March 11, 2012

Sinners together in this battle

Even though I believe in God and my life belongs to Jesus Christ, sometimes I act as if I’m a practicing atheist, as if God does not exist and I don’t need Him at all. Such is the attitude of that old sin nature that battles against the Holy Spirit, wanting to rule me instead of behaving as one who has been crucified with Christ. 
I’ve often wondered why God did not eradicate that sinful nature so I could belong to Him without battling the flesh (along with the world and the devil). However, He gives me the challenge of denying that old self and resisting its determination to be the boss. Does He do that so I can relate to the peril that others are in, so I can have compassionate concern for the very real danger of those without faith and show them mercy? 

In these last days (the days from Jesus’ ascension until He returns), there are scoffers. This term can also be translated as false teachers, those who mock the gospel. They deny their own sin and their need for forgiveness and salvation. Instead of following Jesus, they follow the dictates of their own desires.
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. (Jude 17–23)
In my fleshy self, I tend to go to two extremes. On one hand, I behave like a scoffer and follow my fleshy desires. On the other, I am far from merciful, condemning scoffers and treating them with anything but mercy. It is to this kind of behavior that Jude says, “Keep yourself in the love of God.” 

How do I do that? I know that Jesus said I need to abide in Him and that apart from Him I can do nothing. He linked abiding with obedience and with loving others.
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. . . As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:5, 9–10)
This kind of love is not an emotion. If I try to have the right feelings for those who mock Jesus Christ and my faith in Him, it will not happen. Instead, love is expressed in actions of obedience. Doing what God says is the way to be loving and merciful toward those who cause divisions, those who are worldly and devoid of the Spirit. 

Love is about being merciful to those who believe in Christ as well. Jude 23 hints that some may hit the fringes of faith and tumble into doubt. Their garments (robes of righteousness) are stained by the flesh, making them appear to be almost as worldly as the scoffers. I’m called to love these also, acting in ways that show them that Jesus cares about them, no matter what state they are in. He wants them to see His care in my actions.

For me, this kind of mercy requires a mind-set of remembering the power of God, first in my own life. Do I think that I can keep myself in this place of being loved by God and saved by Jesus Christ? Of course not. He did it and He does it. It is as Jude says at the end of his letter:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)
Because it is God through Jesus Christ that keeps me, I can look to Him to do the same for all who belong to Him, and even all who do not. Because I stumble and fail, I can be merciful to others who stumble and fail, whether they are worldly scoffers or Christians who have fallen into doubt or stained their righteousness by fleshy and sinful behavior. I know what it is like, have been there and done that, and have no reason to put myself on a pedestal. The only way to keep myself in the love of God is to remember that I do not deserve His love any more than anyone else.

Jesus, I know full well that without You, there is no obedience. Whatever You command today, whatever challenges await me, grant me grace and mercy that I might obey You. May I hate any stains that mar the righteousness that You have given me, but instead of condemning others in the same predicament, remember that You can present each one of us blameless before the throne of God.

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