Grow Up!

Baby bottles

1 Peter 2:2-3 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

When Peter compares us to newborn babies , he is not criticizing our lack of spiritual maturity. The term is used that way other places in Scripture, but here he puts a positive spin on the idea. Nor is he opposing growth and maturity, as though we should remain spiritual infants forever. He specifically tells us that he wants us to grow up in our salvation. More about that in just a moment.

His one point of comparison between us and newborns is this: There is only one food appropriate for newborn babies (at least, before the development of infant formula). That is their mother’s milk. It is the only thing the baby wants. It is the only thing the baby’s body can handle. Variety may be the spice of life, but variety is no good when it comes to feeding infants. They need nothing but their mother’s milk.

In the same way we who are God’s newborns by faith need only one thing on which to feed– the pure, spiritual milk of the Word. It is the only thing our faith wants. It is the only thing our faith can handle. Any variety mixed in from human philosophy, false doctrine or theology, or human speculation threatens to make us sick or could even be fatal.

And in order for that spiritual milk to be truly nourishing for our souls, to truly grow us up in our salvation, it must contain God’s word of Gospel, his good news in Jesus Christ. A favorite used bookstore of mine has a large religious books section. There you will find a few shelves with Bibles, Bible commentaries, church history, and various world religions. But what fills row after row and shelf after shelf are books on “Christian living.” I won’t say that those books contain no useful information. Maybe you can find helpful hints for dealing with some issue in your life.

But without the gospel of God’s love for you in Jesus, such books cannot grow you up in your salvation. Without God’s promises detailing what he is doing for you, there is no food for your soul, no nourishment for your faith, no matter how helpful the words may be for solving problems. You don’t grow closer to God when he is telling you what to do. Your trust in him doesn’t become more secure when you are concentrating on how your life matches up with his commands. Your heart’s intent to do things his way, your willpower to avoid sin and pursue love, doesn’t come from doing what God demands.

God is drawing you closer, making you stronger, and driving faith deeper, when the words on which our faith is feeding are about the things he does for us. That good news is not a limited subject that fits into a few paragraphs or a chapter in a book. It spans all the love that God has had for you from electing you to be his own child even before he created the word; to directing the course of human history to prepare the way for Jesus; to Jesus’ whole life of love; to the events of his trial, cross, and empty tomb we know so well; to his running the word for us from heaven; to his promise to return to take us there.

It is expressed in his promise to forgive our sins, declare us not guilty of them, reconcile us to himself, come to us in word and sacrament, give us his Holy Spirit, and ultimately raise us from the dead. The Gospel of God’s love for you is a gem with many, many facets. There are far too few books whose expressed purpose is to help us mine the Bible’s riches in exploring each one.

This is the spiritual food our hearts need. Let’s crave and consume this pure spiritual milk, so that we can grow up in our salvation.

Greatness

Emperor

Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 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.”

When Jesus says, “their high officials exercise authority over them,” literally, “high officials” is “their great ones.” Think about the names of world leaders who have had “the great” added to their names: Alexander the Great, Herod the Great, Charlemagne (which is Charles the Great), Peter the Great. Generally, these were men of blood and war. They expanded their influence by forcing their will on others. Their greatness came by way of power.

“Not so with you.” Greatness with God’s people is not about having the power to force your will and get your way. The Church throughout the ages has suffered far too much from such a caricature of godly leadership. Those of us who lead should repent for the times that we have tried to use our positions that way. But if not by one’s own force or power, then by what?

“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” Do you want to be great in God’s eyes, playing a key role in God’s plan to save people, being an important part of the work of his kingdom? Then be a servant to others. A servant is focused on what he or she can do that will benefit everyone else, no matter what the sacrifice, the difficulty, or the unpleasantness for oneself will be.

Then be a slave to all, someone who has completely given up one’s own will, who has stopped thinking about what is best for me and makes me happy, to take care of the needs of others. This does not remove all authority or a godly chain of command from the church. But it does remove the self-seeking spirit of the sinful nature. It follows the path to truly godly greatness, one that comes not by power, but by service.

In doing so it is following Jesus himself. “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.” Jesus is the very Son of God. Yet when he came into our world he did not throw his weight around. He didn’t use his divine power to control what everyone else was doing. He didn’t force people to agree with him and become his disciples. He didn’t expect people to wait on him hand and foot and make his life easy.

He served. He healed. He taught. He pleaded. He loved. He went without sleep. He went without food. He gave away much of the money he received. He won our trust. He proved his love.

He gave his life as a ransom for many. Because God’s view of greatness is such a foreign concept to us, because I want to look out for me and bend everyone’s else’s life to serve me, because I am so obsessed with the respect and honor I believe are due me, because the one feature of my life that truly deserves the adjective “great” has to do with my sin, Jesus traded places with you and me, and everyone else. His life given at the cross became the ransom, the price that pays for our sins and sets us free from them.

You see, if we follow Jesus, we will follow him through serving other people. We can follow him in suffering for what we believe. But when we come to his cross, he stops us. “This is as far as you go,” he says. “In order for you to get up there, I will have to trade places with you. Give me your sins and your guilt, and I will carry them up on the cross with me. That is the last you or anyone else will ever see of them again.” And they are gone, forgiven, completely taken away.

Then, when God looks down on us from heaven, it looks like we have finally achieved godly greatness, because Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many.

First Things First

Brothers

Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”

Worship wasn’t as easy in Jesus’ day as it is in ours. Your offering weighs little more than a piece of paper. Those who came to the temple to offer sacrifices may have had a lamb or calf to try to steer through the crowds and noise. When Jesus says, “Leave your gift at the altar,” he is making a huge statement about his regard for proactive love. Not only was this a higher priority than the worship service in which you were currently sitting. How were you going to leave your sacrifice behind? With whom? This was so important Jesus urged a great inconvenience upon the disciples whom he was teaching.

But the question on the other side would be this: How can we worship in a good relationship with God when we aren’t doing all we can to live in a good relationship with each other? Those sacrifices were more than support for the temple. They preached a message. They foreshadowed Jesus’ work on the cross. They preached God’s forgiveness. They promised a restored relationship with God. How could those temple worshipers watch a sacrifice, a preaching of payment for sin and sins forgiven– how could they watch that while all the time they were not living in the forgiveness of a brother, or neighbor, or fellow believer? If we know God’s forgiveness and love others, can we be content to let others be mad at us? Can we be satisfied to let them resent us? Is that compatible with love?

No, Jesus tells us, love is proactive, not passive. “First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” It doesn’t matter that this is their problem, their fault, not ours. It doesn’t matter that they started it. It doesn’t matter that I am in the right. It doesn’t matter that I don’t think they are going to listen. “First, go and be reconciled,” or at least do all you can on your part to try. Jesus isn’t saying that we should stay away from church indefinitely if our brother or sister resists our attempts. But faith born love cannot be satisfied to leave the strained relationship as it is. Love takes the initiative.

Isn’t that how our Lord has dealt with us? His love was proactive, not passive. The guilt was all on our side. We started it. We don’t want to listen. We had made ourselves his enemies and resented his demands.

But he has always loved us. He took the first step, and every step, to reconcile us to himself. He gave us his Son. He paid for our sins. He sought us with his word. He gave us our faith. He has shown us his grace, and that inspires our love to be proactive in seeking to be reconciled to others.

Getting the Heart Right

Heart - Thorns - Bible

Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

I have met people who could rationalize theft, who didn’t believe that adultery was really a sin. But murder is universally considered a sin and a crime. Of all the commandments, the one against murder probably enjoys the widest acceptance. And like the Pharisees, most people think they are innocent when it comes to murder.

Anger, on the other hand, doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Anger is just an emotion or attitude. Who of us hasn’t been angry with someone before?

The anger Jesus describes is that kind of habit of the mind, that kind of cultivated resentment against someone, an emotion that wants revenge. When we harbor this kind of anger, it is really a form of self-pity. We are feeling sorry for ourselves. It is all about me, and my honor, and my feelings. I want the satisfaction of seeing someone pay for what they have done.

It’s not impossible to love someone with whom we are angry. But anger works against love. You know Paul’s great description of love in 1 Corinthians 13? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking…” Couldn’t you insert the word anger and in each case make just the opposite observation? Anger is not patient, anger is not kind. It does envy, it does boast, it is proud. It is rude, it is self-seeking… If love is the fulfillment of the law, then my anger puts me a long way away from God’s law. Attitudes matter as much as actions. Jesus is showing us our hearts here, and they don’t look righteous.

Sometimes those angry hearts reveal themselves with angry words. “Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference between the insults Jesus quotes here. “Raca” means something like “air head” or “bubble brain.” It’s like telling a person they have nothing between their ears but a space for rent sign. The Greek word for “fool” is the same word from which we get “moron.” These all seem to say the same thing about a person.

We don’t know the tone of voice with which Jesus said these words, but some commentators suggest he may have had a bit of irony in his voice. He didn’t mean to distinguish “Raca” from “fool.” He is satirizing the rabbis, who tended to create man-made distinctions between things. Behavior A deserved punishment X, but behavior B deserved punishment Y. The truth is: sin is sin. It all deserves death and hell.

We might be tempted to debate just how much harm insults like “Raca” or “fool” really do. Words can do more harm to others than some people think, but that isn’t Jesus’ point. The point is the harm our insults do to us. They are a window to my heart, a heart that is proud, angry, and lacking in love. Those attitudes matter as much as actions, and they make us anything but righteous.

If we are honest, we have to look outside ourselves for righteousness. And that is exactly what our Savior wants us to do. Trying harder isn’t going to save us from the judgment Jesus warns about. His words drive us to look to him for help. The help we find is not Jesus showing us some nifty little secrets for getting this all under control. He offers nothing in the way of self-help. Instead, he would say to us, “I will give you a real righteousness, because I will give you the credit for my perfect control of my anger, my mouth, and my hands. When you stand before the judgement seat of God, I will give you a perfect record of love and self-control, because it won’t be yours but mine he sees. I will wipe away your angry thoughts and plots, your loveless words, and if necessary, even murder with my blood shed at the cross. I forgave the anger of Joseph’s brothers, the insults of the thief crucified next to me, and even the murders committed by Moses, David, and Paul. I will forgive your thoughts and actions, too.”

That is how our angry hearts and insulting mouths can be more righteous than the Pharisees, or the moralists we know today.

Jesus Speaks Your Love Language

Whisper

Titus 3:3-5 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

According to the book “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman, there are five basic ways in which people express love to others, or perceive that others love them. He lists them as 1) Words of Affirmation, 2) Quality Time Together, 3) Receiving Gifts, 4) Acts of Service, and 5) Physical Touch. Each of us perceives one or two of these ways as an expression of love most clearly. Unfortunately, many of our relationships are with people who give and receive love in a different way than we do. You may have run in to this yourself. Your mother tries to show people she loves them by giving little gifts. What you have always longed for is to have her make time to spend some quality time with you. These kinds of differences lead to strained relationships, hurt feelings, and the perception that we are not loved.

It might seem that such differences would be easy to figure out and overcome. Unfortunately, sinners like us are not naturals when it comes to giving and receiving love. How does Paul describe our natural state? “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.” As we grow in faith, perhaps our lives don’t look as bad on the outside as the pessimistic picture Paul paints here. He does, after all, say that this description was true “at one time,” in the past. But we should never forget that this is the default setting of our sinful nature. We easily slip into it under stress or temptation. People enslaved by their own passions and pleasures, living in malice and envy, being hated and hating others, are not inclined to try to figure out how to love someone else. We, too, can be more or less content to be mad at someone. We are satisfied that we don’t like them and that they don’t like us. Then we have made ourselves unappealing to God as well. It should not surprise us if he chose to discard us and leave us forever alone.

But that is not what he has done. “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” How much does God love you? He didn’t wait until we started doing better to save us. He didn’t save us because of righteous things that we had done. He so loved us that he sent a Savior for us just as we were. Jesus was born, and lived, and died to pay for the lovelessness we call sin. In his mercy he has forgiven it all.

Doesn’t this kindness and love in the person of Jesus our Savior speak the love language of us all? God has shown us his love by giving us a gift. It certainly wasn’t something we earned. Just because he loves us so, our Lord was willing to give us forgiveness, life and salvation as a gift of his grace. He was willing to pay the dearest price to purchase that gift in giving up his own life.

God has shown he loves us by acts of service. That is what Jesus’ life and death for us is. From start to finish he was serving us. So thorough was this service to us that he left no part of our salvation for us to do.

In the manger we find our God actually coming to earth to live as one of us. For the next 30 years Jesus spent quality time with his people, teaching and being present, another evidence of his love. Though we do not see him now, he has not ceased spending time with us. He is present in his word and in the faith that message kindles in our hearts.

In coming to live with us, Jesus did not exist as a bodiless spirit. He became a real human being. For the next 30 years his physical touch communicated love to the people he healed, and embraced, and comforted. In baptism and communion, he expresses his love not only in the words of promise, but in water, bread, and wine we taste and feel. You and I look forward to feeling touch of his loving hands when he takes us home to himself in heaven.

Finally, Jesus has left us so many words of affirmation, four gospels worth, an entire Bible’s worth. He claims us as his children, his brothers and sisters, his friends. His love flows through every word of the gospel.

So much love is wrapped up in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord. It continues in the ministry of his word that brings his love to us today. Our God speaks the language of our hearts, whatever it might be, and when he speaks we can clearly hear his love.

The Firm Foundation

Foundation

1 Corinthians 3:11 “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Nothing is more important than the foundation in a building project. A friend of mine had to tear his house completely down because of foundation problems. In some places the concrete slab under that house was a foot and a half thick. In other places it was only about an inch thick. The clay soils on which the house sat were pushing all over the place. You’re familiar with the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy? Big foundation problems.

So Paul warns us not to build on false foundations. Some Christians try to build on fervent, passionate feelings towards Jesus. Everything is about how you respond. Don’t get me wrong. I hope that Jesus inspires powerful emotions in you. I hope that your heart is broken by the things that break God’s heart. I want you to know joy in God’s grace to you. But can you build the faith of people on something so uncertain and shifting as emotions? Isn’t that going to turn out like a bad marriage, one in which two people married because of their infatuation but never really got to know each other?

Others try to build Christian life and faith on moral instruction. They fill their ears with preaching and teaching full of practical advice. Again, don’t misunderstand me. I want you to practice good morals. As a pastor I even may get on the case of members who don’t! But without a healthy dose of Jesus’ love, all this morality teaching will eventually lead away from God to self-righteousness or despair.

Some Christians seek such a spectacular presentation of music and pictures, lights and drama, that they could rival or even surpass the best theaters. A relative once attended a church that bills itself as the “fun church.” I am not suggesting that there is any virtue in making church boring. But entertainment alone cannot feed the soul. It only distracts the mind and dulls the soul.

If we build with God, there is only one foundation on which we can build, and that is Jesus himself. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is not going to shift on us. He will not change his mind about his love for us. I know that he loves me and forgives me whether I feel it or not.

And he does not base my relationship with him on my performance. He bases it upon his performance in his perfect life of love and his innocent death for our sins on the cross. He established that relationship at my baptism. He maintains that relationship by sending me love letter after love letter in his word. He invites me to sit down with him and share an intimate meal of forgiveness in his Supper. That not only supports my faith. It supports a life that loves to serve him, that wants to serve him, in all I do.

Is it hard to find Jesus’ life of love and sacrifice for us interesting, compelling, captivating? Tell me the story again and again! Here is where I want to build my faith and life. Here is the place that I can confidently set the faith and future of my friends and neighbors. When we build with God, Jesus himself is the only foundation on which we build.

Forward!

street-arrow

Deuteronomy 1:25-27 “Taking with them some of the fruit of the land, they (Israel’s spies) brought it down to us and reported, ‘It is a good land that the LORD our God is giving us.’ But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the LORD your God. You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The LORD hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.’”

“Backwards” is the opposite of progress. Backwards ways of doing things are inefficient and don’t accomplish what they are supposed to. A backwards person isn’t very intelligent. If you pull your shirt on backwards, it’s on wrong and it looks funny. You need to turn it around and get it on right.

Backwards can be a bad direction for us spiritually as well. “Backsliding” leads us away from God and closer to sin and unbelief. Anyone who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for service in the kingdom, Jesus says. Don’t forget what happened to Lot’s wife when she looked back.

When the Lord led Israel from Mount Sinai more or less directly to the southern border of Canaan, the Israelites sent spies into the land to get an idea of what they were up against. They didn’t like what they saw. Then the nation rebelled against God’s command to go up and take possession of the land. The Lord had no intention of playing real estate agent. He wasn’t going to show them place after place until they found one with just the features they wanted. This was their new home. It wasn’t optional. God was sending his people forward to take possession of the land, but they were refusing to go.

Today our Lord has broadened the scope of his people’s work. He sends us forward to take possession of the entire world, but not in a political or military way. He is sending us to capture hearts for his kingdom by telling others the good news about Jesus. Our congregations support this world-wide conquest through our gifts and offerings to missions. But part of the campaign goes on right in our back yard. The inhabitants of the land he wants us to conquer live next door to us. They go to work with us and shop in the same stores. God still sends us forward to take possession of hearts and souls that need Jesus.

And that is not an option. Neither as a church nor as individuals does he allow us to shop around for a different mission: “I’m sure that winning souls is great, Lord. But I’m not much into that sort of thing. What else have you got?” No, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” He has not decreed specific roles we have to take. They may be different according to our individual gifts. But we are not to hide behind the walls of our homes and churches, frozen where we are. God sends us to possess the hearts and souls of our neighbors.

Is that a reason to complain? “You grumbled in your tents and said, ‘The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us.” Compared to the desert they had left behind in Egypt, Canaan was a rich and fertile land. Compared to the slavery they had left behind in Egypt, this was chance to experience freedom and prosperity. For Israel to stare at this rich and undeserved gift from God, and then accuse him of trying to kill them, has to be the worst kind of blasphemy. Imagine how you would feel if you poured yourself into finding an expensive, extravagant, yet completely practical gift for someone you loved deeply. You made sure that it fit them to a “T.” Then your friend not only snubs your gift. He accuses you of trying to hurt him. It’s no wonder the Lord threatened to wipe the whole nation out for the second time since leaving Egypt. Moses had to plead to have them spared.

Do we complain about the privilege of our mission? Here we are, people for whom our Lord sacrificed his only Son to pay for our sins and save us from death. He has graciously shared this good news with us and led us to faith. Now he has equipped us to make our family of faith even bigger, to be surrounded by more people who love us and whom we can love in return. Are we tempted to look at all this grace and mutter, “The Lord hates us. It costs too much to support. It takes too much of my time. He has brought me into this faith and into this church just to drain my resources and deny me the pleasures and treasures I have worked so hard to earn and enjoy”? God give us mercy to see past our own comforts and interests to recognize the incredible gift and opportunity we have been given. Don’t go backwards. Forge ahead. The mission itself is designed to bless you.

Who Is He?

Who

Matthew 22:42 “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?’ ‘The son of David,’ they replied.”

Jesus’ question about the Christ was more than a Bible trivia question about his ancestry. He wanted the Pharisees to think about what kind of person the Christ is. What kind of a being is he? That makes all the difference in what kind of Savior you expect him to be.

You see, if the Christ is a descendant of king David, another man in the royal house of Israel, that limits your options for what kind of Savior he could be. One option was that he could be a political Savior, a national deliverer who saves the country or makes it great. That’s what most of the Jews were hoping for. Then Jesus’ name might be mentioned in the same breath with men like Cincinnatus, Caesar, Charlemagne, George Washington, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Mahatmas Gandhi, and others.

Or the Christ might be a great moral Savior, a man whose charisma and character could inspire people to love their neighbors, control their passions, even form a great world religion. Then his name might be mentioned in the same breath with men like Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Mohammed, and others. As you know, that is just the group that we often hear Jesus associated with.

But Jesus was asking this question, “Who is the Christ?” “Who is the Savior?” because he knew the answer went deeper still. “He said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord?’ For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’ If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” Any Jewish child who paid attention in synagogue school knew that Psalm 110:1 was a reference to the Christ, the Messiah. Any Jewish person understood that the Messiah was a descendant of David. Think of the shouts of the crowds on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna to the Son of David…”

How then could David call a distant grandchild of his, someone who would be born nearly 1000 years later, his “Lord”? How could he speak about him in the past tense, as though he already existed? How could a human descendant of David sit at the right hand of God in heaven, entrusted with divine power and authority? Obviously the psalm Jesus quotes tells us the Christ is something more.

Although Jesus phrased this as a question, he is really giving the answer here. The Messiah, the Christ, the Savior is divine. And that would not be necessary for him if all he did was save a nation from its enemies or become a great moral role model.

But it would be necessary if the Savior were going to provide more than a decent example, but an absolutely perfect fulfillment of God’s law from start to finish. If he came not so much to show us what to do, but to do it for us as our substitute, then he must be something more than human. Our Savior is David’s Lord, who used his divine power to live the life of love God now gives us the credit for.

Divinity was necessary if our Savior were going to give his life to save not just a person, or even a nation, but the entire world from their sins. “No man can redeem the life of another,” the psalmist writes. “No payment is ever enough– that he should live on forever and not see decay.” But God himself, who can do all things, can make that payment with his own life. Our Savior is David’s Lord, who used his divine value to pay the penalty for every sin ever committed with his death on the cross.

And divinity is necessary if we aren’t just going to copy the Savior, or follow him into battle, but entrust him with the fate of our souls for all eternity. Who is Jesus?  God’s own Son, the Savior in whom we can put our faith.

Crucify It!

Crucified Hand

Galatians 5:24 “Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

The New Testament utilizes a variety pictures to illustrate how we deal with the sinful nature warring inside of us. Sometimes the picture is that of taking off dirty, ragged clothes. In one place the picture has to do with throwing out the garbage or shoveling away the manure. In several instances it speaks of putting the sinful nature to death. Here Paul reminds us that our sinful nature has been crucified. All of these things are pictures of repentance. God doesn’t say to the Christian, “Try harder!” He says, “Repent!” And the picture of crucifixion is particularly apt for a number of reasons.

First, crucifixion is something you do to the worst of criminals. It means you have judged the crucificial victim as a horrible, dangerous person. You want nothing to do with him. That is what happens each time we repent of our sins. We no longer see some sin as a good thing we desire. We see it as a crime, and the sinful nature which produced it is a criminal. We find it repulsive and disgusting, and we want nothing to do with it anymore.

Second, crucifixion is a slow, painful way to die. Death doesn’t come in an instant. And the sinful nature which we have crucified hasn’t died immediately, either. It keeps struggling and writhing. We feel the pain as we give up the sins that have captivated us for so long.

Third, crucifixion ends in death. The body of the one crucified is drained of all life and power. Earthly relationships come to an end. The work of our repentance is finished when our sinful nature dies with our body. Then it will finally be drained of every last bit of life and power. Then every last vestige of our relationship with the sinful nature, which we have already condemned as a criminal, will be gone.

Last, crucifixion reminds us of the work Jesus did for us, which is the most important part of winning this war! The message of Jesus’ love for us, dying on the cross to pay for all our sins and rising from the dead to promise us eternal life, sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts. That gives us a new spirit to fight with sin. It makes us different people, people who belong to Jesus Christ. The more we hear about how high and how wide and how deep is the love of Christ, the stronger our faith grows, and the stronger the spirit inside of us becomes. Christ’s love continues to inspire and strengthen our life of love. Living in Jesus’ love is the winning strategy for the inner war we fight in faith each day.