The “good” side of sin

The good side of sin.

In a recent class I was teaching on Behavior Modification, I was using the context of the 7 deadly sins to illustration differences between simple Behavior Modification and inner spiritual Transformation (Ephesians 4:22-24; Romans 12:2).  In looking at the nature of temptation, I noted how what can be sin can also be a good and natural God-created benefit of humans.  Sin of course, has no good side.  But the underlying drives that lead to sin help us understand how we were created as humans.  We often wonder why God created us with the ability, if not propensity, to sin.  Questions such as Why did God put the tree in the garden or Why couldnt He have made it impossible to sin? are frequent.  The answer is often simply, Then wed be robots.  Though that satisfies us, it doesnt really answer the question.  Perhaps the question is too complex to answer?  But,  acknowledging the God-given and God-created human nature that we often use to sin may actually help us better resist it.

One of the 7 deadly sins is gluttony.  However, the desire for food is not only essential to life, but scripture acknowledges and seems to condone its pleasure.  Solomon in Ecclesiastes 8:15 encourages us to eat, drink, and enjoy life.  Yet, the whole point of the book is to not make the pleasures of life the reason you live.  Instead, live for God. Creation itself show us that food was made to be enjoyed.  Otherwise, why would it not taste like dirt?  Or perhaps like air?  Our very bodies are created to enjoy the taste and other sensory pleasures of food.

We were equally created to desire and enjoy sex.  Envy, greed, and some level of lust can all be viewed as naturally driven by a spirit of ambition.  Without such, we would not be human.  We wouldnt be too lazy to get off the couch because we would not have had the ambition to ever get up on it.  All these things that can lead to deadly sins are things God created in us to enjoy life and live for Him in doing so.

So why did God put the tree in the garden?  It was necessary to enact both the drive and the decision to love Him for which He created us.  Acts 17 is a good indicator of this.

27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’  Acts 17:27-28 (NIV)

That’s the ambition and drive that God gave us. The sin is when we use it in ways or to degrees he doesn’t desire.  Enjoying food is not a sin.  Eating too much at a fellowship meal is not a sin.  Feasting is bible ordained (II Chronicles 8:13; Genesis 21:8).  Lack of self-control is the sin and the essence of gluttony.

 Sex is not a sin.  The desire which could be called lust is not a sin.  But to “lust after” (Matthew 5:28) or engage in sex outside the committed relationship of marriage is sin (I Corinthians 6:9).

 To desire a raise, job promotion, or go to college for a degree and career are not sin.  They are ambitions.  The same drive that leads us to do our best, can also be used to sin.  Greed is the desire for excess of these things as idols above God.  Living life for stuff and prestige, tearing down others in the attempt to achieve, and the lack of self restraint is sin.

God did not create us to sin (James 1:13-15).  He created us with good human qualities that can be used to sin.   Thats the reason many just say no attempts often fail at lasting change.  They may stop one behavior, which is often replaced by another from the same drive.  Perhaps a better way would be to acknowledge the underlying nature that leads to sin.  Instead of saying, stop having that drive”, or even “stop doing that behavior,” turn a bad use of human qualities into something good.  Use what God gave us for the reasons God gave it.  There is nothing good about sin!  But, everything about us as humans that God created is very good (Genesis 1:31).

 God does not desire a change in behavior, but a transformation of character!




James C. Guy

  1. STOP majoring in controversial matters of opinion and START dealing with the issues that matter. [Titus 3:9 (NIV) 9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.]
  2. STOP relying on humans to lead the church and START letting God be in charge. [Colossians 1:18 (NIV) 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.]
  3. STOP criticizing people and START appreciating their efforts. [Galatians 5:15 (NIV) 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.]
  4. STOP looking so much at people’s faults and START loving them as Jesus did them and us. [Romans 5:8 (NIV) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.]
  5. STOP trying to make church what you want it to be and START being what God wants you to be in His church. [Matthew 15:1-3 (NIV) 1 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” 3 Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?]
  6. STOP focusing on great programs and events that make us feel good about doing something, and START doing something to lead others to Jesus. [Mark 10:45 (NIV) 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”]
  7. STOP trusting in your own knowledge, and START listening to the wisdom of God. [Proverbs 3:5 (NIV) 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding]
  8. STOP making decisions based on what people say, and START being led by the Spirit of God. [1 Corinthians 2:14-15 (NIV) 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.“]
  9. STOP trusting in the power of the attendance and contribution figures and START trusting in the power of God. [2 Corinthians 4:7 (NKJV) 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.]
  10. STOP talking about how you wish things were different and START asking God to change those things that need to be changed. [Philippians 4:6 (NIV)  6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.]
  11. STOP condemning people for their sin, and START showing them the way to forgiveness.[John 8:10-11 (NIV) 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”]
  12. STOP talking about what we should STOP doing and START talking about what we should START doing![Philippians 4:8 (NIV) 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.] .

What do you think?

Seeking God’s leading

I posted this on another blog: and thought I would copy here as well for others to review.

The question was whether it was seeking God’s will or an abandonment of responsibility
when we ask God to reveal what He has decided to us.  I’m not sure it has to be completely either. ..

As noted, and as seen in the Bible, God often has (and I believe does) “call” or “lead” people to a task.  Moses was sent to Pharoah.  Gideon was called to war (in a way that could only glorify God).  Stephen was sent to the Eunuch.  Cornelius was sent to Peter at the same time Peter was sent to Cornelius.

I believe that God does indeed lead us, guide us, and influence us through His Spirit and otherwise.  Read I Corinthians 2:8-16.  Yet, that does not remove our free-will, nor does it imply what we might call  defeatism” (related to Calvinism).  Because God INFLUENCES or LEADS does not require that God MAKES things happen in a certain way and/or forces us to make a certain decision. He called Abraham to go, but He did not force him to do so.  It does get deep in thinking about what might happen if we do not follow His leading.  Perhaps more often, we don’t know it or “hear” it.  But, doesn’t He know this also?  The Spirit is our guide and help.  That does not imply control or even coercion. Rather, it requires us to listen and obey.   I do believe that sometimes God’s leading is for US to decide.  It may not matter if we do A or B.  More often, we have already decided we want to do either A or B and ask God which He has chosen.  His answer may be “neither” but we have a hard time hearing that one.  Submission does not ask WHICH He has chosen, but WHAT He has chosen if anything at all.

An intriguing example to me is in Acts 21 where Paul was planning to go to Jerusalem.  The church did not want him to go, and verse 4 says, it was “through the Spirit” that they determined this.  Yet, Paul, whom we think as being led around on his missionary journeys by God, determined to go anyway.    A prophet then comes and shows him and the church what was going to happen to him if he went to Jerusalem.  It would have made sense for Paul to have decided that God was leading him not to go and that he had two points of confirmation (the church’s advice and the prophet’s word).  Yet, he said he was ready to even die in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Do you think he sensed that God was leading him to go in spite of the consequences?  While the scripture does not tell us exactly what he was thinking, the reply of the church when he insisted is interesting.  In spite of the fact they had been “led” apparently though the Spirit,and the prophet’s word had further confirmed it, they replied, “The Lord’s will be done.”  What was it that moved them from the Spirit’s apparent leading and confirmation to accept what Paul believed was God’s leading?  It required them to make a free-will decision concerning what they believed was God’s will and/or whether or not they were to follow that leading.  Perhaps, they came to believe that it was God’s will that Paul go, but God’s revelation was simply to prepare them for what was to happen by Paul following that leading. Paul ended up with a good perspective that even though there were consequences, he was going to follow the will of God.  That makes sense in the context of the scriptures where God most often called people to do what they did not want to do.  Moses resisted going to Pharaoh.  Gideon asked for miraculous confirmation (twice) that his call was indeed God’s will.

Our bigger concern is not whether or not God leads and guides us, but in learning to recognize and acknowledge how He is working in our lives.  Though that may lead us into a “word only” debate, the same principle applies to those who hold that view.  God has revealed His word to us (whatever means you may believe He has done so), and it is up to us to discern what He is telling us.  Then, we must also accept what we discover.  Neither of those do we do perfectly as humans.  Part of that process is certainly learning to recognize what He is doing.  Job spent a long time trying to figure that out.  But, the process of figuring it out was the very thing God was “revealing” to Job.  God knows when to be quiet and when to speak.  He knows what we will read, what we will hear, and what we will think.  Regardless of how He works to “guard, guide, and direct us” (to use one of our old time sayings), it does not take away free-will, nor personal responsibility.  In fact, in some ways it adds to it.  It requires us to be obedient and to work to listen and learn.  We decide if we will even do that.

The interesting question that remains is, “Does God’s will FLEX with our response to His leading”? If He wants one thing, but we choose another, does He then enact a “plan B” of sorts?  Was it His will that man would sin?  We do know it was His plan BEFORE it happened to do something about it.  Was that His “plan B” or His plan all along?  Was it God’s plan for Israel to have a king?  He knew it would happen and used their decision in His will and promised the Messiah though King David.  But, their decision was a rejection of God as king in the first place (I Samuel 8:7).

So, the answer, I believe, is that is it not an abandonment of responsibility to seek God’s will.  Nor should we determine that He has no will and has just left everything up to us.  All the choices are up to us, even though He may have a preference, and may even work to direct us toward that will.  The problem is that we focus too much on the will and the decision rather than on the God who is leading us.  The concern is not as much in whether or not we will make the choice God wants us to make (we usually will get that wrong), but in whether or not we are willing to do our best to SEEK His will and try to be OBEDIENT to Him.  The sermon on Mars Hill (Acts 17) gives some good insight into this question.  Paul says that God put things in place so that “MEN WOULD SEEK HIM”.  It is not the choice or the consequences that we live for, but the God in whom we “live, move and have our being” that should be the focus.

Ephesians 1:17 (NIV) 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, SO THAT YOU MAY KNOW HIM BETTER.

What do you think?

Should we really be longing for home?

In our Monday morning prayer session this week, we got into something of a discussion concerning whether or not we should be longing for heaven and urgently waiting to go, or should we just be living the life we have here and just let it happen when it happens.  I suggested BOTH.  That led into a discussion concerning the theology of longing to see our loved ones there since Jesus teaches there will not be marriage (human relationships) in heaven (Mark 12:18-27).

Then, that night, I get the horrible news that Les Fersuson, Jr.’s wife and son were tragically and sensibly murdered.  I got to thinking about what his life is going to be like from here for him.  How does he deal with the pain and perspectives that come with such a tragedy?  I think the Bible gives us hope in all sorts of ways, but to think of the relationships with your loved ones as completely ended once they leave this Earth doesn’t really do it for us does it?  While I do believe what Jesus said, we will “be like angels” in heaven and we won’t be married.  When a spouse dies, we are free to marry another if we so choose (I Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:2).  With every new relationship, comes new family members.  With every death, relationships end…..or do they?

It seems cold and far from comforting to think that when someone dies, that is the end of that relationship.  I don’t think God intended for us to think like that.  Sure, things definately change, but the memory and experiences remain.  The truth is, we do not know what heaven will be like, nor really to what extent we will know each other.  We do know the angels have different names.   They are individuals, and seem to be known as such.  The scriptures imply that people such as Moses and Elijah still retain their identity after this life.  Yet, God does often present spiritual things to us in ways that we can identify with as humans.  In our discussion, it was noted that we cannot know what heaven is really like, nor can we really understand and picture such a spiritual place.  So, God describes heaven with streets of gold and gates of pearl (earthly elements).

While we do not know exactly what our relationships with our loved ones may be, nor to what extent we might recognize one another, there are a few things we do know.  First, that even if there are those from Earth we do not find in heaven, we will not be sad about it; at least not in the Earthly sense of sadness.

Revelation 21:4-5 (NIV)  4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”   Did you catch that? The OLD ORDER OF THINGS has passed away. What does that mean?  Whatever it means, it tells us that things will not be like they are here on Earth.  Thing will be changed, and our emotions will not be of sadness.  But, we must keep in mind that we are not there YET.  We are on this side of eternity.

God doesn’t leave us alone here, nor does it mean we should stop being human.  God made us human, and humans living in time and on this globe have limitations of understanding and perspective. We also have emotions. But, God is indeed the “God of comfort” (II Corinthians 1:3).  And He allows us to have a perspective that is comforting to us, even though we do not know what things may be like beyond us.  In fact, much of our perspective may even be inaccurate – how can we really know?  We only “know in part and we prophesy in part” (I Corinthians 13:9).

So just how should we view our loved ones who have gone, and our own urgency for heaven?  I think God answers that for us.  Abraham was looking for that new city (Hebrews 11:10).  We all are looking for that new city (Hebrews 13:14).   And Peter says we EAGERLY look for it to SPEED its coming (II Peter 3:12).  But Paul reminds us that we go in God’s time.  We have a time and purpose here on Earth, even though our “citizenship is in heaven”.   Read Philippians 1:21-26!  Paul longed to go on and be with God, but he also knew his work here wasn’t done.  So, he was content to stay a little longer.

Even though we do not know what heaven will be like, nor what our relationships will be like in heaven to any great extent, God leaves us with the comfort that we SHOULD be looking forward to seeing them again.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV) 13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Do you notice all those comforting principles?  We have hope.  There is a resurrection.  Our loved ones are / will be with the Lord.  We WILL see them again (regardless of what the relationship may be).  We may believe we will not know each other in heaven, and that Paul is just telling us heavenly things told in Earthly ways.  But my question is, “Does it matter?”  The real answer is not found in the questions of: “Will we know each other?  What is heaven like?  What kind of body will we have?  Where do we go immediately when we die?  Is heaven really made of gold?” and the many other human things we ponder.  Rather, the only thing that really matters is that we are ready to go, and that we love and appreciate a God who both cares what happens to us after this life, AND cares enough about our emotions in this life.  The focus is not on what we will know about those who come with Jesus, but that we know that they are in the hands of Jesus and we WILL see them again.  Because of that we should “ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS”.

Therefore, I think we SHOULD be longing for home, and we SHOULD be looking forward to meeting our loved ones again.  At the same time, we should remember that God has given us our time here and we should live it to His glory regardless of long long it may be or what may happen while we are here.  WHAT DO YOU THINK?

What good is your preacher (or what good are you as a preacher)?

Does it seem that often the perspective in American churches is driven by a “That’s what we pay the preacher / minister for” mentality?  We expect someone to do what we want, how we want, when we want, say what we want, and for what we want to pay them.  If they don’t, we can always cut their pay or find someone who will.  Then we wonder why the church does not grow, why our young people are leaving, and why all the ministers are changing churches and eventually changing careers. Elders wonder why they can’t get anybody to participate in any of our “programs” or even change a lightbulb….then say, “Well I guess the ministers can do it…at least we can get our money’s worth out of them.

Ministers believe we are working for God, but then….are we?  Who do we really work for?  What really is our job?  Do the members pay us to do what they don’t want to do?  Should we call the plumber, change the lightbulb, mediate the disagreements, organize the calendar, prepare all the things that are needed for Sunday morning so the members can come, sit on their pews in the air conditioning, have every part of the service organized and just as they are accustomed to so they can “do” their worship, put their money in the plate and go home even more religious?  Do they pay us to preach and teach what they want to hear so they can feel good about their RIGHT religion?

Some of us, like myself, have been guilty of doing all these things.  While that in and of itself is not bad. If Jesus can wash feet, shouldn’t we change lighbulbs?  We are (in some ways) more available to do some of these things.  We should be willing to do what is needed and set the example of being willing to do our share.  But, what happens when we do MORE than our share because others won’t do it?  If we don’t do it it won’t get done so we just….keep doing.  When we do that – does our more important work suffer?  Didn’t Jesus say, “Let the dead bury the dead…you come follow Me?”  Who really had their priorities in line: Mary or Martha?  Didn’t the Apostles say they should not leave the ministry of the word to wait on tables?  But, where do we draw the line? What really is our job as it relates to the “stuff” that needs to be done?

God says:
Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.   16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

I think God has already answered the question.  What do you think?

Designing the church around the lost?

The last few years, there have been countless church growth books, experts, seminars, perspectives, and theories presented.  I would venture to say there are some that that GOOD some BAD and some INDIFFERENT.  But, I have noticed that churches tend to organize themselves, their practices, traditions, and decisions around their core perspectives on who they really are.  Often there is a diversity of perspectives which often cause divisions and conflicts.

As I see it, there are different perspectives that tend to drive church decisions and practices.  Here are a few:

(1) We are to teach and impower the members “at church”, design worship, teachings, and practices around growing members, then encourage them to go into their world and share the gospel.  This may mean we do some things differently than we have in the past, but not very different.  The focus is on growing members and giving them what we determine are the “tools” to make them “good church members” first.  We hope they will go and do.  The emphasis is on “going into all the world” and “equipping the members for works of service”.

(2) We should design the church to be attractive to outsiders, design worship, programs, practices, and events to attract “visitors” in order to create opportunities to share the gospel with them (either “at church” or in follow up efforts).  Our efforts are focused more on a spiritual emphasis than doctrinal (if you can separate the two).  Some consider this “entertainment oriented” but we see is as “attracting the lost.”  Motivating members to bring their friends to church, tell them how “cool” church can be, then following up on a more personal level to share the gospel with them.  Often this includes identifying a church’s “target audience” and changing methods and styles in such a way that will “connect” well with that group.  It emphasizes how things look when an “unbeliever comes into the assembly” and “becoming all things to all men that we might win some.”

(3) The church events are for the members so we should design worship, programs, and methods in such a way that is consistent with our traditions or otherwise characteristic of our church (or denomination).  Keep things “the way we do them” and expect outsiders to be taught and accept those ways.  The thinking is that we should not cater to the desires of the lost / world / outsiders, but should instead “bring them in” to our way of thinking and doing.  There is a separation between the “Sunday” church and what that church does in the world the rest of the week. The comment is often that we should not “change the church to fit the world” but “change the world to fit the church”.

(4) Our primarily purpose is to keep the church open, pay the bills, keep members from leaving, and hopefully some people will hear the gospel from our efforts.  That means we must make decisions that are the most popular with those who give the most money or are long-standing members.  While it seems ungodly on the surface, we don’t think of it as such because we believe it is necessary to spreading the gospel.  How else could we be evangelizing if we had to close our doors or we could no longer pay a preacher to do what we needed to be done?  We want to grow, but if we are not here at all, growth cannot take place.  We often emphasize the programs we currently have and the opportunities available to the lost if they want to come and be a part of the things we are doing.  We often emphasize how friendly our church is to visitors.  This emphasizes the existance of the specific congregation, location, building, and programs as necessary to do the work of God.

(5) I know there are some others – but these seem to be the underlying principles of most.

Among these, we might identify some elements of an “externally focused” perspective, an “internally focused” perspective, and a “mixed” perspective.  There are elements of “go” and “come” and “becoming” and “existing” (among a few others).

Consider the following scriptures (perhaps you have others to share):

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Corinthians 9:22 (NIV) 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.

Mark 16:15 (NIV) 15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.

1 Corinthians 14:16 (NIV) 16 If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who do not understand say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since he does not know what you are saying?

Colossians 2:8 (NIV) 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

Acts 8:4 (NIV) 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

1 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV) 10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

Hebrews 10:24 (NIV) 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

Given the perspectives of how we should “do church” which do you think is right?  Which is most effective?  Which focuses on the true mission of the church?  How do we decide? What other scriptures may apply to this topic?

I think we design church around what we think our primarily mission is.  If we believe we are here mostly to reach the lost, then we make decisions around that mission.  If we believe we are here primarily to teach members and maintain the “purity” of the church, then our decisions are formed around that.  If we believe our primarily mission is to “keep the church open” (maintain the local congregation / organization) then our decisions are made with that focus.  I think all too often, the focus of many churches is to exist so we can keep exisiting.  WHAT DO YOU THINK?