Posts tagged sanctification
How to Avoid Worthless Christianity

Before reading the article, give this short video a watch and hang on to what you see. It gets revisited toward the end. Enjoy!

I saw an article this week on the 10 most popular books of the Bible and James wasn't on there. So I got worried because I am currently going through a sermon series on James at my local church. My church members, I thought, are not going to love me and they are going to email the boss-man, and then I'm going to get fired and then my family wont have any food (grin). So to calm my anxiety I googled the 10 least popular books of the Bible. I figured, so long as James isn't on that list then I am safe. And thankfully James wasn't there either! So I think its safe to say James is neither loved nor hated.

James isn't always an easy book to chew on.

Unfortunately, that wasn't always the case. Martin Luther, the champion of the reformation, thought very little of the book of James. He referred to it as the "straw epistle". Luther's concern is that James seemed to focus on works too much and not enough on grace. And listen I get it. James isn't always an easy book to chew on. Some of the stuff he says seems pretty harsh.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that James is almost impossible to appreciate without a proper understanding of grace. Now I'm not going to get into that today. That's a future post. But suffice to say, for now at least, that James is not talking about salvation by works. He's talking about authenticity. He's talking about sincerity.

You see James had this crazy belief that we are saved, not by faith and works but by a faith that works. James was one of these weirdos who honestly believed that faith changes lives. It's not just some idea you believe in because it sounds intellectually appealing. It's a living thing that reaches down into your heart and changes you entirely.

Has your faith changed you? Better yet, allow me to frame the question in an illustration. Suppose I was late to an appointment with you and told you that the reason I was late was because on my way to see you my cars licence plate fell off so I had to pull over and run through traffic into the middle of the road and by the time I got there a semi truck travelling at 80 km hit me and I got dragged under the truck for a few hundred yards until I finally got free, jumped in my car, and made it to you. What would you say to that story? Chances are you would think either I was crazy or I was a liar. Because there is no way I could come into contact with a semi truck going 80 km and not be changed from a 3 dimensional being into a 2 dimensional pancake. But here's the thing guys: God is bigger than a semi-truck. If its not possible to get hit by a semi without being "changed" it is even less possible to encounter the living God and stay the same. And for James, the servant of Jesus, faith either changed you or it wasn't really faith. Call it philosophy, ethics, creed or worldview. In fact, go ahead and call it theology. But if it hasn't changed you then don't call it faith.

For James... faith either changed you or it wasn't really faith.

That brings us to our first verse:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (Jam. 1:26)
In other words, if your religion isn’t reaching deep and changing you as a person - not overnight but at least over time - then you need a new religion because, James declares, the one you have is worthless. Now I have to be really, really careful here because James is not trying to add extra pressure to someone who is new in the faith or going through a dark valley. Instead, James is pointing out something relevant - that there is a kind of Christianity that believes in the 10 commandments, the gospel, justification and sanctification, the Sabbath,  the sanctuary, and Jesus and in his return and yet it is worthless.


But it gets worse.

The word that we translate as "worthless" is an interesting one. Its the Greek word mataios. It means "1) devoid of force, truth, success, result 2) useless, of no purpose." So James is saying that there is a kind of Christianity that is devoid of force, proclaims empty truth, has no success and consequently nothing results from it. It's useless. It serves no purpose.


But it gets worse.

This Greek word mataios is also used in the New Testament in reference to idolatry and idol worship (Acts 14:15). So James is saying - don't miss this - that there is a kind of Christianity that is as worthless as idolatry.

Image result for oh snap meme

You see, for James it's not about what you believe in your head. It's about how you allow that belief to redefine who you are. So what does that look like? James explains it:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (27)
In the latter part of the verse James insinuates the importance of doctrine when he warns us to not be polluted by the world. In scripture the world often alludes to thought. So James calls us to not be polluted by the worlds thought patterns. But that's not all James points out. Doctrine is certainly important, but James is emphasizing something bigger here. He is saying that if your doctrine doesn’t translate to mercy, and empathy, and acts of kindness for those less fortunate than you then your religion with all of its knowledge, ideology and philosophy is worthless. James doesn't care how pure you think your doctrine is. If it doesn't translate to active and practical love then it simply isn't pure. But if your religion leads to a life that is characterized by holiness revealed in visible hands-on love for others then that religion God accepts.

See, James isn't talking about gaining God's grace or love by working. He's not talking about going to heaven by trying. And hes not trying to put pressure on people who are struggling. He's talking about being genuine. Are you genuine? Is your religion genuine? Or is it worthless? Notice what God said to the nation of Israel through the prophet Isaiah:
Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts;
    the incense of your offerings disgusts me!
As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath
    and your special days for fasting—
they are all sinful and false.
    I want no more of your pious meetings.
I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals.
    They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!
When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look.
    Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen,
    for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
    Get your sins out of my sight.
    Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
    Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
    Defend the cause of orphans.
    Fight for the rights of widows.
(Isa. 1:13-17)
Notice the descriptive words God uses: meaningless, sinful, false, pious. And notice the emotive words he uses: disgust, hate, burden. He even calls the Sabbath sinful and false and says he wants no more! These descriptive and emotive words are synonymous with James' use of the word worthless. God isn't interested in worthless religion. In fact, he's not as into Sabbath keeping and church going as we like to think he is. So stop wasting your time! God doesn't want our religious pretense. He wants genuine faith which is revealed in lives that are forsaking sin to pursue goodness, justice, helping, defending, and fighting for those who are weak.

But here is the magical question. What exactly is it that separates worthless religion from genuine faith? We saw that both of them have the same belief system. So its not data that separates them. Then what does? How does a person go down one path or the other? Is there a practical instruction that can lead us, if obeyed, in the direction of genuine faith? And is there a decision which, if made, can lead us in the direction of worthless faith? How do we avoid the one and embrace the other?

James answers that question a few verses before,
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (22)
Do what it says. That's it. Nothing else. You see, when James refers to worthless religion he describes its practitioners as self-deceived people. And here in verse 22 he tells us how to avoid being self-deceived people with a worthless religion. Its very simple. "Do what [God] says."

I don't know why we complicate the Christian life so much. Francis Chan once said it like this: Imagine I asked my daughter to clean her room and she comes back an hour later. I ask her, "have you done what I asked?" and she replies, "No dad. But guess what? I memorized what you said. I can even say it in Greek!" Would that work? Of course not. The Christian life is very simple. Do what God says.

I have concluded that sometimes we just need to stop talking and get out there and do something. We are here Sabbath after Sabbath listening and soaking in sermon after sermon and we love it. Our libraries are loaded with books and DVD's and we got our satellite dish so we can get some extra 3ABN or Hope or whatever. But when it comes time to do something for the community, to reach out, to bless and to serve all of a sudden most of us are tired. All of a sudden we have no time. All of a sudden we back off. Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal?

When I was in New Jersey I attended a Jamaican church with Candice. One Sabbath I accidentally locked the keys in the car. So after the service a group of the guys came to help me break into the car and get my keys out. There was about six of them standing around and they all began coming up with a plan on how they would get inside. One guy said this, the other guy said that. The debate continued for a few minutes until one of the elders arrived. He looked at the group and literally said, "You know what your problem is? Ya'll got too many theories!" And with that he popped a crowbar into the door latch, used a wire clothes hanger to reach in, and in less than one minute he had opened the car.

Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal?

"Too many theories." That was his critique. But what he was really saying is that all their talk was worthless. And without any talk he got to work. So I ask again. Is it possible that we have come to embrace a worthless religion as something normal? A religion that revolves around too many theories and too much lip movement but has little to no effect in the world around us? We show up every Sabbath and we listen to sermon after sermon and then what? We do Bible study after Bible study and then what? Is it possible that our greatest sin is we talk too much and we do too little. And the ones who do stick their necks out to do something barely ever get any support.

Guys, the difference between a Christianity that is as worthless as idolatry and a Christianity that is genuine is that one merely listens to the word and the other listens and does what it says. That’s it. That is the separating factor.

Narayanan Krishnan, born in 1981, is an Indian chef turned social worker. He quit his career as a leading chef and began supplying meals to the homeless in India, beginning in 2002. Krishnan was an award-winning chef and was short-listed for an elite job in Switzerland. During a visit to his family, before heading to Europe, he said, "I saw a very old man, literally eating his own human waste out of hunger. I went to the nearby hotel and asked them what was available then I bought and gave to the old man. Believe me, I had never seen a person eating so fast, ever. As he ate the food, his eyes were filled with tears. Those were the tears of happiness." 
Krishnan founded his nonprofit Akshaya Trust in 2003. Every day, he wakes up at 4 a.m., cooks a simple hot meal and then, along with his team, loads it in a van and travels about 125 miles (201 km) feeding the homeless and mentally-disabled in his region. He serves breakfast, lunch and dinner to 400 indigent and elderly people in Madurai. He carries a comb, scissors and razor and is trained in eight haircut styles that, along with a fresh shave, provide extra dignity to those he serves.*

But do you know what the weird part is? Krishnan is a Brahmin and he says that "Brahmans are not supposed to touch these people". And yet he does. In other words, Krishnan is doing something that goes contrary to his own religious tradition. In order for him to be true to his heart he has to contradict his own faith. And despite this, he is still doing it. Somehow, this man whose faith is miles apart from ours has discovered the heart of God in a way many of us have not. As Christians its not our faith we have to contradict. Its our selfishness. Its our worthless religion. But if we look intently into the heart of God we will see this love that changes lives there. We must accept that love, and then do what it commands.
There have been men in every generation who have claimed to be the sons of God... and yet who led a godless life, for they neglected the weightier matters of the law—mercy, justice, and the love of God. There are today many who are in a similar deception; for while bearing an appearance of great sanctity, they are not doers of the Word of God.... If Christ is in the heart, He will appear in the home, in the workshop, in the marketplace, in the church....  He who is transformed by the truth will shed a light upon the world (Ellen White, FW p.116)
Now some of you might be thinking I don't have the time to start a nonprofit, or to go feed the poor etc. But please understand, that's not the point. God isn't after dramatic things. Hes after the small things. He wants us to do something. Whether its helping out a ministry at church or donating some time (not just money - that's too easy) to the local charity God is calling you and me to be, not just hearers of the word, but doers.


* ThunderCallOfficial (YouTube), "CNN Heroes Tribute Narayanan Krishnan" []
For Those Who Don't "Measure Up"

Sometime ago I saw a video on YouTube that blew my mind. This guys was doing the craziest Calisthenic push-ups I had ever seen. One particular push-up consisted of him literally launching his body into the air from a prone lying position using only his arms. Being a guy that likes fitness I wrote him a comment and asked him how in the world he got to that level because I wanted to get there too. What do I have to do? I asked. I read his response with disappointment when he basically told me he didn’t really know what to say.

The way I felt when I saw him doing those push-ups is the way I feel when I read 1 John 3:9. Turn there with me. It reads:

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

When I read this verse my question is, John, how in the world do you get to that level? Will John, like my YouTube friend give us the answer? Or will he leave us hanging? Let’s find out.

Go back with me to the beginning of the chapter. Verse one opens up with a very powerful concept. John says,

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!

Everyone here knows that God loves them. Almost every person in the west has seen a billboard with the words “God loves you” on it. But notice, John does not say “listen.” He does not say, “study.” He doesn’t even say “read”. John says, “behold.” To behold means to see. Let me ask you a question. What was the last time you actually saw Gods love for you?

There is an old story about a woman who asked her husband, Why don’t you ever tell me that you love me? And the husband replied, “I told you I love you when I married you and if I ever change my mind I will let you know.” Funny as that story might be, do you realize it actually describes the relationship many of us have with God? Many of us have not heard God tell us how much he loves us since we got baptized. But John says God lavishes his love on us. You don’t lavish someone with something once. The idea of lavishing connotes a continual action. God is always lavishing his love on us and John is saying, “You have got to see this love God lavishes on you every day.”

Is it possible then that for John the first step to overcoming sin is in seeing how much God loves us on a daily basis despite the fact that we are far from where he wants us to be?
John goes on to say that God lavishes his love on us by calling us his children. But notice something interesting. In verse 2 he adds, “now we are children of God.” Notice, John did not say that you have to reach a certain level of holiness before God considers you his child. He did not say you had to grow spiritually first before you could be considered his child. He said “now” we are his children. Today. Not tomorrow. You see, I have two boys. One is a toddler and he is wild. But as wild as he is he is my son. I will not consider him a son when he grows up and learns to behave better. He is my son now even though he is far from being the man I hope he someday becomes. In other words, you are a part of Gods family today, right now, even if you are a spiritual toddler. You may be far from the person God wants you to be. You may still have things in your life you need to get right and yet even so you are Gods child right now.

Could John be telling us that the secret to being an over-comer is to recognize that we are Gods children right now despite our imperfections?

But john goes on in the rest of verse 2 and says something very challenging. Look at what he says:

it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

John is saying two things here. Number 1, there is something I don’t know. Number two, there is something I do know. It has not yet been revealed what we will be. I don’t know that. But this I do know. Jesus is coming and when he does we will be like him because we will see him as he is. In other words we will not be like him before we see him. We will be like him after we see him. But why does that even matter? Allow me to read a letter to you I received a few weeks ago:

I have been miserable for years being a SDA. I love the Death and Hell message and mostly… the fundamentals of the Church but If I have to be perfect before God in the Flesh, then What DID JESUS come and do for me? I find myself being in fear all the time because I don't measure up.

You see, this guy thinks in order for Jesus to come and take him to heaven he has to become absolutely perfect. But John says, even though we wont be like him until we see him, guess what! We are going to see him. He is coming and when he does we will be transformed into his image.

Perhaps the third secret to being an over-comer is in recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order to go to heaven.

So lets put this all together. John goes on and notice what he says in verse 3:

And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Notice John does not say “all purify themselves.” John says, “whoever has this hope in him purifies himself.” Here is the answer to the question, “How can I be sinless?” There is only one way: All who have this hope in him. But what is the hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope that purifies the one who believes it.

Perhaps John is telling us that the fourth secret to overcoming lies in feeling safe in the arms of God (having the hope of salvation) despite your imperfections.

But what exactly does it mean to be sinless? Notice John says, “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” Later on John tells us that God is love. Here he tells us that God is pure. So according to John God is pure love. If I pour salt into a glass of water is it pure? What about lemon? No. Pure water is H2O plus nothing else. According to John God is love plus nothing else. That’s not me. I have a bit of love mixed with selfishness, anger, and pride. But God is pure love. So to purify myself just as God is pure is to love like God loves. And while it is possible to correct behavior by focusing on behavior, you cannot love like God by trying harder.

But lets ask another question. What does John mean by love? Read verse 16 with me:

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

Being sinless is not about perfect behavior. It’s about perfect love. And perfect love is manifested in laying our lives down for one another the same way that Jesus laid his life down for us. But let me make this a little more practical. Perfect love is about laying down your time for someone else. Your wallet. Your reputation. Your comfort. John himself adds:
"If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

Perfect love. That is what John means by living without sin. And there is only one way for you and I to ever get to this level. And that is to have the hope of Jesus within. What is that hope? The message that God loves us, calls us his children, and is coming to take us to heaven despite our flaws forms a foundation of hope by which we purify ourselves from selfishness until we love like God loves. You cannot live with this hope within you and go on sinning (living a lifestyle of selfishness). Hence John could say:

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.

I don’t know about you but I want to love like Jesus loves. That would be awesome. It begins by daily seeing his love for me. Not just reading about it. Talking about it. Or hearing about it. But experiencing it in our hearts. It begins by believing that you are a child of God, a member of his family, despite your imperfections. It begins by recognizing that you don’t have to be absolutely perfect in order for Jesus to come and take you to heaven. When you have this hope in you, you can go forth to purify yourself just as God is pure. You can learn to love like Jesus. The search for sinlessness is ultimately a search - not for perfect behavior or flawless obedience to the letter of the law - but for the love of God to make its home within us more and more. And so long as you are anxious and worried about your behavior you will never discover this love. It is when you recognize that its not about you at all, it is when you let go of your supposed "qualifications" and trust entirely on the sacrifice of Jesus for your salvation that you can then, in hope and joy, go forward to grow in love.
Stop Hating on Sanctification!

When I was a soldier I met a guy named Kenny. He smoked, drank, slept with different women all the time and got kicked out of the Army for doing drugs. However, according to Kenny, he was saved because four years before he had prayed a prayer at a youth rally. He didn’t do anything to earn his salvation, and he certainly wasn’t doing anything to keep his salvation. But is this what it means to be saved?

Kenny had bought into the popular gospel known as “once saved always saved.” The gospel which I have come to refer to as the “ticket version.” For him, Jesus was a ticket and nothing more. His salvation was simply a judge granting him irrevocable access to heaven regardless of how he continued to live his life. No faith was necessary. No trust or obedience. You said yes, and wallah! You are set for life. And why not? After all, we are saved apart from our works and we are preserved apart from our works as well. If works have nothing to do with our qualifying for heaven then why fuss over them? The Bible answers this question in the same passage we have been looking at. The NIV puts it this way:
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
The Greek word for workmanship is “poiema” which literally means, “a work” but it also carries with it the connotation of an artist. In other words, we are Gods art-work. When you give your life to Jesus He begins to do a work of art within you. He begins to change you and transform you. The amazing thing is that when Paul used the word “poiema” it simply meant a work. But over time it became the root of our English word poem. A poet is someone who makes a poem. However, the poet works on the poem until it is exactly what he wants it to be. His first draft is rarely his last. Instead he returns to the poem and edits it. He fixes grammatical errors, changes words, clauses, and at times even entire sentences and paragraphs. He artfully molds the poem until it becomes exactly what he wants it to be. This is what God does with us. When we accept Christ we are saved, but God is not finished yet. He doesn’t leave us broken like He found us. He works in us and through us and for us and turns us into a beautiful poem. He then reads this poem before the universe, a demonstration of his artistic finesse, and shows both men and angels that his love is powerful enough to turn the ugly into the beautiful, the ogre into the prince, and the selfish into the loving. Thus, we are changed into his image, grow into holiness, metamorphose into Christ-likeness, and translate into his love-language not as the basis for our acceptance with God, but as the inevitable result of looking unto Jesus and being filled with his love.

Works cannot save us and works cannot keep us, but anyone who claims to be saved and does not increasingly reflect the love of God is self-deceived at best. And there is a pervading ideology infecting our hearts that salvation is all about having a “ticket” for heaven. We churn at the thought of a God who demands. We roll our eyes at the word sanctification, as though it were a sour ingredient in the salvation dish. Perhaps, due to our legalistic backgrounds, we are so eager to experience the safety and joy of grace that we actually miss what grace is. And maybe, in some secret way, we envy those who believe in “once saved always saved” and try desperately to align our faith with theirs as much as possible. The end result is the “ticket” version of salvation. We talk about a relationship with Jesus, but we don’t even believe what we are saying because at the end of the day, a relationship demands a person not a ticket. And a personal relationship is either always growing, always ascending, always advancing or it becomes stagnant, cold, and dysfunctional. Billy Graham said it best when he stated,
It should not be surprising if people believe easily in a God who makes no demands, but this is not the God of the Bible. Satan has cleverly misled people by whispering that they can believe in Jesus Christ without being changed, but this is the Devil’s lie. To those who say you can have Christ without giving anything up, Satan is deceiving you.
God never leaves us the same. He never leaves us broken. He never leaves us enslaved. He never leaves us addicted. And while he doesn’t always deliver overnight, the promise of salvation is not only a new life in heaven but a new life here. A life that is characterized by radical love and other-centeredness. 

Andrew Farley, in his book The Naked Gospel, got it right he wrote that any gospel that fails to lead to a radical transformation of the life is “a half baked gospel.” And any person who says “I am saved by grace” while continuing to live in perpetual disharmony with the law of love demonstrates that he is still living in rebellion against God and has either never truly been saved, or thrown his salvation in the garbage bin either intentionally or through persistent neglect. A true understanding of the gospel comes when we embrace the paradoxical nature of grace and works. Such a paradox is very difficult to express in human language, and yet it is there. We are not saved by works or preserved by works, but nevertheless we are not once saved always saved. Salvation is a free gift but it must be enjoyed, not spurned. And when we enjoy our salvation, when we celebrate it and daily dance to its rhythm we will be changed, not as the basis for our salvation, but as the inevitable result of inhaling it’s fragrance.

And herein lies the joy of obedience. The joy of works. The joy of sanctification. We don’t have to obey to be saved as if salvation was earned by obedience. We don’t have to work to stay saved as if grace only covered our past, leaving our present and future status dependent on our performance. But when we are saved we will obey because obedience, good works, and sanctification are the natural result of being saved. You can distinguish between grace and works, but you cannot separate them. They come together – one as the qualifier for heaven (justification) and the other as the inevitable result of that experience (sanctification) which fits us for heaven.

I love the following illustration: Suppose you invited me to a meeting at Star Bucks and I arrived a half hour late. When I arrived I said, “Sorry for being late man. I was driving here and my car ran out of gas so I had to pull over. I then had to cross the street and when I did I was hit by a truck travelling 65 mph and it ran me over. And yeah, that’s why I’m late.” What would you think about my story? It would have to be one of three options. Either 1) I am joking, 2) I am lying, or 3) I am crazy. There is simply no way I am telling the truth because there is simply no way that I can come into contact with something as big as a truck and not be changed (i.e. splattered into a million tiny pieces). But isn’t God bigger than a truck? You cannot encounter Him and not be changed. It simply is not possible.

We are saved by grace and preserved by grace, but make no mistake, grace is not just pardon – it is power. Power to change. Power to transform. Power to deliver. Power to transpose. Power to redeem. You cannot have it and remain unchanged for the natural result of receiving grace is an experientially life altering divine metamorphosis. And its beautiful.

When I came to Christ I was broken because of my addictions and sinful habits. Controlled by my passions and tendencies. Corrupted by my DNA and corrupted even more by my own choices and misplaced allegiances. And I am so thankful today that Jesus didn’t just forgive me. I am thankful that he also changed me and set me free from the power of sin that was ruining my life. Am I still a sinner? Of course, but grace enables me to daily transcend my carnal self and live a life of integrity and purity before God and man. Am I perfect? Not by a long shot. But this I can say: When I look at my past I don’t like what I see. When I look at my present I don’t like what I see. But when I look at my future all I can see is the promise “that he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Praise God! I am forgiven. I don’t have to continue a slave to the garbage that enslaved me. I am free from sins guilt and free from its power and I cannot wait until the day when I will be free of its presence – and that day is nearly here.

So what is the best way to summarise the only gospel? Here it is: What Jesus did. Period. What Jesus does. Period. Or to shorten the formula: Jesus-only. He pardons. He transforms. He erases. He re-writes. He uproots. He plants anew. He demolishes. He rebuilds. He puts to death. He rebirths. He is the author of our faith and he is its finisher. He wrote the first word in your salvation story and he will write the last. And what is your role in all of this? Simple. Just dance. Dance with Jesus. Or to put it in plain English, enjoy your relationship with him. Grow into him. Abide in him. Lose yourself in his love. Allow your soul to be swept into his presence. Fall deeper in love with him. Is it easy? No. Is it passive? No. Is it intentional? Yes. Is it a battle? Yes. But it is always, at all times and in all circumstances, a response to his grace made possible by his grace. Nothing more. Nothing less.

I began this series by saying that the book of Ephesians outlines Gods secret weapon to defeat evil. That weapon is the church – a community made up of evil, wicked, perverted, selfish people who have been redeemed. They are no longer evil, perverted, or selfish. Grace had pardoned. Grace had changed. Thus Paul could say,
As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience. I’m not talking about the outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world; we all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of humankind.
But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed. For it’s by God’s grace that you have been saved. You receive it through faith. It was not our plan or our effort. It is God’s gift, pure and simple. You didn’t earn it, not one of us did, so don’t go around bragging that you must have done something amazing. For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago.

photo credit: Pat McDonald via photopin cc
Baristification: What my Favorite Sport Taught Me About Spiritual Growth

Last week I wrote an article about the impact that Crossfit had on my spirituality. After I wrote that article, I got to thinking about Baristi, the sport that I practice. Baristi is a sport that is known by different names such as street-workout, freestyle calisthenics, and extreme calisthenics. As the names suggest, Baristi is a sport that develops an extreme level of natural body strength, endurance, and control. I first ran into Baristi about a year ago, but it wasn't until months later that I actually decided to give it a go. The result was instant addiction. After years of not clicking with anything at the gym I had finally fallen in love. Since then, my workouts have consisted entirely of body weight training using different variations of pushups, pullups, dips, squat's etc. The goal in Baristi is to perform these natural body exercises in an extreme but controlled way. As a result, the sport has grown widely popular among younger generations and even hosts its own Baristi World Cup in Germany.

As I thought about Baristi and spiritual growth I remembered the one aspect of Baristi that attracted me most to the sport. I had been going to the gym on and off for years attempting to achieve quick results. I had even tried several different programs that promised quick muscular growth. None of it really worked. But when I first looked into Baristi I was immediately confronted with one simple reality. The Baristi gurus didn't beat around the bush. This sport, they said, will take years to master. You shouldn't expect to see real results until you have been practicing for about 2-3 years.

For some reason, I really liked the fact that the Baristi community did not promise quick results. There was something authentic about them. Something raw and organic about their commitment level. Two to three years of consistent pressure. Two to three years of unbending commitment. That's what it would take for the average joe/ jane to arrive, not at mastery, but at the place where they were strong enough to begin the process of mastery. After years of wanting quick results, their genuine no-quick-results vibe was like a breath of fresh air.

And this is what true spiritual growth is like. It isn't instantaneous. It doesn't happen overnight. If we want to be more like Jesus, there is no such thing as quick results. The process of becoming like Christ, a process known as sanctification, takes a lifetime. It is by applying consistent pressure that our persona is shaped into the posture of Christ. It is by unbending commitment that our characters are chiseled to spiritual precision. The fight is long, hard, and uphill. There is no such thing as quick results in the divine realm. If we want to be wise, if we want to be serene, if we want to be loving, and if we want to be Christ-like it requires time, experience, and scars. We cannot be passive. We cannot be lazy. And we cannot demand rapid improvement. The key is to commit ourselves to God and embrace the reality that sanctification is a life-long, uphill battle that requires our full commitment.


To explore this topic a bit more, check out the sermon below:

Why I No Longer Believe in Last Generation Theology

Why I No Longer Believe in Last Generation Theology 
by Sam Millen

Growing up in the Adventist church, I was exposed to a brand of Adventism promoting what has been identified as Last Generation Theology (LGT).  We were taught that those in the church who disagreed with LGT were in apostasy.  It was much later, while studying in the seminary, that I discovered LGT didn’t enter Adventism until the 1930s.  It was introduced by Adventism's premier theologian during that period, M.L. Andreasen.  The concept is not new, however.  I have also learned that the Pharisees had their version of LGT.  They firmly believed that if Israel kept one Sabbath perfectly, the Messiah would come immediately.  That is why they wanted to get rid of Jesus when he broke their Sabbath rules.

LGT proponents like to cling to one particular quote by Ellen White.  She writes, “Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church.  When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 69).  When I view this quote now, without an LGT bias, it becomes clearer that Ellen White is not necessarily talking about sinlessness, but setting aside our differences and being loving, just like the disciples in the upper room before the Holy Spirit was poured out.  Jesus says the end will come when the gospel reaches everyone (Matthew 24:14).  He also says that everyone will know we are his disciples when we love each other (John 13:35).

The focus of LGT is character perfection.  From an LGT point of view, Jesus hasn’t returned because he is waiting for a generation that is sinless in order for God to prove that his law can be kept perfectly.  LGT teaches that God is depending on us to vindicate his character.  If we could demonstrate to the watching universe that God’s law can be obeyed, nobody would have an excuse.  We would prove Satan wrong!  God would be reasonable in his expectations.  I now see this as blasphemy.  Jesus fully vindicated God’s character on the cross.  God is love.  We cannot take Jesus' place and fulfil that role.

Instead of partying with my peers, I spent most of my teenage years trying to be perfect.  I tried to have only pure thoughts, and to conquer my temper and other character flaws.  After all, God was relying on me to overcome sin!  I didn’t want to delay his coming any longer.  I also knew that the time was coming when “probation" would close and we would be without a mediator.  I had to be sinless by then.  Much later, I was relieved when someone pointed out to me that we will always have a Savior.  At that point, there may be no more switching of sides (requiring a mediator, see Revelation 22:11), but our sins are covered by Christ’s blood until the end when we are on God’s side.  

Although this theology did spare me from the consequences of a typical teenage rebellion, LGT can be just as (if not more) harmful emotionally and spiritually.  Even though we were told that we could overcome sin through Christ’s power, the focus was not on Jesus.  I focused on my behavior.  How was I performing?  Isn’t that what the whole universe was supposedly focused on?    Every time I messed up, I knew I would be lost unless I repented and started again from scratch.  That was not a joyful Christian experience.  It was miserable!  I desperately wanted to be perfect so that I could be a part of the Last Generation.

I now see Christianity as a relationship.  Because God is love, he created us for a relationship with him.  That is our purpose.  It is why we exist.  Since we are born on a rebellious planet, God's primary objective is to win our hearts.  He wants us to trust him.  However, when we give God our hearts, we still have the weaknesses of the flesh.  Even though our hearts are in the right place, we still mess up.  When we fail because of the flesh, we do not lose our salvation.  We haven’t turned our back on God.  We love God.  We want to do what is right, and when we get a new body at the resurrection (without any weaknesses), we will not be rebelling in heaven.  It’s because God has won our hearts.  We trust him.  We love him.

It’s like a marriage (a biblical metaphor for our relationship with God).  I am not a perfect husband.  I make mistakes that hurt my wife (not physically).  However, because I love my wife, I am sorry when I mess up.  I don’t want to hurt her.  When I mess up, I am still married to her.  I haven’t turned my back and walked away.  We are still in a relationship.

The only way to lose your salvation is to deliberately turn your back on God and walk away from him.  He will never leave you.  Even if you reject him completely, he will try to win your heart again.

I am convinced that we will never be perfect.  We don’t have to be.  When we are in a relationship with God, our sins are covered by Christ’s blood until the end.  If God has won our hearts, we will get a flawless new body when Jesus comes.  That is when our new hearts will finally be compatible with our bodies because our bodies will also be new.

Am I trying to make excuses for sin?  Not at all.  In fact, the harder I tried to overcome sin, the more I failed and became discouraged.  Now I find that when I focus on my relationship with Jesus, the sins that seemed so appealing before, start to lose their power in his presence.  It’s miraculous.


Sam Millen pastors the Luray Seventh-day Adventist Church in Virginia, in the Potomac Conference. He grew up in Australia, moving to the US to study for the ministry at Andrews University. He and his wife Angie have a six-year-old and two-year-old twins.

This article was originally published on Spectrum Magazine. Used by permission.

Further Reading:

REclaiming Adventism (A Response to the Testimony of Former Adventist Eliana Matthews)
For other posts related to Last Generation Theology click here.