes, just letting out the secret anger defuses it and makes it lose its power. Of course, be careful with this. It can easily turn into slander sessions and it can easily turn into conversations that feed the anger instead of defusing it.

Anger really does give the devil opportunity. Deal with it quickly. Deal with it healthfully. Don’t let it master you. Don’t justify it. Don’t soft sell it to yourself just because you think you have it under control. Remember, Cain killed Abel because of his anger. Anger caused Cain’s own demise. If we don’t deal with our anger quickly, it will kill us eventually.

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