December 18, 2015

Staying out of danger may not avoid suffering

Jeremiah 33:1–34:22, Romans 8:1–17, Proverbs 22:1–16

This week, someone drove into the side of a train. Reason? They were not paying attention. While that driver might not have been simple minded, Solomon may have disagreed. One of his proverbs says, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” (Proverbs 22:3)

Jeremiah gave warnings of danger to God’s people before the exile: “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known . . . . I have hidden my face from this city because of all their evil.’” But that condemnation was not the end of God’s plan.

He continued, “Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it . . . . the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 33:1-11)

Lest they think they would be scot-free, He also warned them to truly repent: “You recently repented and did what was right in my eyes by proclaiming liberty, each to his neighbor, and you made a covenant before me in the house that is called by my name, but then you turned around and profaned my name when each of you took back his male and female slaves, whom you had set free according to their desire, and you brought them into subjection to be your slaves . . . . You have not obeyed me by proclaiming liberty, every one to his brother and to his neighbor; behold, I proclaim to you liberty to the sword, to pestilence, and to famine, declares the Lord. I will make you a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Jeremiah 34:15–17)

Repentance and obedience is a mark of faith and of a sincere commitment to follow the Lord. However, those who continue doing whatever they desire as the Israelites did, are marked as unfaithful and destined for severe chastening which could include death. In those days, death was literal as well as spiritual. In the NT, death often means both, or simply separation from God.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5–8)

Christians who sin are following the desires of the flesh. Yet because of Christ and the grace and power of God, we are never separated from God: “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:10–11)

That is good news, but that does not mean I am free to do whatever I want. Sin brings with it a sense of exile, a sense that God is not pleased, even that He is not with me. I feel it in my very bones, even though I know He promises to never leave or forsake me. Because He lives in me, His displeasure is real and felt. Soon I am hating sin and wanting to walk in the Spirit as I also feel His desire for me, His child: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Romans 8 goes on to encourage endurance: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Saying no to sin can mean a heightened sense of God’s presence, but it can also mean suffering. Many times, sin involves a choice between personal comfort and obedience. Jesus suffered in the flesh because suffering was part of His obedience. To be like Christ means that I must do the same — or wind up in Babylon.

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