Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mark


Lately, I've been studying the Gospel according to Mark.


Have you ever thought it interesting that when Jesus encountered a person with "an unclean spirit", or possessed by a demon, that demon recognized Him as the Son of God?

All the while, so many people today and throughout history find it so difficult to make the same determination? The Jewish leaders of Jesus' day and so many people in the world today - many of them are either (1) unable or (2) unwilling to see the Truth. Which is it, do you think?

So, I just stop to wonder why it is that while demons are seen as the personification of evil, and rightfully so, yet many people speak of the inherent goodness of the human race. The New Testament doesn't teach that demons are responsible for causing us to sin... so if we can't blame demons for blinding people to the Truth, who is to blame? The inherent goodness in people?

I don't know quite what to make of that... and please do not read anything into it. This is not, by far, the only thing I've gleaned from my study, but it is interesting nonetheless.

If anybody has a comment on this, I'd be interested to read it.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Manna from heaven

My wife prepares a lunch for me everyday. If she doesn't make it the night before, she'll get up in the morning and make it, before I leave for work. There are several reasons why we do this, but two of them are: it's cheaper than eating out at a restaurant, and it's generally healthier.
And the LORD said to Moses, "I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'"

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground.

When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
My wife prepares a lunch for me everyday. If she doesn't make it the night before, she'll get up in the morning and make it, before I leave for work. There are several reasons why we do this, but two of them are: it's cheaper than eating out at a restaurant, and it's generally healthier. My reason for bringing this up is in regard to my tendency to want to go out and pick up some greasy hamburger and fries, or a Spicy Chicken sandwich from Wendy's, or something from Taco Bell... pretty much anything that I shouldn't have.

Today, there I am having just finished some task at work. It's lunchtime, so I go to wash my hands (
truly, I did - they were really dirty - and if you touched dozen's of peoples' keyboards everyday, you'd probably wash your hands at least as often as I do) before I eat, and I'm thinking, "Man, I'd really like to just drive over to McDonald's and pick up one of those new Angus burgers and a large fry".

Then I stop and think about that. Why do I want to go get fast food? I have a perfectly good lunch at my desk: a turkey lunch meat sandwich, a baggie of "cheesy poofs", some canned pears, and a Kashi granola bar - a MUCH better lunch than McDonald's. Oh sure, it's not a hot & juicy hamburger and a pile of steaming hot fries... I mean, those fast food restaurants have spent millions upon millions in R&D to discover the exact combination of tastes and smells that just hook nearly every American alive today. And it works on me.


Temptation - plain and simple. That's what it is. It's not that what I have isn't good enough, or that what I want is really any better - it's just that I do not have it... and I WANT IT! Is there a person alive that doesn't understand this? If we don't have something, we want it, and maybe we get it... but then we want something else, and then something else, on and on. We're consumers. We consume. Yet, inevitably we will be unhappy with what we've consumed.

In the 16th chapter of Exodus, we find the Israelites having traveled about a month and a half out of Egypt and into the desert. They've consumed all of the food they brought with them, and now they're starting to complain to Moses and Aaron that they're hungry. Like all "children", of course, they exaggerate that they'd rather have remained in Egypt as slaves because at least they had food there. "You've brought us out into this desert only to die of starvation", paraphrasing Exodus 16:3.

Then God tells Moses, "Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day's portion every day". So, Moses and Aaron gather all of the people together to tell them about this.
With everyone gathered to listen, Moses says to them, "Each evening the Lord will give you meat to eat, and every morning he will give you all the bread you want, because he has heard you grumble against him. You are not grumbling against Aaron and me, because we are nothing; you are grumbling against the Lord." (Exodus 16:8)

See that? "You are grumbling against the Lord". I might grumble about my brown-bag lunch to any number of people, my wife included, but ultimately it is
not them that I'm complaining against... I'm complaining against God. As if to suggest that what He has provided me, what He decided was best for me to receive, is not good enough. Even suggesting that I know what's best for me more than He does.

There are the Israelites, complaining about having no food, and what does God do? He supernaturally provides. Every morning, when the dew dries up, there is this "fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground" that they are to pick up and this would be their bread.
Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. (Exodus 16:31)
The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. (Numbers 11:8)
God provides this food from heaven, they don't have to work for it (except the little effort of actually picking it up), and they get it everyday (but they get twice as much on the 6th day so they can rest on the 7th). Here we have God literally and supernaturally providing food to His people. They eat manna for the next forty years, until they are settled into the Promised Land and start reaping the rewards therein (Joshua 5:12).

There we have it - God provided bread from heaven and the people were satisfied for forty years with no complaints about food ever again, right? NO!! Of course not...
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at. (Numbers 11:5-6)

It's very frustrating, isn't it? Reading through this account, remembering that it IS 40+ years condensed into a couple books, you have to be amazed at God's patience, grace, mercy, and love for His people. And in this perspective, I can't help but be very convicted of all of the "spoiled brat-ness" that I present to Him all too often.

Consider just how amazingly blessed our lives are. Every physical and temporal need that Our Father meets for me each and every day, yet I still act like a child that just wants more and more and will pout or throw a little tantrum if I don't get it.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Sticks and stones...

"Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me."
I remember being told that little nugget of worldly-wisdom when I was a boy. It was intended to comfort me in the face of school-yard teasing. But you know what? I wish I could ask for a show of hands all of those to whom these words ever offered any true comfort. I say this because I think we all know that no matter what the world tells us, or we may tell ourselves, words hurt. Often, words are more damaging than physical assaults. The damage can last for years, even decades. God's Word says,
"...the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." James 3:5-8

On the Giving End

"If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:26-27

We can do "good" things in the name of religion, but these do not in themselves prove any true religion. The Pharisees were very proficient at this. They did many good things for others to see. However, these were merely outward acts meant to display much apparent love for their fellow brothers and sisters. You see, for example, people are capable of reciting a well versed prayer at Thanksgiving. Jesus said in Matthew 7:11, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children..." He was understanding that we are capable of "giving good gifts", but He most importantly understood the inherent nature of man, of being evil. And yet, in that nature we are capable of doing good, but only in a selfish way; in a way that benefits us, or our children, or another self interest. All of these things can exist in our hearts where there may not be any true faith.

My point is that among all of our attempts to write our selves into that Book of Life with our good intentions and "selfless acts of religion", one tiny little thing can uncover the wolf under the sheep-skin: the tongue. When our tongue reveals our true character, it shows the true intentions and the true abundance in our hearts.

Here are Jesus' words on this very matter:

"For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil. But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:34-37


We are commanded by God's Word "to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people." Titus 3:2


Many of us excuse our harsh words behind a mask of "honesty", insisting that we are supposed to "tell the truth", but conveniently forget that we are called to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:25, 29

God's Word calls us to put away: "anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another" (Colossians 3:8-9)

And putting away these things isn't the end, we are to replace these things with godly character:
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." (Colossians 3:12-14)

Of course, knowing and understanding how we are conduct ourselves in the grace of God, it's yet another issue when we are on the receiving end of unwholesome talk and abuse. However, His Word is sufficient for every point in our lives:
"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (1 Peter 2:21-22)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Doubt -- Romans 7:14-25 -- Part 2


14For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

15For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

16Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.

17So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.

19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,

23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.


Trying to understand what it is that Paul is saying here is taking me a considerable amount of time. The wording strikes me as slightly awkward - compared to everyday conversation anyway. Perhaps I'm being thrown off by the sentence structure or maybe the way the words "sound" in my head is wrong. By this I mean that just as we may not recognize any accent in our own speech, while easily detecting it in another, so it is with this wording, and I'm just having a little trouble understanding what he's saying here. I need more assistance.

So, in this post, I'm going to present everything I will reference for help on verse 18. I want to shed any preconceived ideas that I might have, and focus strictly on the context surrounding this passage.

First off, I will try looking at the original language, then a couple other translations:



οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι οὐκ οἰκεῖ ἐν ἐμοί, τοῦτ᾿ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ σαρκί μου, ἀγαθόν· τὸ γὰρ θέλειν παράκειταί μοι, τὸ δὲ κατεργάζεσθαι τὸ καλὸν οὐχ εὑρίσκω

"for I have known that there doth not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh, good: for to will is present with me, and to work that which is right I do not find," (YLT)


"For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. " (KJV)


The first part that captures my attention is this clause "that is to say, in my flesh". Why does he insert this? I mean, he obviously feels that he needs to distinguish between that which is his flesh, and something that is not his flesh. But what?

Well, what do we already know, based on the context of this passage, and other things we have read in this letter to the Romans, and through the rest of the New Testament?

  1. We know that Paul is converted - he is a regenerated man.
  2. We know that the New Testament clearly delineates between "the flesh" and "the spirit" - following are just a few places where we discover something of this idea.
  3. In Romans 7:5, Paul says, "For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions [...] were at work in our members to bear fruit for death".
  4. Going on into chapter 8 of this same book, we read that there are "those who live according to the flesh" and "those who live according to the Spirit".
  5. Also, "those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
  6. Romans 13:14 tells us to, "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires". Clearly, putting on the Lord Jesus Christ does not nullify the flesh, else there would be no need to command us to "make no provision for" it. If it wasn't still desiring what the flesh desires, it would be a non-issue.
  7. In Galatians, Paul asks the readers, "Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" These are two different roads. These roads are not compatible.
  8. In Ephesians, chapter 2, we read that we were dead in our sin, all of us having "once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind", that is until "God, being rich in mercy [...] made us alive together with Christ".
So, we can see that a separation is made between flesh and Spirit. When Paul says that nothing good dwells in his flesh, he is speaking of his natural flesh. The point being here is that he is not speaking of the new life made alive by God at the moment of regeneration, but that part of him that is still the fallen man. John Gill has this to say about this:
"the apostle speaks of himself, and as regenerate; for had he spoke in the person of an unregenerate man, there would have been no room nor reason for such a restriction, seeing an unregenerate man is nothing else but flesh, and has nothing but flesh, or corrupt nature in him; and who does not know, that no good thing dwells in such persons?" -- John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Dr. John Gill (1690-1771)
Albert Barnes writes something similar:
"Does not this qualifying expression show that in this discussion he was speaking of himself as a renewed man? Hence, he is careful to imply that there was at that time in him something that was right or acceptable with God, but that that did not pertain to him by nature." -- Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Albert Barnes (1798-1870)
To sum it up, Paul makes this parenthetical note in order to clarify that when he says that nothing good dwells in him, he is referring only to that part that is the natural man, not the part that is the Spirit of God living within him.


I found this helpful commentary by Solomon Stoddard:

Every godly man has a corrupt principle remaining in him, and that principle does not lie still; but is busy and active. Though it is mortified, yet it is full of life.

  • Hebrews 12:1: "Lay aside every weight, and the sin that doth so easily beset us." It is like a fountain, always springing up.
  • Galatians 5:17: "The flesh lusts against the spirit."
  • Romans 7:21: "I find a law, that when I would do good, evil is present with me."

The choicest saints every day find the stirrings of corruption. If they are alone, if they are in company, if they are in the works of their calling, if they are exercising themselves in the duties of religion, they are always haunted with a corrupt heart. They have a multitude of evil thoughts, desires, delights, fears, sorrows. Unbelief is often stirring; so pride and worldliness, frowardness and envy. There are many stirrings of sin that they do not perceive; but an abundance falls under their observation. A corrupt principle will stir upon all occasions; every thing that occurs will awaken it.

Therefore saints are warned to keep their hearts with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). And godly men have great occasion every day to repent, and to say as Paul in Romans 7:24: "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!"


Here is yet another helpful insight into this particular verse (v.18):
The Word of God, in describing your natural condition, represents it as so extremely sinful that while you are in it you can do nothing which is pleasing to God. "They that are in the flesh [that is, under the government of that corruption which is named "flesh"] cannot please God" (Romans 8:8). So entire is this corruption that the Apostle Paul confessed, "I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing" (Romans 7:18). So completely is the soul indisposed by it for anything that is really good that men are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). How awful is their delusion who are strangers to real religion, and who yet flatter themselves that there is something good in them to recommend them to God. Their best actions flow from corrupt motives, and are in His sight but a kind of splendid sins.

A lengthy word from Charles Spurgeon:
There are times when the old nature is very active... You will find yourselves at one time suddenly attacked with anger, and when you guard yourself against the hot temptation, on a sudden you will find pride rising, and you will begin to say in yourself, "Am I not a good man to have kept my temper down?"

And the moment you thrust down your pride there will come another temptation, and lust will look out of the window of your eyes, and you desire a thing upon which you ought not to look, and then when you shut your eyes upon the vanity, there will sloth in its deadly torpor surround you, and you give yourself up to its influence and cease to labor for God. And then when you stir yourselves up once more, you find that in the very attempt to rouse yourself you have awakened your pride.

Evil haunts where ever you may go, or even if you just stand in any posture you choose. On the other hand the new nature will never lose an opportunity of putting down the old. As for the means of grace, the newborn nature will never rest satisfied unless it enjoys them. As for prayer, it will seek by prayer to wrestle with the enemy. It will employ faith, and hope, and love, the promises, providence, grace, and everything else to cast out the evil.

"Well," says one, "I don't find it so." Then I am afraid of you. If you do not hate sin so much that you do everything to drive it out, I am afraid you are not a living child of God. Antinomians like to hear you preach about the evil of the heart, but here is the fault with them: they do not like to be told that unless they hate that evil, unless they seek to drive it out and unless it is the constant disposition of their new-born nature to root it up, they are yet in their sins.

Men who only believe their depravity, but do not hate it, are no further than the devil on the road to heaven. It is not my being corrupt that proves me a Christian, nor knowing I am corrupt, but that I hate my corruption. It is my agonizing death struggle with my corruptions that proves me to be a living child of God. These two natures will never cease to struggle so long as we are in this world. The old nature will never give up; it will never cry truce, it will never ask for a treaty to be made between the two. It will always strike as often as it can. When it lies still it will only be preparing for some future battle... the enemy within can never be driven out while we are here. Satan may sometimes be absent from us, and get such a defeat that he is glad to go howling back to his den, but old Adam abides with us from the first even to the last. He was with us when we first believed in Jesus, and long since that, and he will be with us till that moment when we shall leave our bones in the grave, our fears in the Jordan, and our sins in oblivion.

Finally, a comment from John MacArthur:

[Paul says, I want to do what is right, but] I've got a barrier to doing this. Even though the law is spiritual, here's the contrast...I am fleshy, sarkinos. I am human, I am earthbound, I'm physical. He doesn't say I am in the flesh. He doesn't say I am totally controlled by the flesh. That's not true. Look at chapter 7 verse 5, "For when we were in the flesh, the sinful impulses which were by the law did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death." We were in the flesh. I'm not in the flesh anymore. Verse 8 of chapter 8, "So then they that are in the flesh," and you need to underline "in the flesh" in 7:5, and 8:8, "in the flesh" is an unregenerate condition. And his terms are very precise here. "In the flesh" is an unregenerate, unredeemed position. He says I am not in the flesh. But he says I'm fleshy...I'm fleshly...I'm carnal.

You say, "Can a Christian be that way?" 1 Corinthians 3 verse 1, "And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ." Verse 3, "For ye are yet carnal, for whereas there is among you envying and strife, are ye not carnal and walk as men?" He says to the Corinthian Christians, "You're carnal...you're fleshy...you're acting in a sinful fleshly way."

We are not in the flesh, but listen, the flesh is still in us. We're no longer in the flesh in terms of being captive to it. Now look at verse 18, "For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing." He says the flesh is still there. I'm not in it but it's still in me. And verse 25, "With the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the law of sin."

You're no longer in the flesh, the flesh is in you. And that is simply a term for our humanness. It could be the same term as chapter 6 verse 12, "Let not sin therefore reign in your...what?...mortal body." It doesn't reign in your mind, it's a renewed mind that he's using the word "mind" that way in Romans 7, it doesn't reign in your new creation, your new nature, it reigns in your mortal body. And so his terms are very consistent. Sin is in our humanness.


So, after reading these comments and teachings on this verse and the related passage, I believe I have a better understanding of where Paul is going with this statement. And it's really not all that "deep". As any sane person would have to admit, one can have the best of intentions and cause unintended consequences. I mentioned in my previous post that I may enter a situation with an understanding of how I should react, only to find myself stumble in the "heat of the moment".

Applying this understanding to this verse leaves me with the following conclusion: understanding our natural tendency toward sin, and understanding that our heart and mind has been regenerated, we are left in this flesh, left to a battle between the old man and the new man. And with this understanding, we should see just how precious is the grace and mercy that He showers us with daily. His love covers our multitude of sins. How great a Savior!!