Guarding What God Has Put in Your Heart

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard messages on the importance of guarding our hearts. God wants relationships with people who are pure in heart and who are whole-heartedly devoted to Him. In order to be like that, we need to be careful what we let into our hearts. Guarding our hearts, we’re often told, is about not letting bad things in.

Though that aspect of guarding our hearts is of vital importance, there’s also another side to this. To quote a daily devotional I’ve been reading, “We are to keep things in –things like the Spirit of Jesus, the humility and gentleness, the servanthood and sacrifice, the worship and thankfulness” (Chris Tiegreen, 365 Pocket Devotions, p.23). We need to be careful that we’re not so focused on keeping bad things out that we forget to keep the good things in.

Keep Truth In Your Heart

When Samuel was sent to anoint David, Yahweh told him, “God does not view things the way people do. People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7, NET). What’s in our hearts is what matters most to God. We don’t want to let in things that would corrupt our hearts, but we’re also not evaluated based on what we’ve kept out. God looks at what we keep in.

My child, pay attention to my words;
listen attentively to my sayings.
Do not let them depart from your sight,
guard them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and healing to one’s entire body.
Guard your heart with all vigilance,
for from it are the sources of life.

Proverbs 4:20-23, NET

This is the one Bible passage that clearly instructs us to guard our hearts. It starts out by telling us to put wise words inside us and then “keep them in the center of your heart” (v. 21, WEB). It’s about guarding the good things in our hearts because what’s inside us determines what comes out of our lives, for good or evil.

He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. All these evils come from within and defile a person.”

Mark 7:20-23, NET

If what’s inside our hearts is bad, the fruit our lives produce will be bad also, no matter how much we polish up the outside. We can, however, with God’s help, replace the bad things with good things. Change has to happen in our hearts as we internalize the words of God, and then we need to guard those good things that He gives us.

Attach Your Hearts to Good Things

Putting His law inside people’s hearts is one of the central aspects of God’s new covenant. When He prophesied the new covenant, He said, “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jer. 31:33, NET). That’s what’s happening as part of the covenant Jesus instituted with His sacrifice (Heb. 8:7-13; 10:14-18). In order to have good things come from our lives we need to have good things in our hearts, and that comes from entering this covenant with God. We also need to diligently guard what God is teaching and giving us.

“Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Matthew 6:19-21, NET

Part of guarding our hearts involves being careful about what “treasure” we attach ourselves to. If the things that we care about most and pour our energy into are worldly, that’s where our hearts will be. But if we put our efforts, time, and affection into good and godly things, then that is what our hearts and souls will treasure.

Entrust God With Your Heart

There is one other verse that uses the phrase “guard your hearts.” This time, though, it’s not an instruction for us. It’s something God does for us when we trust Him with our hearts and minds.

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7, NET

We talked about this type of peace at length just a couple weeks ago in a post called “Finding Peace On Earth Today.” The peace that God offers is a sort of peace that’s not dependent on external circumstances. Rather, it is a product of a heart that is committed to fully trusting God. True, lasting, godly peace comes when we trust God to take care of the things that threaten to take away our peace. When we pray in every situation, God shares His peace with us and it works to guard our hearts.

The task of guarding our hearts–keeping good things in and stopping bad things from taking over–is a life-long process. It’s something that God expects us to be actively involved in, and it’s something that He’s committed to helping us with.

Featured image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

What Does It Mean To Be Double-Minded, and How Can We Fix It?

I love it when a phrase in a book or a comment from a friend prompts an unexpectedly deep Bible study. Just last week, someone in my church’s scripture writing group suggested we study the phrase “double-minded.” Since there are only two verses in the Bible that use this word (at least in most translations), it sounded like a challenging and intriguing study. It’s also a study that’s relevant to things we struggle with today. It’s so easy to find ourselves becoming filled with worry, questions, and doubt. There are so many different versions of “truth” being marketed today, and it gets confusing. We need to be clear in our own minds what we believe and why so that we’re not double-minded. I hope you’ll find reading about this topic as fascinating–and helpful–as I did. We begin in the opening part of James’s epistle.

But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed around by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord, since he is a double-minded individual, unstable in all his ways.

James 1:5-8, NET

The word translated “double-minded” is dipsuchos, meaning “two spirited,” “vacillating” (Strong’s Dictionary), “wavering, uncertain, doubting,” and “divided in interest” (Thayer’s Dictionary). It comes from two words: dis (twice, again) and psuche (breath, spirit). Zodhiates adds that “such a person suffers from divided loyalties. On the one hand, he wishes to maintain a religious confession and desires the presence of God in his life; on the other hand he loves the ways of the world and prefers to live according to its mores and ethics” (dictionary entry 1374). Sounds like something a lot of Christians struggle with today, doesn’t it? James is the only New Testament writer to use this word, and it appears once again closer to the end of his epistle.

Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners. Purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament, mourn, and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10, WEB

Though there are only two verses using this word, James makes it clear that being “double-minded” is not a good thing. From the context as we read James 1:8, we can say that faith and stability are the opposites of double-mindedness. Then James 4:8 recommends that the double-minded purify their hearts, indicating that being double-minded has something to do with the state of our hearts. It also appears to be something that we can fix, and which God will help us correct.

How Long Will You Waver?

In the Old Testament, the prophet Elijah confronted the people of Israel about their idolatry. They’d constantly sway back and forth between faith in God and following pagan religions. This wavering, uncertain, divided loyalty was not something that pleased God.

Elijah approached all the people and said, “How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the Lord is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!” But the people did not say a word.

1 Kings 18:21, NET

You can click here to read the entire story. Right now, I want to focus in on the phrase “paralyzed by indecision.” The more literal translation from Hebrew would be, “How long are you going to limp around on two crutches?” (NET footnote). Here, though, it’s an idiomatic phrase and does not refer to physical disability or injury. It’s a picture of someone’s thoughts and loyalty swaying back and forth unsteadily, similar to how James describes the double-minded individual as tossed by the sea. Other translations of this phrase in 1 Kings 18 include, “How long will you waver between the two sides?” (WEB) and “How long will you falter between two opinions?” (NKJV).

The need for us to set doubt aside and be loyal to God alone is also discussed in the New Testament. In his Pentecost sermon recorded in the book of Acts, Peter said, “let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36, NET). We’re not meant to live in a state of indecision. Knowing who Jesus is removes doubt and replaces it with faith. This sort of faith is absolutely essential, “for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6, NET). We don’t have to get rid of all doubt before we come to Jesus, but at the very least we need to reach a point where we can say, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24, NET).

Don’t Divide Your Loyalty

The only other Bible verse that uses the word “double-minded” is found in certain translations of Psalm 119:113. In the World English Bible it’s translated, “I hate double-minded men, but I love your law.” The New King James Version is almost identical: “I hate the double-minded.” Offering a slightly different reading, the New English Translation says, “I hate people with divided loyalties.” We cannot afford to live as double-minded people with divided loyalties. It’s impossible to be loyal to God and serve things that are incompatible with His way of life.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can’t serve both God and Mammon.

Matthew 6:24, WEB

Our loyalty and service belongs to God alone. We must follow Jesus’s example of rejecting the siren call of temptation and say, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You are to worship the Lord your God and serve only him'” (Matt. 4:10, quoting Deut. 6:13, NET). This is exactly what James was talking about when he said, “Be subject therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” right before he said, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7-8, WEB). God wants the entirety of our hearts, not just the pieces leftover after we do other things in our lives.

O Lord, teach me how you want me to live.
Then I will obey your commands.
Make me wholeheartedly committed to you.
O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks with my whole heart.
I will honor your name continually.

Psalm 86:11-12, NET

Learning to Have an Undivided Mind

Though there are only 2 or 3 scriptures that directly talk about being double-minded, many scriptures talk about the importance of having “one mind” and being “like-minded” with other believers. This doesn’t mean that believers will all have the same personalities, types of lives, or individual opinions. Rather, this like-mindedness is rooted in all of us learning to think in the same way that God thinks. If we’ve been recipients of God’s spirit, then “we have Christ’s mind” (1 Cor. 2:16, WEB). The more we learn to have the same mind as Christ, the more like-minded we become with each other as well.

Now the God of perseverance and of encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 15:5-6, WEB

God wants His people to live in unity. We’re meant to care for every follower of Christ as much as we care for ourselves. We’re to work on resolving differences peacefully and prayerfully, seeking to have God’s perspective rather than defend our own opinions. We’re to replace double-mindedness, doubt, and instability with faith and loyalty, following the example of Jesus Christ in how we act and think.

For though we walk in the flesh, we don’t wage war according to the flesh; for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God to the throwing down of strongholds, throwing down imaginations and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5, WEB

Through the power of God working inside us, we can choose to change our thoughts. Whether our minds are divided or whole is in large part up to us. We’re not helpless victims of our own doubt but rather mighty warriors who are strong in the Lord. Through Him, we have the power to overcome worry, doubt, and division and instead commit ourselves to lives full of faith.

Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Finding Peace On Earth Today

Today’s world is not a peaceful place. Wars, rumors of wars, rioting, brutality, oppression, and unrest plague the whole earth. Fears fill our minds, confusing and contradictory information comes at us from every side, and there’s always a new reason in the news for anger, anxiety, or grief. If we ever needed proof that there’s no peace on earth, this past year supplied it.

In the midst of all this, the Bible describes peace as something God gives to His people and which He expects us to have. Finding peace while here on this earth may seem an impossible task, but God specializes in doing the impossible (Luke 1:37; 18:27). The peace God offers is not dependent on external circumstances. It comes from what He is doing inside us and it’s a special type of peace that is only available through God.

Putting Peace in our Minds

The peace God offers us cannot be destroyed by what’s going on in the world. Also, thankfully, it is a type of peace that we can have even during times of trouble and strife–the sort of times when we most need peace.

Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7, NET

Paul doesn’t tell us that God will take away any reason we might have for anxiety. Rather, he says not to worry about any of the situations that could cause anxiety. Instead, we take those situations to God in prayer and with thanksgiving. We can do this with confidence in the promise that God’s peace–a peace so incredible we can’t understand it, yet which we still get to participate in–will guard our hearts and minds. God doesn’t just take away anxiety and give us peace, though, without any action on our part. We have a role to play as well. In addition to praying for God’s peace, Paul also tells us to replace our anxious thoughts with something else.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9, NET

We have the power to change how we think and even how we feel. We are not at the mercy of our outside circumstances or even our own emotions. That’s true of all human beings. Everyone of us can change and improve the way we think and process emotion. And when we have God’s spirit, we have additional aid in finding real peace. God created us and He knows how to balance and heal our minds, hearts, and souls.

Pursuing Righteousness and Peace

I recently heard a sermon where the speaker talked about the deep connection between righteousness and peace. He started by quoting Psalm 85:10, “Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (WEB). It’s part of the verse I used as the title of my post about INFJ Christians, but I hadn’t realized how often these two concepts are linked. It seems you can’t have the type of peace God offers without also seeking to imitate His righteousness.

I am Yahweh your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you by the way that you should go. Oh that you had listened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48:17-18,. WEB

Righteousness and peace must be pursued together (2 Tim. 2:22). The type of peace God offers is only found in relationship with Him, and we can’t have a close relationship with God if we insist on living unrighteous lives. We need to follow His steps, heed His words, and embrace both His righteousness and His peace.

For the kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by people. So then, let us pursue what makes for peace and for building up one another.

Romans 14:17-19, NET

Bearing the Fruit of Peace

Many (perhaps most) of us saw 2020 as a year of severe trails. One of the ways the Bible talks about trials is as discipline–a tool God uses to disciple us into being like Him. Interestingly, this process is not only connected to learning to be righteous as God is righteous. It’s also connected to peace.

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it.

Hebrews 12:11, NET

Times of trial are often when peace seems most elusive, but when we go through our trials with God at our side they can actually lead to peace. Several Bible verses tell us to have joy in trials (Rom. 5:3-5; James 1:2-4), and I think recognizing how much we can learn from them is one key to having that sort of joyful perspective. Challenges help to refine us, and eventually produce good fruits in our lives.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.

James 3:17-18, NET
Finding Peace On Earth Today | LikeAnAnchor.com

We spent a couple of months earlier this year talking about all these attributes of Godly wisdom, including peace. In that post, we talked about Proverbs and how that book shows us that peace is something which happens when you live with wisdom. It’s one of the fruits that comes from aligning with God’s righteousness.

There is a way to have peace inside us even while living in a world where there is no peace. None of us knows what the year 2021 holds in store. It could be better than 2020, it could be more of the same, or it could even be worse. The outside circumstances cannot take away our peace, though, when that peace is grounded in our relationship with God.

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Getting “Salty” for the Kingdom of God

Have you ever thought about the phrase “covenant of salt” or “salt of the covenant”? If you’re like me, you might not have even realized these phrases are in the Bible–I never noticed them until I heard a teaching on it a few years ago. I’ve come back to study salt again now because the grace book I talked about in last week’s post drew my attention to this verse:

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

Colossians 4:6, WEB

In Relational Grace, Brent Schmidt says that “in Greek usage,” a conversation described as “seasoned with salt” meant one that’s “enlivened with wisdom” (p. 94). He also mentions “cleansing and preservation” are associated with salt. He does not bring up the covenants of salt mentioned in the Old Testament, but Schmidt does write extensively on the covenanting aspects of grace, and that made me wonder if there might be a “covenants of salt” connection as well. And, as a larger question, what does it mean when God describes us as “salt of the earth” or when He says to “have salt in yourselves?”

Covenants of Salt

In the Torah, God instructed Israel to use salt in some very specific ways. Salt was an essential ingredient for holy incense (Ex. 30:34-35). It was also a vital part of sacrifices.

Moreover, you must season every one of your grain offerings with salt; you must not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be missing from your grain offering—on every one of your grain offerings you must present salt.

Leviticus 2:13, NET

The phrasing here is such a strong instruction–you must include salt. And it’s repeated three times just in this one sentence! Clearly, the presence of covenant salt mattered deeply to God. The connection between salt and offerings continues throughout the Old Testament (Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Ezekiel 43:24). In addition, God described the portion of the offerings that were given to priests as “a covenant of salt” in Numbers 18:19. The NET footnote on this verse explains

Salt was used in all the offerings; its importance as a preservative made it a natural symbol for the covenant which was established by sacrifice. Even general agreements were attested by sacrifice, and the phrase “covenant of salt” speaks of such agreements as binding and irrevocable. Note the expression in Ezra 4:14, “we have been salted with the salt of the palace.”

NET study note on Num. 18:19

This last line refers to a phrase in a letter where the writers claim “we are loyal to the king,” which is translated from an Aramaic phrase that literally means “we eat the salt of the palace” (Ezra 4:14, NET). Though covenants are not mentioned explicitly in this verse, it adds another layer to our discussion because of the close connection between loyalty and salt.

In 2 Chronicles 13:5, a king of Judah challenged Israel, saying, “Don’t you realize that the Lord God of Israel has given David and his dynasty lasting dominion over Israel by a formal covenant?” or, in other words, “a covenant of salt?” (NET footnote). The covenants of salt were binding, formal, and intended to be long-lasting. They were something that God–and the people who care about Him–took very seriously.

You Are Salt

With that background, Jesus’s words “you are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13) could possibly be read as “you are a sign of the covenants sprinkled throughout the earth,” or perhaps, “you are connected to the covenant and my sacrifice.” Of course, there is also the fact that “Salt was used as seasoning or fertilizer … or as a preservative” (NET footnote), and this may also be connected to Jesus’s words. Still, I think it’s safe to assume Jesus’s listeners–all of them Jews–would have been familiar with the strong covenant connection that salt had and would have assumed that was at least part of His meaning.

Adding further depth to the idea that we, as followers of Jesus, “are the salt of the earth” is the association of salt with incense. During one of the scenes in heaven that’s recounted in Revelation, “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints (Rev. 5:8). Like incense, our prayers are “seasoned with salt, pure and holy” (Ex. 30:35, WEB).

Everyone will be salted with fire [many manuscripts add “and every sacrifice will be salted with salt”]. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.

Mark 9:49-50, NET (bracketed line from footnote)

If salt implies a covenant, then the instruction “have salt in yourselves and be at peace” is a covenant imperative. It doesn’t mean we ought to eat more salty foods, but rather that we’re meant to live in loyal covenant with God. It involves following “the God of peace,” who raised “our Lord Jesus” from the dead and equips us to do His will “by the blood of the eternal covenant” (Heb. 13:20-21, NET).

Speak Salty Words

Let’s go back now to the verse in Colossians that started this whole post, and read a little bit more of the context.

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone.

Colossians 4:5-6, NET

This part of Paul’s letter is talking about how we “conduct ourselves” or “walk”–“a common NT idiom for one’s lifestyle, behavior, or manner of conduct” (NET footnote). We’re to exercise wisdom when interacting with those outside the faith, use our time well, and be gracious and “seasoned with salt” in the way we speak.

In today’s world, being “salty” implies irritation or hostility. This verse is telling us to do the opposite in our dealings with others. We’re to interact with people in a grace-filled way that is seasoned with wisdom and influenced by an awareness of our covenant with God. As the salt of the earth, we’re meant to remember our covenant loyalty to God and show our faithfulness to Him as we interact with other people.

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Learning More About Covenant Grace

There’s a fascinating relationship between God’s grace and the covenants He makes with people. Until the 5th century (when theologians brought Neo-Platonic philosophy into their interpretation of scriptures), Greek and Roman literature and early Judeo-Christian writings saw charis (grace) as something both relational and reciprocal (Schmidt, p. 201-202). The idea of “grace” as a free gift that God is obligated to give without having any expectations of the recipients was not originally part of the Greek language or of Christianity. Rather, there was a fuller, richer meaning to charis that Jesus, Paul, and other Bible writers used.

I’ve been reading a book on this topic by Brent J. Schmidt, who holds a PhD in classics, called Relational Grace: The Reciprocal and Binding Covenant of Charis (2015). His scholarship on the original meaning of charis is fascinating, but even without that background we can still see that grace comes with expectations. For example, Jesus said the one who “endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22, WEB) and that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20, WEB). We’re saved by God’s grace, and then He expects us to act in a certain way (with His power supporting us, of course).

The Bible talks about Christian conversion as a process and tells us that relationships with God require continued faithfulness. Yet the popular definition of grace in many modern churches still says grace is unmerited favor that God gives without expectation of anything in return. Trying to make these two ideas fit together is confusing, and it’s a problem first-century Christians didn’t have to deal with because they had a different definition for grace.

Ancient Understandings of Charis

Several centuries before Christ’s first coming and until at least the 4th century after, charis was understood as something that involved obligation and reciprocity (Schmidt, ch. 2 and 3). This meaning infused Greek, Roman, Jewish, and later Christian society to the point that everyone knew “receiving charis implied entering into reciprocal covenantal relationships” (p. 63).

Jews knew about covenantal relationships from the Bible. Every commandment was a covenant with God. Several stories, including Joseph, Moses, and David, associate the concepts of grace and mercy with covenants. Greek-speaking Jews lived in a culture that depended heavily on reciprocal relationships and understood what charis meant. When Paul taught them using the words charis, they would have understood that by accepting God’s grace they were making covenantal obligations.

Brent Schmidt, Relational Grace, p. 64

When Jesus Christ came to earth, one of the things that He did was establish a New Covenant on better promises and with a different sort of sacrifice. The Old Covenant was “completely unable … to perfect those who come to worship” (Heb 10:1, NET). In contrast, Jesus took away sin completely, giving us an incredible gift for us that we could never deserve nor repay. When we accept this “charis,” we enter a covenant with Him and His Father.

For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:14-16, NET (OT quotes bolded in this translation)

Grace is so closely connected with covenants that treating “the blood of the covenant ” as “an unholy thing” means someone has “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29). Covenants and laws don’t vanish after Christ’s sacrifice–they move to a heart and spirit level. We can see this in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, where He talks about the deeper, spiritual, enduring applications of God’s law. Paul also talks about this shift from flesh-level to spirit-level in detail when he’s talking about law and covenants.

Grace in Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Shifting our definition of grace to align with the one Paul and his audience would have used gives us a better idea of how to properly interpret Paul’s letters. One of the best places to see that is in Romans 6. Here, Paul talks about how we are “not under law but under grace” (v. 14, NET). This verse and others like it are often read out of context, but if you read the surrounding text the reciprocal and obligatory aspects of charis are easy to see. This is a very long quote, but I think it’s important to look at the whole thing to get enough context to understand Paul’s words.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and do not present your members to sin as instruments to be used for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who are alive from the dead and your members to God as instruments to be used for righteousness. For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace.

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. For when you were slaves of sin, you were free with regard to righteousness.

So what benefit did you then reap from those things that you are now ashamed of? For the end of those things is death. But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end is eternal life. For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:12-23, NET

Many translations use the word “servant” instead of “slave,” but doulos is best translated either as “bondservant” or “slave.” Being bound to serve the Lord in this way was seen as an “honor and a privilege” in the Jewish mindset (NET footnote on Rom. 1:1). It’s a very different sort of thing than slavery in the modern sense. In fact, at the time Paul was writing, the “asymmetrical social relationships between patron and client and between master and salve were founded on the reciprocal notion of charis” (Schmidt, p. 95). When Paul talks of slavery, he’s talking about us being obligated to God for His gifts and bound in a covenant with Him that has expectations.

Living by God’s Spirit

When Jesus healed a man in Bethesda who’d been sick for 38 years, He told the man, “Behold you are made well. Sin no more, so that nothing worse happens to you” (John 5:1-14, WEB). It’s similar to what He told the woman caught in adultery (a story that’s not in the earliest manuscripts but is traditionally included with John’s gospel): “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more” (John 8:11, WEB). In one case, Jesus provided physical healing and in the other He freed her from being condemned to death. After giving these gifts, He told both people that they should respond by doing something specific: stop living a life of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4, NET

The Father and Son have given us incredible gifts. They’ve saved us from sin, adopted us into their family “with full rights of inheritance” (NET footnote on 8:15), and offer continued forgiveness so long as we do our best to follow Them and repent when we miss the mark. In response, “we are under obligation” to live a life lead by God’s spirit (Rom 8:12-14, NET). Being in a reciprocal covenant of grace is not about earning salvation or trying to pay back an impossible debt. It’s about having the right response of thankfulness to the incredible things God has done for us by welcoming us into His family. The more we can learn about that, the deeper relationship we can have with Him.

Featured image by José Roberto Roquel via Lightstock

Speaking In Agreement With God

A few days ago, a specific phrase in the book of Hebrews caught my eye. When I think of this verse, I usually picture the King James translation (or one of the many which follow it closely), which says, “let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Heb. 13:15). This time though, I read it in the World English Bible, which says, “the fruit of lips which proclaim allegiance to his name.”

“Proclaim allegiance” seems like quite a different thing than “give thanks,” so I looked up the Greek word this phrase is translated from. It’s homologeo (G3670), which comes from two root words: homou (G3670), “together with,” and lego (G3004), “to say.” Put together, this word means “to assent, consent, admit,” confess, and/or “be in accord with someone” (Zodhiates’s dictionary). It can also mean “to say the same thing as another” or “declare openly,” often specifically in the sense that you’re proclaiming yourself a worshiper of someone (Thayer’s dictionary). It’s about more than saying “thank you” or even “confessing” (LEB for Heb. 13:15) or “acknowledging” (NET) God’s name. There’s also an element of aligning yourself with God and agreeing with Him.

A Deep, Relational Commitment

How we speak about God–particularly whether or not we align ourselves with Him in our words–matters deeply to Him and affects our relationship with both the Father and Son. Jesus made this very clear early in His ministry.

Whoever, then, acknowledges me before people, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before people, I will deny him also before my Father in heaven.

Matthew 10:32-33, NET

There ought to be a “togetherness” in how we speak about God and with God. If we are acknowledging, confessing, and proclaiming allegiance to Christ, then He does the same for us, claiming us before His Father and “before God’s angels” (Luke 12:8-9). It can’t just be words, though. Our acknowledgement has to hit a deeper level than mere lip-service.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned that those who just say, “Lord, Lord” without doing God’s will won’t be in the kingdom of heaven. To them, Christ says, “I will declare (homologeo) to them, ‘I never knew you'” (Matt. 7:21-23, NET). Speaking together with God is not about good-sounding words that aren’t backed-up with actions. It’s about a confession that changes your life. It’s a commitment so deep that it can even be dangerous (which is what held some people back from aligning themselves with Christ when He walked on his earth, see John 9:22; 12:42).

Aligning with God for Salvation

Confession of this deep, aligning together sort is something that’s connected to salvation. Homologeo is the word used, for example, in this famous scripture:

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.

Romans 10:9-10, NET

John makes a similar observation in his first epistle. First, he points out that “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, WEB). John goes on to talk about the fact that “Whoever denies the Son doesn’t have the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also,” and that we can “know the Spirit of God” by this criteria: “every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 2:23; 4:2, WEB).

If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God resides in him and he in God.

1 John 4;15, NET

In a footnote on 1 John 4:15, the NET translators say, “Here μένει (menei, from μένω [menō]) has been translated as ‘resides’ because the confession is constitutive of the relationship, and the resulting state (‘God resides in him’) is in view.” For these translators, homologeo is a key component of relationship with God.

Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk

The idea that this sort of confession is a life-long process of speaking and living together with God does not just come from a dictionary or a translator’s footnote. Paul connects Timothy’s “good confession” with fighting “the good fight of faith” and taking hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12, WEB). Hebrews links homologeo to the people of faith who “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims in the earth” and lived accordingly (Heb. 11:13, WEB). When done right, our confession is a life-long, transformative thing that involves the fruit of our lips matching our deeds, unlike the people Paul speaks of in this passage:

They profess to know God but with their deeds they deny him, since they are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for any good deed.

Titus 1:16, NET

We want to live very differently than this–as people who profess God and also by our deeds “proclaim allegiance to his name.” Throughout his letters, Paul uses homologeo to talk about salvation and the importance of our verbal confession turning into an allegiance manifested in how we live. It’s about relationship, and choosing to use our words and our lives to align with God and let other people know that we walk with Him.

Featured image by Monika Robak from Pixabay