Category Archives: Sermon on the Mount

Guilt – The Evidence of Sin

Reposted

What is the evidence for sin?

There are several primary pieces of evidence left in the trail of everyone bent by sin. Since God requires man recognize sin in self and the world He decrees the evidence remain obvious. His declaration of sin as rebellion against Him is all the verification for sin He needs. He always tells the truth and demands His creation live in truth declared. Man is created in the image of God. It is this image which gives us the tools to know truth, the difference between right and wrong and the reality of physical death pointing toward spiritual death. 

Even if we don’t know the word “sin” we do know the feeling “guilt.” In the New Testament the word “guilty” means to owe or to be in debt. In the Hebrew Scripture the word “guilty” means to commit an offense and be held responsible, either by self or an authority. Whether in the Hebrew Scripture or New Testament the guilty person is held and judged against a specific standard. This recognition of “guilt” points to sin and the intellectual acknowledgment of its reality, not the emotional realization of the consequences which follows. Emotions are subjective, influenced by many uncontrollable and unpredictable external and internal circumstances. Both our minds and the emotions, parts of the image of God, are corrupted by sin and so we cannot see, or will not see, and understand sin’s reality. 

No one can live with a guilty conscience for long. They must do something with the guilt. For sinful humanity one of the prevalent means for easing the shame brought on by sinful actions and attitudes is to change the standard which judges those actions and attitudes. We say what we have done is not rebellion and has violated no law and then we convince ourselves the lie is true. Doing this gives us permission to continue living out the lie. Or, we do something to absolve ourselves of the guilt. We offer restitution and pay for our sin using our own means and then feel better. Doing this never changes the truth of history and the reality of what has been done. Nor, because of the doctrine of depravity, will we adequately pay for our own sin, either actively or passively. We either ignore the rules and our rebellion against them or we explain away our rebellion and alleviate our feeling of guilt. 

But wait. Our heads, the intelligence, tells us “guilt” is real. Our heads, our minds, tell us we have done something to produce guilt. If we are honest we will recognize there is an objective standard existing outside of self which is absolute and which we have violated, producing guilt. We know, intellectually, the difference between right and wrong. This is the second piece of evidence for sin. Admitting one is guilty is as vitally important as recognizing the truth of sin. Ignoring the guilt will compel the person to begin viewing the created world, governed by the absolute laws of God, to believe a lie, which is insane.

It is not a great leap to realize a standard, a measurement of the distance between right and wrong, must have a Standard Giver. Since God, the Standard Giver, has created people in His image all are able to recognize both the standard of right and wrong and the One upon whom the standard is based. We know, intellectually as well as intimately, the boundaries of that standard. We may ignore them, rationalize them away, say they do not nor have never existed, call them something else, but we know, even corrupted by sin, the difference between right and wrong. 

We also know we always want to choose that which is wrong. In order to abrogate our responsibility to do what is right by choosing to do the wrong we must redefine truth, saying it is something it is not. When we do this we say God is something other than what He is truly. 

Truth, and right and wrong, are as absolute as mathematics. Evidence for the reality of sin is the recognition of what is right and what is wrong based upon the intimate knowledge of the intrinsic, objective standard of God, the truth, known because of the tools given within the image of God carried by all. 

Recognition of Depravity

Reposted

Those who are poor in spirit recognize the reality and truth of sin and their own inability to not sin or have a relationship with God because of sin. They understand depravity.

No one likes the word “depravity” any more than they like the word “sin.” “Depravity” describe better than any other word the complete inability of those bent by sin to change, by their own will and effort, and do anything pleasing and acceptable to God. 

Notice what God says about those created in His image just before He sends the flood.

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen. 6:5-7)

Sin is, in its essence, selfishness, the desire to control and covet that which uniquely belongs to God. Although there are many words which may describe sin and its corruption of humanity “depravity” captures the absolute extent of people’s rebellion against God. 

What is depravity? It is corruption of that which was good making it evil. Anything which is made impure is considered depraved.

What are some of the observable characteristics of depravity? 

First and foremost there is no love for God. God showed His supreme love for humanity by sending His Son as a sacrifice of atonement for sin. He did this because we could not atone for our own sin. Yet, no one is able and all are unwilling to show any love toward Him. He is rejected because in our selfishness and self-centeredness we prefer self to Him, pleasing self above and before Him. 

Secondly, when confronted by God through His Spirit and called by Him, commanded by Him, to receive His Son, we show hatred toward Him. As long as He stays within the restrictions and boundaries of our imposed perception, as long as we think we can control Him, we may tolerate Him, and even show slight devotion to Him. Here is religion at its most worldly and basic level, to proclaim an illusion of god without embracing the real God. 

Thirdly, since everything we do, think and feel, since our attitudes and motivations, are essentially selfish and self-centered, even self-righteous, we do nothing which pleases Him or meets His eternal standard. 

Finally, we are constantly moving away from God into self, unable and unwilling to draw near to Him. 

Make this personal. Writing and thinking in the abstract gives an impression of being absolved from the guilt which comes from rebellion to God. Thinking abstractly, in the “we” and not the concrete “I” allows us to control how we think and what we feel by losing ourselves in the larger community. Change your thinking from “we” to “I” and begin taking responsibility. 

Those who are poor in spirit recognize their thinking and attachments are not upon God but on self. They understand a righteous God judges according to a righteous standard and all those in rebellion are facing His righteous judgment. They recognize the lie of self-righteousness and take responsibility for the thinking of their hearts toward God. They also learn quickly they can do nothing and must rely upon God’s grace and none of their works for all of their actions are done in rebellion.

What is the Image of God?

Edited and Reposted

Before we can understand the truth of sin we must know what God originally intended for man. We cannot know how history would have been had Adam not fallen. No one knows and God is not telling. He does give a good description of Adam and Eve before sin corrupted their nature. We have a brief description of creation and a revealed description of God. God created Adam and Eve, the first humans, in His image.

God never gives theology in a clean, complete, systematic way. He does make absolute statements through His actions, His work and the words He uses from the mouth of His prophets, support for specific doctrines. Theology is the study of the person of God and His stamp of ownership on what He has created. I call the study of theology friendship with God, for it is the intimacy of friendship that drives the desires to know Him in more than a cursory, shallow way.

God reveals Himself and having created man in His image gave the tools needed for friendship and intimate relationship with Him. His image is not Him. Man is not God but like God in ways that allow for closeness and intimacy. We grow to know God as we grow to know ourselves. Not our corrupted selves but self as God originally intended and recreated and given the likeness of Christ for those who truly follow His Son.

What then is the image of God?

God is not a physical being. Therefore, His image is not a physical image. He is Spiritual and He created man a physical being with a spiritual nature. Like Adam our spiritual nature is the means through which we have a relationship with God, our Creator.  

God’s Spirit is indefinable and unexplainable, knowable only to Himself.  When God created Adam He took already existing matter, stuff He previously created and made a man. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). 

“Breath” suggests either soul or spirit. After Jesus’ resurrection He gave the Holy Spirit to His disciples when He breathed on them. “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:22). God breaths on someone and He gives them life. Not physical life but spiritual life guaranteeing existence for eternity. spirit

Before the fall God “walked” in the garden and spoke to man, which suggests Adam spoke with God in return. Each had an intimate and free relationship. We know this because God states Adam and Eve hid from Him when they heard Him walking in the garden. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). This was not His first stroll in the garden. He creates for His enjoyment. So, the garden and all in it was created and enjoyed by Him.  This includes Adam and Eve. He enjoyed them and they enjoyed Him. Yet, when they rebelled against Him they ceased enjoying Him and became afraid and “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.” 

They knew God. Why would they think they could hide themselves from Him? God walking with them, and their hiding from Him, is pertinent evidence for their intimacy with Him and the breaking of intimacy with Him because of their rebellion. Walking with God is having intimacy with Him.

God created man with the ability to think, feel and act. These are three more elements of the image of God. Since God created people perfect, whole and complete, He meant for everyone to think, feel and act as He thinks, feels and acts. However, even angels have a relationship with God and think, feel and act. Yet we are not told that angels were created in His image. So what is it about man that is unique, which sets man apart from angels? There is one characteristic man has, which God has shared with man, which angels do not seem to have.  

God gave man “dominion” which means to “rule” and “subjugate” or to “cause to dominate” as in, God giving man the rights of domination over physical creation, the Earth. Man controlled the planet. God created the planet and gave it into Man’s care. 

Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28)

Dominion, while not lost, was corrupted. Instead of living in a garden, in peace and tranquility, caring for the world, man was shoved into a harsh, unforgiving, uncontrollable environment. Instead of man ruling over the beasts, the birds and the creatures of the deep, these became afraid of man and in some instances man became afraid of them. Work changed from a pleasurable activity to a curse, from easy and natural to hard and tedious. What man retained was the desire to control while losing all control.  Man continues to try to exercise dominion, control, over everything, including God.  

Man’s desire to control, also known as covetousness, is a characteristic of the essence of man’s rebellion (see Exod. 20:7; Mic. 2:2; Rom. 7:7; Jas. 4:2).

There is one more element of the image of God given people. It is a characteristic describing Christ’s deepest essence. Jesus is characterized as have the morphe of God and the morphe of a Servant yet being in the shape or physical appearance of a man. Adam was not created to rebel against God but to server Him by caring for and having dominion over the Garden of Eden and the Earth.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form (morphe) of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form (morphe) of a servant (doulos), being born in the likeness (homoioma) of men. And being found in human form (schema), he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

Paul uses a word from Greek philosophy to describe who Jesus is in His deepest, unchangeable nature. Morphe or “form” means that which make something what it is. This may be hard to grasp but everything created by God has an essential characteristic that defines its nature. This characteristic may be indescribable but is nonetheless, true and real. In biology we could say the DNA we carry not only defines us as human but also makes us unique from every other human. Though Paul did not know about DNA he did understand each person is unique but still a person made in the image of God. Yet, Jesus was not created. He is the Creator. He has the “DNA” of God. He also has the “DNA” or “form” of a servant. Adam was given, not the “DNA” of God but the “DNA” of a servant as part of the image of God.

Paul uses two more words, “likeness” and “fashion,” to describe Jesus. “Likeness” means to resemble while “fashion” tells us the mode or circumstance of His life was exactly that of every other human. He was (and is) a man, having moved through all the physical stages required of people from conception and birth, through growth to death. He didn’t just look like a man. He was (and is) a man. However, Jesus did not carry, as part of His being, the sinful nature of corrupted man. He is fully God and fully a servant resembling a man with all of the physical characteristics that define a human from beginning to end. Jesus was and is human the way God originally intended for Adam and Eve and for all humanity.

Poor in Spirit Briefly Described

Reposted

What, then, does it mean to be poor in spirit

“Spirit” may have many different meanings including the rational self and the ability to think, feel and decide, all elements of the image of God. “Spirit” may also mean that which eternally lives or dies, beings that inhabit the spiritual realm whether good or evil, or the essence of man when separated from the physical. Some equate the soul with the spirit of man. Others will say the spirit referred to speaks only to the motivation or intent of the person and has nothing to do with the continuing existence of the person after physical death. Jesus uses the word spirit to define the person in their entirety, past, present and future, rational, emotional, willful, physical and eternal (see Matt. 26:41; Mark 2:8; Luke 1:47, 80; John 4:23, 24; John 6:63).

Where I work I am surrounded by physically, mentally, emotionally and financially, poor people. They are the financially unfortunate, the lazy and the mentally unstable. Many live on the street, curled around cement pillars, huddled into doorways and camped along the river. Others find temporary respite in overflowing homeless shelters. Some want to live on the street, deluded into thinking and feeling comfortable in low existence, while others are completely unaware, lost in their delusions. By the end of the month many have sold or used up their medications making them dangerous to themselves and all around. These people beg for hand-outs while receiving government hand-outs, existing without producing. They are the poor of the poor. Not everyone I encounter fits this description. Many do.

When Jesus says poor in spirit what does he mean by “poor?” He uses a word which means utterly “helpless” and completely “destitute” of everything even remotely acknowledged as valuable, unable or “powerless to accomplish” anything. Someone who is poor is someone completely dependent upon another for anything and everything necessary to sustain life. Everything. Food and cloths, shelter and bedding, medicines. They have nothing they can call their own. They have no purpose, no direction, no responsibility. They simply exist. In effect, they are a burden upon society. 

Being poor is not a sin. Most of the people in the world are poor. They do not have the same level of wealth as found in the “Western” world. Nor does the attitude toward wealth define poverty of spirit, though attitude and associated actions show evidence of the thinking of the heart. Most of the world’s population live, and for all history have lived, surviving hand to mouth. 

In this country few starve to death though many go hungry. Most of the transients I see are well-fed. They have everything they need and are content in their condition. I have more than I need and am not content. They don’t know how poor they are while I don’t know how rich I am. I use the word “know” as an activity of the mind. Discontentment with physical wealth is distracting, producing a desire to have more and control what one has. Contentment in poverty is debilitating, robbing the individual of the desire to move forward and not stagnate. Both attitudes evidence the depths of sin. Being poor, or rich, or comfortable, is not sinful. Forgetting God, whether through contentment with the status quo or discontentment with the level of wealth, is sin. Both wealth and poverty are an excuse to hide from the truth of sin.

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit: Introduction

Reposting on the Sermon on the Mount

Introduction

Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3)

What does a Christian look like? How do they act? 

In the first few verses of Matthew 5 Jesus gives the defining characteristics of the citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. He begins by blessing those who are “poor in spirit.” Those who are poor in spirit are those who recognize the truth of sin in themselves and the world and hate sin. Conversely, someone who is poor in spirit will passionately love God and relentlessly seek truth.

Being poor in spirit means hating sin, first in self, and then in the world.

Jesus describes the citizen of the kingdom of heaven by defining the absolute difference between those who do not know they are under the control of sin and those who do. Sin turns the thinking of the heart around, pointing the sinner away from God. Sin affects the core of the person, revealing itself in every action, word, attitude and hidden motivation. God is more interested in who the person is within the thinking of their hearts than in what they do. However, what a person does shows the evidence of whom they are. 

Ultimately, Christians have both the image of God and the likeness of Christ. God’s image, given to Adam and Eve, is included in the likeness of Christ. However, the likeness of Christ is not necessarily included in the image of God. Though we have the image of God we are corrupted, bent away from our created nature. We are separated from the One who created us in His image. Those with like images are uniquely suited for an intimate relationship. Sin has broken the relationship God desires with us. To remedy this broken relationship God recreates those who are His into the likeness of Christ. We are not fixed, patched or repaired. We are completely changed as if we were never broken. Christ’s likeness, like the image of God, is a freely given and indistinguishable part of every person redeemed by God. 

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)

Having a deep, whole, awareness of sin is the first piece of evidence of being “poor in spirit. I am not speaking about understanding the consequences of sin. Coming to grips with the consequences of sin is discussed in the next chapter. Too often Christians jump over the fact of sin and settle smugly on the easily comprehended consequences because they believe these consequences are easier to control. Sin’s consequences are important but are not the beginning. 

He Has Done It

The LORD has heard my plea;  
the LORD accepts my prayer.(Psalm 6:9 ESV)

God hears. He pays attention to and takes an interest in the prayers, pleas and weeping of His Son and those who have taken refuge in Him. Heard means to give attention, to not only listen to but to understand in the deepest way, to have a case, as in a court of law, presented and received and recognized. A plea is a supplication for favor, a request and appeal, again, as in a case brought before a court of law. Prayer is offered to God. It is a calling upon, talking to and with, the Lord. 

After the fall and expulsion from the Garden, Adam and Eve had children, who also had children. “At that time people began to call upon the name of the LORD” (Genesis 4:26 ESV). To call means to summon, invite, to cry out and proclaim. People, created in the image of God, close enough to the beginning of creation, knowing their separation from Him, yet knowing His presence, sought Him out. This did not happen for long. After a time, people stopped seeking Him and began doing that which they determined right. “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). Some continued to call upon God, seeking His face. Most turned their backs on Him who created them.

There is only One person who truly seeks God. He is the One Righteous Man of Psalm 1 and the Anointed Son and King over all of Psalm 2. He is Jesus. God hears Him when He prays. Not just an acknowledgement of His words, or an understanding of His case, but a drawing Him into His presence in an intimate relationship. 

Taking three of His disciples with Him up a mountain to pray, Jesus was transformed before them as they came into the presence of God. “And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29 ESV; see Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:2-3). Jesus often went away from people to pray. This is the only time we are aware of where people went with Him and watched. Is there any reason to not believe every time Jesus prayed alone He was not also transfigured, changed as He came into God’s presence? Jesus knows when He speaks to God He is heard.

God not only hears, He accepts His prayer. To accept means to take in the hand, hold onto, carry away, capture and seize, possess and choose. Those who accept, claim intimacy. Two people accept each other in marriage, holding onto each other, carrying each away from others, seizing and possessing and choosing each other over every other. God instituted marriage between the first Man and Woman, Adam and Eve, and declared them the example for all future marriages. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 ESV). In the same way marriage is an acceptance of a covenant decision to hold fast to each other, so God accepts the prayer of Jesus, holding fast to Him in a relationship that cannot be divided. God hears His plea and accepts His prayer.

Jesus taught His disciples how to pray. He did this through example and demonstration, but also through direct instruction. 

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:5-8 ESV)

Do not be like the workers of evil He rejects, though they present themselves as His. Do not be like the hypocrites, who desire the people to worship them and not God. Be like Jesus. Impossible. We are commanded to follow Him, to be perfect (Matthew 5:48) and be holy. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16; see Leviticus 11:44, 19:2, 20:7). We cannot do anything perfect or holy in ourselves. We must be lost and abandoned to Him, in Him, covered by His righteousness and empowered by His grace and strength, to do His commands. It is the only way. He has done it. 

The Sound of Weeping

Depart from me, all you workers of evil, 
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. (Psalm 6:8 ESV)

Who are David’s foes? What have they done to make themselves his enemy? How has David’s enemies attacked him, causing him grief and agony? Those who rebel against God and His authority are David’s enemies. Those who reject the Son, refusing to kiss Him, are against him. “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled” (Psalm 2:10-12 ESV). David’s enemies are those who fight against God by warring against those whom God has chosen as His own. Jesus’ enemies are those God created in His image, for service to Him, who He loves and blesses, but who refuse to obey and receive that which God offers. God’s enemies are His people.

Depart means to turn aside, to be removed, to take or put away, to come to an end. Workers of evil are those who actively cause trouble, wickedness, sorrow, who are idolaters. These are the people who teach those under their authority to actively rebel against God, to violate God’s laws and decrees, and to fight against their God given nature, becoming that which God does not intend. 

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?  
The kings of the earth set themselves, 
and the rulers take counsel together, 
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart 
and cast away their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3 ESV)

They persecute those who are God’s because they hate God. They do the opposite of what God wants. God will drive them away and they will perish because His Son, who wept over them when He saw Jerusalem, will finally stop mourning and judgment will come.

Jesus, in several places, exposes the hypocrisy of those who say they love God but do not act loving. He uses the analogy of a narrow door to show how impossible it is to follow the path of the world into God’s presence.“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24 ESV). The Master of the house will shut the door and though those outside beg and plead, suggesting they had done so much for the Master, He will send them away, rejecting their work as worthless, and turning them away. He will turn His back on them because they turned their backs on Him.“But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”  (Luke 13:27 ESV, see Luke 13: 22-30).

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus teaches the characteristics of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven. Those who recognize the truth of sin, who realize the consequences of sin and who relinquish control to God, will do those things that identify them as citizens of His kingdom. Those who claim citizenship yet do not show the evidence of change may claim God’s approval, but will not receive His blessing.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

Ultimately and eternally it is not whether the person says they know God but whether God knows them. God knows them because He is omniscient. He does not know them as a citizen because they are not, having refused His grace and command to obedience. In the thinking of their hearts they continue rebelling against Him.

God feels the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow. His Son felt the grief that came with being rejected by those He loves. His anger at the religious leaders boils over in the His proclamation against the Scribes and Pharisees who wield the authority of Moses (Matthew 23:2). Jesus warns the people against becoming like them because of their hypocrisy. The religious leaders want the people to look to them, even worship them, instead of God. They put heavy burdens on people, declaring it is God who wants His people burdened. They are like “whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness”  (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV). Jesus then laments over Jerusalem and the people He created in His image for relationship with Him.“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37 ESV). Jesus wants them to intimately know Him, as He cares for and loves them. They refuse. As He drew near Jerusalem that last week, His grief over the rebellion of His people distressed Him. He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). God hears the sound of His weeping.