For the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)

Perhaps it is just the haze that has clouded my memory over three or four decades, but in my mind, these present days are indeed evil days compared with times past. In my teens and twenties, when I was coming of age and moving into adulthood, I was decidedly not a Christian, so the decisions I made and the ambitions I had were completely disconnected from obedience to God and were, therefore, devoid of any wisdom that would come from the Bible or from wise men. I was living for me and was only interested in my desires and pleasures, and so I made many poor decisions and several disastrous ones. But in the days of my young adulthood, the world was a much more benevolent place and even my major mistakes seemed to have only minor and temporary consequences. Truly bad choices resulted in setbacks, certainly, but there remained a ray of hope and a peculiar confidence that all was not lost and that somehow there was still an escape as I continued to plummet earthward. A parachute would be procured, and the landing might be rough, but I would survive and move on.

But that is not the case today. The world today is a malevolent place where disaster seems to lurk behind the corner of even wise decisions and righteous actions. The devil has been released from the abyss (Revelation 20:7) and the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16) and the consequences of poor decisions and unwise actions are amplified. Our days these days are evil. Instead of hiding in the dark, the wicked brazenly parade their wickedness in broad daylight, unashamed of the vilest of deeds (Romans 1:32). It seems that even the wisest and most cautious plans of the righteous walk a tightrope toward success, and the scattered plans of the unrighteous which characterized my young adulthood inevitably meet with shipwreck.

And so, the disciple of Jesus must “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.”

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO WALK WISELY?

In view of the present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26), here are some suggestions for how the believer can walk wisely in these evil days.

First, holiness should be a constant and conscious objective. This holiness is visible righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). In years past, it seems that a token nod to holiness would stave off the temptations to evil, but in the evil day the disciple of Jesus must take up the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13). There needs to be a conscious striving for holiness that is driven into the soul by a persistent discipline. The days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is a visible target, and the battle is fierce. “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

Second, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the encroachment of Satan and watch for the impact of his schemes. It is a doctrinal fact that the believer has, in Christ, defeated Satan and, in Christ, the believer need not fear the ultimate success of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). Nevertheless, the disciple of Christ is to be on the alert for the working of the wicked one. Our adversary is patient, is deceptive, is subtle, and springs his traps suddenly and unexpectedly. For the naïve and the careless believer, Satan’s schemes can ruin years of fruitful service and can render the disciple useless for future work. “Be sober! Be on the alert!” (1 Peter 5:8).

Third, pray that the Lord will protect you from shipwreck and will guide you along the path of righteousness. Consider the truths of Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Pray through the power of Psalm 18:1-3, joining with David in asking the LORD for His protection and declaring the ways the LORD defends His children. It is certainly true that the Lord is our strength and our shield, but it is also true that, when the days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is well-advised to cry out to the Lord and proclaim the Lord’s power and declare the Lord’s promise to be the Defender of His people. “But the LORD is with me like a dread champion” (Jeremiah 20:11). What adversary will come forward to fight my Champion?

SDG                 rmb                 7/6/2021                     #420

Drive out, destroy, and demolish (Number 33:52-55)

“How is it that a man or a woman who has recently come to faith in Jesus Christ is transformed from a person with filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking into a sanctified believer whom Jesus Christ is not ashamed to call a brother or a sister (Hebrews 2:11)?” For when you initially repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you were immediately “seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6),” because spiritually you were as justified as you would ever be. That is, when you “passed from death to life (John 5:24)” at the instant of your salvation, you were 100% fully saved. Through faith in Jesus, you had been declared righteous. You had been acquitted. There was, therefore, then and now, no condemnation (Romans 8:1) for you . . . ever, throughout all eternity. You were no longer under God’s wrath and never would be again. Legally and spiritually, everything had changed forever. BUT morally and in terms of practical holiness, you still had your old filthy habits and cherished sins and wicked ways of thinking. In terms of growing in holiness, your direction had changed 180 degrees, from running toward sin to running toward obedience to God, but your moral location was unchanged. From God’s perspective, you were a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); the old had gone, the new had come, but from everyone else’s perspective, you were the same old you. So, again I ask, how is it that a disciple of Jesus grows into a holy person who can “let their light shine before men (Matthew 5:16)?”

Now, I am not changing subjects when I turn our attention to Numbers 33: 52-55 and ask, “How can the land of Canaan, that has been polluted by pagan idolatry and pagan immorality, be made suitable for the people of the Holy One, the LORD of Israel?” In this passage, the LORD gives His people Israel direct commands for what they are to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land worthy of the LORD. We will examine these instructions carefully, because what the LORD tells Israel to do literally to “sanctify” the land of Canaan will serve as a model for what we need to do figuratively to sanctify our lives and to grow in practical holiness.

In Numbers 33:52-55, then, the LORD gives the people of Israel a series of commands and then issues a warning.

  • “You shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land (52a).” The inhabitants of Canaan will be a constant source of temptation to return to idolatry and to pagan immorality. You must drive out this poison that is leaking into the land or you will fall to these temptations.
  • You shall “destroy all their figured stones (52b).” Figured stones were carvings that reminded them of their pagan gods. The pagans viewed them as cute and harmless, but the LORD viewed them as abominations. Because these figured stones reminded the Canaanites of their cherished gods, the stones must be destroyed.
  • You shall “destroy all their metal images (52c).” Metal images served the same purpose as the figured stones (above) in that these images kept the false gods in their minds and reminded them when it was time to worship. These images and stones kept the people enslaved to these idols. They must be smashed.
  • You shall “demolish all their high places (52d).” The high places were scattered all over the land to provide convenient places for pagan worship. They were like shrines or stone altars. The pagan could get in a short worship session without interrupting the flow of their day. These were to be demolished so that no one could use them again.

Notice that these first four commands called for violent, intentional action. “Forcefully, violently drive out the pagans until there are none left” was the idea. Get rid of them completely. Drive them out like a nest of vipers or like a hive of hornets. Eradicate them! Show no pity or compromise. Destroy their objects of worship and their reminders of their false gods. Smash them! Pulverize them! Leave no trace! Demolish their places of worship. Scrape them clean like you were wiping a dish. There is to be no remnant of these high places because remnants allow for revival and return. Demolish them so that they cannot be found.

  • “You shall take possession of the land (53a).” Now that the pagan residents have been driven out (52a), the void must be filled with the holy people. (Matthew 12:43-45 as a warning passage.) Now the LORD’s people are to move in and fill the land and subdue it (Genesis 1:28). They are to make this land a place where loud and public worship of the LORD fills the land from Dan to Beersheba.

Now we have seen the prescription for what the people of Israel were to do to transform the land of Canaan into a land suitable for the holy people of the LORD. The transformation required violent, intentional action that would continue until the land had been purged of its former ungodliness.

            This picture of transformation of the physical land gives us a blueprint for how we can transform our spiritual selves and grow in sanctification. First, we see that sanctification requires intentional, “violent” action.

  • The disciple of Jesus must figuratively drive out the former inhabitants of the land. The habits of the “old man” must be driven out, or they will be a constant source of temptation to drag you back into sin. Drive out the default behaviors and the cherished old sins. Drive them out of your mind and replace them with renewed, godly thoughts (Ephesians 4:23; Romans 12:2).
  • To grow in holiness and to walk worthy of the gospel (Ephesians 4:1), the disciple of Jesus must gather and then destroy all reminders of the idols of the past. Books must be thrown out. Old sinful songs must be erased and deleted. Photographs must go and phone numbers must be deleted. Websites are disconnected. Indulgences and distractions and wastes of time and entertainments that do not edify must be destroyed. This “search and destroy” mission must be ruthless. You desire to have nothing left that will drag you backwards into old sin.
  • Your sanctification will require that you “demolish the former high places.” This means that you go no longer to the places where you formerly went to celebrate your sin. These are your old “places of worship,” either mentally in your mind or physically with your feet.
  • Finally, after you have begun to drive out the former inhabitants, and have begun to destroy the reminders of your former idols, and have started to demolish all the old “shrines” and “altars” where you used to practice your former sins, then you need to move in and “take possession of the land.” What does this look like for the disciple that wants to grow in sanctification? I think this means that you move into your faith with vigor. You embrace the means of grace. You become intimately familiar with your Bible by spending hours reading the words of the living God. You sit under godly teachers and humbly receive the word implanted (James 1:21). You move into a local church and you learn what it means to love other believers who are very different from you. You take possession of serving and of giving and of encouraging and of doing things you don’t necessarily want to do for the benefit of others because that’s a disciple of Jesus does. You take possession of your faith and seek to bear fruit, thirty, sixty, a hundredfold. If you are patient and persistent in these activities of driving out the old inhabitants and destroying the reminders and demolishing the memories of your former sinful ways, and if you will take possession of your faith with vigor and enthusiasm and go deep with the Lord, then you will see the fruit of a transformed life.

SDG                 rmb                 9/2/2020

Trifling against sin or Striving against sin? (Hebrews 12:4)

“You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” Hebrews 12:4

There is “trifling against sin” and there is “striving against sin.” It may be apparent, but these two expressions are vastly different from one another. “Trifling against sin” suggests a friendly tussle between equals. Either contestant may win, but it makes no real difference who eventually comes out on top. Win or lose, it’s just not worth a lot of excitement and energy. The world trifles against sin (of course, not using this expression) when some famous someone is exposed as having a particularly distasteful habit. “He is struggling (trifling) against his (fill in the blank).” For example, imagine that a famous athlete is “trifling against his ‘sexual addiction’.” He knows that it is not “good” for a famous athlete to have this unsavory habit of being found in bedrooms of women other than his wife, so he checks himself into a clinic where he can wrestle with this problem and develop some coping strategies so that the filthy habit is not so prevalent or obvious. This is his attempt to placate his fans and work on his “addiction,” but he is merely “trifling.” He does not want to get rid of the behavior; he just wants to manage and disguise the behavior. After all, if he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest.

Sadly, many professing Christians have also adopted this same worldly way of thinking. Many believers today have an attitude of “trifling against sin.” For example, when the Holy Spirit or a brave and faithful brother or sister points out sin in their life, they know that it is time to begin “struggling” against that sin. So, they will do something drastic, like check themselves into a support group that deals with these types of issues. Maybe it is Alcoholics Anonymous or maybe it is Celebrate Recovery or some other group where, together with the other members of the group, they can “struggle against their sin.” The reality is that many of these efforts amount to trifling against their sin. They know that it is not “good” for a professing Christian to have this blemish of sin on their record, so they go to a support group to learn some coping strategies and learn to manage and minimize the behavior. After all, the point is for others to see that you are fighting against this filthy sin. If he never stops the distasteful habit, what real difference will it make? It doesn’t really matter who wins this contest. Or does it?

            A number of years ago, I was sitting at the bar in a restaurant watching the TV screen behind the bar. On the screen was a nature broadcast about some large white birds similar to egrets who lived in South America. These birds made their nests directly above the river as a means of protecting their young from predators. No predator was willing to risk the dangers of the river to get to the birds’ nest above the river. The broadcast showed two of the young, gangly birds perched on the thin branches of the nest and the surrounding area. They seemed to be balanced carefully until one of the fledgling birds slipped off the branch. What ensued was a desperate struggle as the bird fought ferociously to regain its perch. Because the bird was awkward and gangly, the struggle appeared almost comical as the bird flapped and pulled and clawed to make its way back onto the branch. It seemed like “much ado about nothing.” “Relax, guy! You don’t have to try so hard!” Finally, after several minutes of all out war, the young bird was back on the branch sitting peacefully beside its sibling, and all was well.

            The next scene was a few days later, and once again, the two young birds were perched on their branch. Suddenly, one of the two birds slipped off the branch and did not catch itself but splashed into the water of the river. Within seconds, the first piranha arrived, and that fish was followed by dozens of others. The doomed bird tried to flap and jump, but the piranha attacked mercilessly until, in less than two minutes, all that remained of the young bird was a few feathers floating on the water.

            Then I realized that the first scene had been far from comical. The first scene showing the young bird trying to regain its perch was a life and death struggle where failure was not an option. If that bird did not get back on that perch by the nest, it was going to be food for the river’s piranhas. The bird’s life depended on getting back on that branch. The goal was clear, and the outcome mattered.

            One of the great dangers for disciples of the Lord Jesus is somehow to assume that our striving against sin is, like the first scene with the young bird, comical and largely unnecessary, and that the outcome of a “slip from the branch” doesn’t matter. If we make that assumption, we will always trifle with sin. We will assume that we do not need to vanquish the sin, but just put on a sincere show of “struggling.” We will try to manage and minimize our sin, but we will not put it to death. We will think that our trifling with sin is good enough and that, even if we “fall off the branch,” no harm will be done. But, what if instead we feared sin the way those young birds feared the piranha? What if we viewed holiness as a life and death struggle where failure was not an option? What if we realized that trifling with sin can lead to shipwreck (1 Timothy 1:19-20)? What if we strove against sin because we feared that “an evil, unbelieving heart” could really lead us to fall away from the living God (Hebrews 3:12)? What if we heeded the warning of the author of Hebrews who tells us that neglect of diligence in our faith and a failure to come all the way to true repentance can lead to falling away, a place from which it is impossible to be renewed again the repentance (Hebrews 6:6)?

            Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of faith, endured the cross to purify for Himself a people for His own possession (Titus 2:14), who are zealous for good deeds. Like our Lord, we are to strive against sin and “be holy, just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).”

SDG                 rmb                 8/25/2020