September 19: Consecration Part 3: Unequally Yoked

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

In Consecrated part 1, we revealed our need for holiness and our call to holiness through grace. In part 2 we looked at holiness as the result of faith in our position in Christ. We become holy as we believe we are holy.

So where does that leave us? Is our holiness strictly passive? Or is there something to do, or to not do?

Paul’s admonition to us in 6:14 is to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. The metaphor comes from putting an ox together with a donkey in a yoke to plow your field. This was forbidden in the Mosaic Law. Why? Because God created things for specific purposes. Oxen and donkeys aren’t designed to work together. In the same way, Christians have a unique purpose, a gospel purpose. We have a different purpose than an unbeliever. Unlike unbelievers, we are ministers of reconciliation.

In what way were the Corinthians yoked to unbelievers? Some see it as their continued involvement in the pagan temples. Eating, worshipping idols, and contributing funds. Others see the opposite here. The unbelievers are those Judaizers that opposed Paul and his gospel. The ones who kept the Corinthians from having an open heart toward Paul.

In either case, the Corinthian Christians were not acting as reconcilers to Christ and his grace. They weren’t holy. You can’t yoke grace and law. When you do, you sacrifice holiness. Like an ox and a donkey, you can’t hitch them both to your heart and expect to be holy. Only one of those two things will produce holiness, and it isn’t law.

The question is, “If I am going to be consecrated to holiness, does this affect my relationships, and how?”

You are designed to be a reconciler unto grace. You are an ambassador of Christ. Therefore, Any relationship that causes you take on a controlling identity other than Christ’s grace is to be avoided.

Paul is not talking about our casual relationships or even our relationships outside of the church. He is not talking about avoiding all those who are not Christians (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). More likely, he is warning us about those within the church who are actually unbelievers bent on a false gospel. Those that would destroy our holiness by mixing grace with law.

Our consecration to holiness does not include moving to some sort of Christian ghetto, where we only eat with Christians, in Christian restaurants, watching Christian movies, at Christian theaters, playing on Christian softball teams, and using Christian contractors to fix our Christian houses that we bought from Christian realtors (you get my point).

It is a call to keep anything from stealing our identity in Christ. Does playing on a softball team yoke me to that team? Yes, it does. But does it become my controlling identity? Well, that’s up to you. Does being a Republican or Democrat yoke me to that political party? Does it change my identity? Does it control me? Is it a “law” that replaces grace?

The more imminent danger for us Christians comes from within the church itself. Teachers, doctrines, books, curricula, those “Christian” movies, these all can steal our holiness by stealing our “need” for grace. We find our comfort in a tradition, or a devotional, or a personality, rather than finding it in the grace of Jesus.

Consecration then takes us back to this place of resting in grace. It takes us back to faith in our union with Christ. It takes us back to “to live is Christ.” And it takes us away from those unbelievers that masquerade as light but they are actually darkness.

Can you identify anyone or any group that is robbing you of your identity in Christ? do any of your relationships replace God’s grace in your life? Are you discerning as to what “believers” you listen to? How can union with Christ allow you to be a minister of reconciliation to unbelievers, while guarding your own identity in Christ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It all comes down to another example of BE WHAT YOU ARE. You have passively, by faith, been placed into fellowship with Christ. Now, actively, by faith, live out your partnership with Christ. To partner your life with anything else is to be unequally yoked.

 

 

September 18: Consecration Part 2: Be What You Are

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

Over three days we’re looking at what it means to be consecrated or dedicated to God in our holiness. In part 1 we saw our need for holiness and our command unto holiness. Today let’s continue pursuing the idea we landed on in part 1: holiness as a work of grace.

One of the most important things to understand about Christianity (and I know many Christians who still don’t understand it) is that it is a BE WHAT YOU ARE faith. We are becoming from our being. We are not what we do. We are what God has made us. And he has made us holy. Any command to be holy must be understood in light of the imputed holiness that we have received in the Great Exchange.

It’s easy to read the 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and see harsh, moralistic commands. But that’s not what this is. And if you look closer, these verses actually make some pretty amazing declarations about you Christian. You are identified with righteousness, light, Christ. You are the temple of God. This is our identity in Christ. And nothing can change this. Not even ourselves.

Our consecration unto holiness is an act of faith. Faith in the new identity. The new creation. The new heart. The new life of Christ that indwells us. Consecration is a reliance upon grace. We must read the command toward holiness and cleansing in this light. The light of our purity in Christ. Consecration begins with resting in grace, and then moves to acting from grace. It begins with trusting in received righteousness, and then it acts in righteousness.

Why does so much consecration amount to nothing? Failed commitments and unkept promises? Why does so much of our consecration result in pride? In The Green Letters, Miles J. Stanford points out that often we are consecrating to God what he has already rejected. We see consecration as an improvement of the old man. But the old man was never meant to be made better. He was meant to die (and he has died). The religious activities, the good deeds, the agreements with God, the “I re-dedicated my life to Jesus” all fail to understand that your consecration and sanctification are rooted in a ONCE FOR ALL TIME reality. Any attempt at consecration or re-dedication that is not founded upon the reality of justifying grace that has made you alive in Christ is rejected by Christ.

Therefore any consecration, dedication, setting apart that we do unto holiness must be, by faith, BEING WHAT WE ALREADY ARE.

In consecration we are carrying out our responsibility of responding to that which he has already done, of willing according to his will, of gladly yielding to him that which already belongs to him. We turn from the old man by counting ourselves to have died unto sin and self. We turn to our position in the risen Lord by counting ourselves as new creations alive unto God in Christ Jesus. – Miles J. Stanford

“To live is Christ” has made you holy. You are the sanctified temple of God. His dwelling. There is no greater consecration than that. Our daily consecration is our response of faith to this. In Christ – consecrated by God. Christ in you – consecrated to God.

Have you made promises and commitments to God that you have failed to keep? Why do you think these consecrations failed? How can your consecration or dedication to holiness flow from faith rather than the flesh today? How does union with Christ allow us to be consecrated unto righteousness from faith in our existing righteousness?

September 17: Consecration Part 1: Completing Your Holiness.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

 

Consecration occurs when we separate or dedicate ourselves to God in holiness. But too often the basis and motivation for this consecration is not sustaining. Why? Because it is not rooted in grace.

You will not grow spiritually until you are convinced of your neediness. You will not sustain your dedication to Christ until you see that you cannot sustain your dedication to Christ.

Paul is issuing a call to holiness in this passage. But too often Christians express this call to holiness as a guilt trip. “Christ died for you, the least you could do is try to be holy.” Often we try to let the “love motive” move us towards deeper levels of consecration, rather than the “faith motive.” The “love motive” seeks holiness based on our love for God. The “faith motive” seeks holiness based on God’s love for us.

Paul loves the Corinthians so much, and God loves us so much, that he’s not afraid to tell us what we need. Holiness is what we need. Holiness is real life.

So over the next three days let’s move through the verses above backwards as we try to understand what true consecration can and should look like.

Completing Your Holiness

Consecration is a dedication to holiness. We were made for holiness. Our union with Christ both demands and empowers it. 2 Corinthians 7:1 exhorts us to cleanse ourselves and bring holiness to completion in the fear of God. 

If life is about being transformed into the image of Christ, and it is, then it must include growth in holiness, right? Christ won’t allow you to not be holy. He will allow you to be crushed under any unequal yoke until you take up his. Your holiness is non-negotiable and inevitable. The Holy One lives in you for goodness sake.

And so the command: cleanse yourself of every defilement, body and spirit.

Please I beg you to understand that you can only consecrate to God what has already been consecrated by God. You can only cleanse what has already been cleansed. Only what has already been set apart by God can be set apart by you.

Hebrews 10:10. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Jesus Christ stood up for us. He got down in the dirt for us. He fought for us. He argued before the judge on our behalf. He offered himself for us. We simply cannot do this ourselves. Self cleansing, self justification, “standing up for ourselves” before a holy judge will never work. To attempt to do so is not real consecration.

We got a glimpse of this a few days ago when Serena Williams lost the US Open tennis championship. Partly because she was outplayed. But also because she lost it over a bad call. And who can blame her? Who among us wouldn’t fight the way she did? Think about the nature of tennis. In almost every other sport you have a coach on the field with you. Standing up for you. Arguing for you. Getting ejected for you. But in tennis, it’s all on you alone to fight the battle. You alone before the judge. And this rarely leads to holiness.

But we have one that has bought our holiness at great price. Therefore, cleansing yourself and completing your holiness is not a self improvement project. It is a grace project.

How does cleansing come? How does holiness come? By sinning and receiving grace, sinning and receiving grace, sinning and receiving grace. Each time becoming more and more reliant on Christ until one day he alone satisfies, and the sin no longer grips your heart.

“To live is Christ” calls for your holiness. But it also hands you completed holiness, and total cleansing by your union with Christ.

Are you consecrated (dedicated, set apart) to holiness? On what basis? How does your union with Christ allow your motivation for holiness to be grace and faith, rather than “I have to love God more and be good?”

September 16: A Heart Wide Open

2 Corinthians 6:11-13. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open.12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. 13 In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.

Paul is begging for reconciliation. He is begging for a real relationship with this church. A relationship of love and grace. His heart is wide open to them. But their hearts are closed. They are restricted by their affections, their loves. Their hearts are narrow.

Ouch.

There’s a very deep lesson for us here, and also a very practical lesson too.

The deeper lesson

Everything we are and everything we do flows from our affections. That is, the loves of our heart. The relational difficulties in Corinth were cause by restricted affections. But why do we restrict our affections? Why do we limit who and what we love? The answer generally is fear. This is why John tells us that “perfect love casts out all fear.”

Why might the Corinthians fear loving Paul? He says, you were not restricted by us. Is he implying that the false teachers, the Judaizers, were restricting them with the Law? Were they afraid of losing the sense of control that the Law provided? Were they afraid of being on the wrong side of history by backing Paul and his theology of the cross?

Fear always drives us inward toward more love of the self. It causes us to focus more and more on “me”. We naturally focus on what makes us feel good about ourselves, or what makes us feel more in control. In this way it becomes a vicious cycle. The more I fear losing control, the more I will focus on keeping that control. Hope, faith, and love are set aside. The seen replaces the unseen. Sight replaces faith. Eventually your desire to be in control will destroy every relationship you have, as there is no room for risk or sacrifice. No room for grace.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell. – C.S. Lewis

Love, however, always moves us outward. Towards others. Caring for others more than you care for yourself. This love comes supernaturally from the Holy Spirit. But as we have seen, the grace of the Holy Spirit can be received in vain. Is this the problem? The Corinthians had the love of God, but simply failed to let it overflow toward Paul?

The practical lesson

If someone isn’t reciprocating love, we must continue to move toward them. Love anyway. Don’t restrict yourself. Keep your heart wide open.

“But what if they never love me back?” “What if this wide open heart is broken?” “What if I am manipulated or maligned?” “What if those I try to love are actually evil?”

Well then, you are in good company. God’s own wide open heart is often rejected. As is Christ’s. As was Paul’s.

But we have the love of God. We are full in Christ. If love is never returned, we hold ever more tightly to the grace of God. We can risk a broken heart for the sake of others and for the cause of Christ, knowing that we will not be put to shame by Christ. “The love of Christ compels us.” We are and always will be loved. Meditating on this truth will keep your heart wide open. This is the power of our union with Christ. This is “to live is Christ.”

Is your life characterized by fear or love? Do you fear losing control to the point that you don’t open up your heart to love? How does union with Christ allow you to have an open heart toward others? Even those who don’t love you back?

September 15: True Freedom

2 Corinthians 3:17. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 6:8-10. through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

What is freedom for the Christian? What does it mean to be free? And how does freedom apply to the life that Paul is describing – the crucified life?

Look again at Paul’s description of his own life and ministry in 2 Corinthians 6:8-10. The Christian life is the the life of the cross. The cross was simultaneous honor and dishonor, slander and praise. The cross was simultaneous dying and living. The cross was sorrow mixed with rejoicing. It was poverty that made others rich. It was having nothing while possessing everything.

We tend to see life as being two separate columns. The glory, good, nice life of God’s blessing column. And then the trials, sadness, mess, obviously you’re a bad Christian column. The goal then of the Christian life becomes to either move or stay in that “good” column, and stay out of the “bad” column.

I was talking to a friend today. Her life has been very chaotic and full of sorrow lately. I asked her how she was doing. She told me that she is tired. Tired of being sad. Tired of crying. Tired of her life being a mess. She spoke of getting past it all. Of figuring out how to not cry herself to sleep at night. She spoke of figuring out how to win.

I asked her why crying was “losing.” We talked about how her tired, sorrowful, messy life was actually the life of the cross. It is the place of grace. And how anything she would do to “win” or to figure out how to not cry, apart from crying out to God, would just be a form of works and a rejection of grace. We read 2 Corinthians 4 and 6 together. We talked about being jars of clay and how we are not called to ever stop being fragile, chipped, and tired jars. We looked at 6:8-10 and Paul’s description of a life that is BOTH dying and living, BOTH sorrowing and rejoicing, BOTH having nothing and having everything.

And this is freedom in Christ. True freedom is found in this place. When you are able to embrace the mess, the weakness, the tears, and cry out for God’s grace. When you can find that in the middle of the dying there is life. In the sorrow there is rejoicing. In the nothing there is everything. In the cross there is glory. Then you are free.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. “To live is Christ” is not the false freedom of being free from the sorrow, the mess, the crying, the dying, the punishment, the dishonor. It is the true freedom of NOT having to figure a way to get past and get over the mess. Rather, it is to find God waiting for you in the middle of the mess.

My friend told me that other Christians have told her that good Christians don’t keep crying, and they move on past their mess. I told her that if that is true then Paul was a really bad Christian.

How do you see the Christian life? Do you see it as moving from sorrow to rejoicing? From dying to living? From having nothing to having everything? Or do you see it as the liberty of living in grace filled space of the mess, the dying, the sorrow, the having nothing while embracing the joy, life, and riches of Christ? How does union with Christ allow us to be free from striving to move past our mess and rather embrace the grace of Jesus in the cross?

And now some good freedom jams!

 

 

 

September 14: Great Sorrow and Great Rejoicing (at the same time)

2 Corinthians 6: 4-10. but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

What does the life of a Christian look life? What does ministry, or in Paul’s case Apostleship, look like? “To live is Christ” means that we will experience the dichotomy of 2 Corinthians 6:4-10.

Paul is describing an extremely difficult life, and no doubt his life was an extreme case. But he is also describing a life of great glory. The glory of genuine love, and the Holy Spirit, and the power of God, with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.

The Christian life is a life of constant sorrowing and constant rejoicing.

Why does union with Christ create such a contrast? Because union with Christ places us in both columns at the same time, all the time. Paul is not describing a life of a little bit of hardship and then a little bit of rest and happiness. He is describing a life of great hardship and a life of great glory happening all at once. It’s not two columns as much as it is one jumbled mix. Sorrowing and rejoicing at the same time. Dying and alive at the same time. Poor and rich at the same time. Having nothing and having everything at the same time.

The Christian life this side of Heaven is not guaranteed victory over each of our struggles. It is guaranteed struggle. The question then becomes, “will you engage these struggles face to face with God embracing his grace along the way?”

This kind of living in both columns at once is only possible in Christ. Without union with Christ, who would ever choose a life of service that would result in even half of what Paul endured? Without union with Christ, who would ever endure sorrow with the hope, faith, and love that Paul displayed? It takes a constant focusing and re-focusing on the indwelling life of Christ for us to live the life of Christ. It takes looking to the glory beyond this life to live a life of constant and simultaneous sorrowing and rejoicing.

Rarely does a week go by for me that I am not one inch away from despair in ministry – literally plotting my escape. And rarely does a week go by that I am not utterly amazed at the glory that God allows me to see in a transformed life, either my own, or someone else’s. Why is life constant sorrow and constant joy. Because that’s what Christ’s life was? Because that’s what the cross was. The greatest of suffering merged with the greatest of joy.

Hebrews 12:2. looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Can you relate to a life of constant sorrowing and constant rejoicing? Does the way Paul described ministry surprise you? Can you relate to his description? How does it reflect our union with Christ  and his death and resurrection?

September 13: Resisting Grace (please don’t)

2 Corinthians 6:1. Working together with [God], then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain.

It’s a strong appeal, almost begging, from God himself through Paul – not to receive the grace of God in vain. God’s grace to us is a gift. A gift that can be resisted.

Whenever we give a gift we tend to ask, “Did they like the gift?” “Did it have the desired effect?” A couple Christmases ago I gave my daughter a scarf. I’ve never seen her wear it (I’m not bitter). The gift was received in vain. Last Christmas I gave her soap and a soap dish made by refugee women. She posted about it on Facebook and I still see the handmade soap dish in her apartment. That gift was not received in vain. It had the desired effect. She uses the gift every day.

What about the gift of grace? The gift of our union with Christ? Yes, you are a Christian. You have trusted in Jesus for forgiveness. You have understood the Great Exchange. You have accepted his vision for the future – the new body, the new creation, the coming judgment through Christ. But then what? If you are like the Corinthians it might look like this:

You reject God’s servants.

You deny the power of the cross for daily living.

You live for the self.

Your try to jump over grace and go straight to glory.

Your heart is not open to others who you view as “spiritually inferior.”

You seek super spiritual experiences.

You expect a life of comfort, not sacrifice.

You say things like “obedience brings blessing.”

For them, and for us, it was far too easy to resist the grace of God and rather to choose a life of earning God’s blessings. It’s the same problem Paul identified in Galatia as well.

Galatians 3:3. Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Like the Galatians, the Corinthians thought they were somehow still living in the old age. The Old Covenant. They were being deceived by false teachers into believing they were still under Law. This is why in 2 Corinthians 6:2 Paul has to remind them that:

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

He’s not saying that today is a good day to become a Christian (they already were Christians). He’s telling them what he already told them back in 5:17 – they already are the New Creation. The new age of salvation is here. The great day of the Lord that the prophets spoke of has begun. Now is that day!

So stop living like your under Moses when your united to Christ. Stop resisting the grace that comes by way of his indwelling life. Stop relying on your own righteousness and rely on grace. Stop avoiding Christ by being bad. And stop avoiding Christ by being good. Instead rest in grace. Stop avoiding sacrifice because it might be hard or painful. There’s grace for that.

Christian, “to live is Christ” means that you have the most powerful force in the world inside of you – God’s grace. You have received it, but have you received it in vain? Is it buried in your drawer, or tucked away in your closet? Are you using it? Or are you still self condemning  and self justifying? Are you admitting your imperfections and clinging to grace, or are you trying to be perfected by the flesh?

Grace is like an ambulance. You can’t get to the hospital without it, but you don’t have to get in either. I beg you, like Paul, don’t resist God’s grace. Get in the ambulance. Grace is all we’ve got that’s worth anything, and it is worth everything. It is the power of God.