Can we have an honest moment together? When SCOTUS ruled on homosexual marriage last week, my mind began engaging in a battle over my emotions. I was emotional. That day I sat in front of two people I am doing marriage counseling with and held back tears. Even this morning, I had another moment as I thought about my daughters and how I lead them through this moral malaise. I want to teach them how to disagree with people and still love them with the love of Christ. But how can I teach them to do that when all I want to do is isolate them away from everything that might lead them astray? How can I lead my wife and children to flourish in the world where we’ve been planted?
How can we flourish in a world that hates Jesus? You might be tempted to look around at the culture and see nothing but gloom, despair, and agony on me, but Jesus calls your eyes upward to where He sits and to see things from His perspective.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, emphasis added)
If you love God, all things, even bad things, even wicked things, even heinous things, he uses to work for your good. SCOTUS? He’s got it covered. He’ll work it out so that it works for your good. Cancer? Scary, but no sweat. God will use it for your good. Abuse? Tough one, but not tougher than God. He will work that out for your good too. Bankruptcy? God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He’ll work it out for your good. Over and over, time and time again, God takes the good and the bad in our lives and uses them for our good.
If you belong to him (“for those who love God”).
That leads to the all important question: What is the good that God is working for in me? I’m glad you asked because what you and I see as good, and what God sees as good don’t always line up. Stay with me, because this might take a few paragraphs.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)
[For the sake of avoiding a complex topic, ignore predestined in Romans 8:29. Another day, another post.]
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
The good that God is working for in us is to be conformed or transformed into someone who thinks and acts like Jesus Christ. The good news is that he promises to finish this work (Philippians 1:6). The bad news is that it’s going to jack up our plans for our lives. How does he pull it off? Let me give you three ways that God transforms you.
First, God transforms you through reading His Word. Romans 12:2 says that we are transformed by the renewing of our mind. Renewing your mind means you’re putting things into your mind from God’s Word that reteach you in how to live your life. As life happens, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind the things you have learned (John 14:26). This also means that you cease filling your mind with things that contradict God’s Word. Ephesians 4:22-24 teaches that we have to put off the old way of life, stop doing it, cease feeding those old desires, and intentionally put on the new life that we receive in Christ Jesus.
Second, God transforms you through His Church. The Church is not just a gathering place for believers, but it is a sharpening place as well. Christ commands the Church to deal with sin the sin that is within her. Read this:
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)
Take notice. It doesn’t matter if you’re the guy in Matthew 5:23 – the offender – or if you are the guy in Matthew 18:15 – the offended – Jesus has laid the responsibility on both to reconcile their differences. The first move belongs to everyone! If you’re offended, make the first move! If your the offender, make the first move! What a difference it would be if believers were this quick to reconcile! It would sharpen us, it would keep us humble, it would make us more like Christ! But this isn’t all. Now read this:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5)
God takes sin among his people most seriously. In fact, so seriously that if a person would rather continue in their sin than repent, Paul says remove him from the fellowship. And here is where so many Christians get twisted. I’ve heard the argument over and over that all sins are the same in God’s eyes, so we shouldn’t really judge people. May I humbly say to you, baloney? Jesus says it in Matthew 18, Paul says it here in 1 Corinthians 5, that if there is no repentance in a person for sin in their life, they must be put out of the fellowship of the Church. Dr. Eric Mason has said that sometimes we think we’re more full of grace than God is. We think we know how to deal with folks’ junk better than God does. But God, who is FULL of grace and mercy, has already told us how to deal with sin. And before you quote Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that you be not judged,” please keep reading down to Matthew 7:5, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Jesus wasn’t teaching us not to make judgements, but rather to make clear judgments which keep us humble (Jesus, help us remember humility!) and remind us that as we help remove specks we are sinners just like everyone else.
You might think that this paints the picture that people must be perfect. Not at all! It isn’t about perfection in anything, but it is completely about persevering through everything. “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:7) Conquering means you’re at war. You’ve got to be in the fight! You’ve got to be making war against your sin! You don’t win every battle, but you get up and keep fighting! Shall I point out every obese person in the Church and cast them out? Every liar? Everyone who lusts? Not at all! The one who repents and keeps fighting can find refuge and encouragement within God’s people. But the one who sins and is not repentant should find no comfort within the Church because God has commanded us to humbly “purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:13). Who is the evil person? The unrepentant one who willfully and purposefully continues in his or her sin, in spite of God’s Word.
[Remember, we are talking about people who profess to be Christians, not unbelievers.]
Being in the Church humbles you and sharpens you to help others when they stumble.
Finally, God transforms us through relationships. Christians are not to be isolationists. Jesus prays that God would keep us as we live and work and play in the world (John 17:15-19). We form friendships with our fellow believers and with unbelievers, and God uses those friendships to transform us. In some ways this is similar to what I said about the Church, but it’s deeper. The Church equips us and instructs us, and even holds us accountable, but it’s in relationships where everything is put into practice. Everything you learn, is practiced in relationship. Love your neighbor? Only in relationships. Love your enemy? Only in relationships. Let love be genuine (Romans 12:9) is a command that can only work itself out when we are cultivating friendships with people. And it is in the grinding of our rough edges against one another in conflict that the Holy Spirit continues to transform us, instructing us on how to handle people they way Jesus does.
Not exactly what a lot of people expect when we talk about good. This is what God is building in us. I lead my family to flourish by my example in how I allow the Holy Spirit to transform me. If Christians must lose the monopoly on morality in the United States so that God can refine us further into Christ’s image, then so be it. The good that God is building isn’t a comfortable life or a moral majority in Congress or a Christian President. It’s way better than that.
This is what it means for Christians to flourish.
He is building His Church to reflect the glory and majesty of Jesus Christ.
And this He will do; our selfish desires, our civil rights, and our comfort aren’t even on the radar.