Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Sins

I told you that I discovered Stuart Briscoe on the local Bible radio station.  Since then, I have bought one of his books, Holiness Without the Halo, and listened to several of his Telling the Truth podcasts.  In them, he uses Scripture to tackle the topic of sin and how to defeat it with remarkable grace.  

Sin is something we struggle with every day, and it isn't always the "obvious" sins that give me the most trouble. In the book, Mr. Briscoe talks about two lifestyles of sin that seem opposite at first.  In his discussion of Paul's letter to the Galatians and our freedom in Christ, he addresses legalism and licentiousness.  

A legalist, he says, insists that Christians follow strict rules that detail what holy living looks like.  These rules are not necessarily Biblical, but are meant to be a hedge to encourage us to follow the true commands of God. For instance, rules about how long a skirt should be actually set up a boundary that goes beyond God's call to be modest.  These rules also don't address the issues of the heart that are so important in modesty. The same could be said for rules about which rating movie is okay to watch or which words are okay to say. This is not to say that boundaries are a bad thing.  But when someone trusts in boundaries to make her holy instead of the Holy Spirit, she is much more likely to be judgmental of those Christians who don't recognize the exact same boundaries.  

The other sin in Galatians that Mr. Briscoe identifies is licentiousness. A licentious person is one who agrees that we have freedom in Christ, so much so that she feels free to indulge the flesh in ways that are not holy.   Paul dealt with this too.  "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).  It seems Christians in that day were being influenced by both the freedom of the gospel and Greek philosophy. The Greek Gnostics taught that only the spirit mattered and that anything done in the flesh was unimportant.  Twisted together unnaturally, these two philosophies led to a living in excess that the Kardashians would love! 

The author points out that these sins, legalism and licentiousness, are not actually opposites, but two sides of the same coin.  Both are enemies of holiness, and they have the same root cause!  That cause is the flesh.  The legalist believes she can be holy by her own effort, literally by the flesh (Galatians 3:2-3).  She's the one who goes around with a ruler to measure other girl's skirts. The one who is licentious doesn't want any commands to holy living intruding on her freedom in Christ, and instead gratifies the flesh. She's the one who goes out dressed like a hooker because she has freedom in Christ and her Christian brothers' lust is not her responsibility.  These sisters (who are probably not great friends!) both have the same problem -- the flesh wars with the Spirit.

So what is the answer?  How do we let the Spirit win the war?   How much is based on our effort and how much is based on the Spirit's work in our lives?  In one of Stuart Briscoe's podcasts, "No Condemnation, No Separation," he takes a close look at Romans 8.  Verse thirteen says this: 

for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (emphasis mine)

Notice the interplay.  "By the Spirit you are putting to death..."   It takes both!  I can't put sin to death in my life all by myself, no matter how many rules I follow.  The Spirit can't come in unilaterally and kill the sin in my life without my acquiescence.  Mr. Briscoe used the analogy of an internal combustion engine; it takes both a spark and fuel for it to run.  

Well, my knowledge of engines wouldn't fill a 3x5 index card, but I did see a church sign that summed it up nicely: You make the choice; God makes the change.  Stuart Briscoe, based on these verses and others, says the answer for all of us, legalist and licentious alike, is to recognize our accountability AND the Spirit's ability in eradicating sin in our lives.  

He doesn't stop there.  He goes further to say that if you know which side you are more likely to fall on, then concentrate on the other for awhile. Left to my own devices, I would be a legalist.  I would try to be as holy as possible all by myself by following a list of rules.  I would read Ephesians 4-6 and skip chapters 1-3.  I would expect everyone around me to follow the same rules, and I would judge those who don't as less holy than me.  The problem is that I can never be holy at all that way.  So in the last few weeks, I have spent more time considering the role of the Spirit in my life.  I have spent more time in prayer, asking God's Spirit to change me.  I have humbly thanked Him when I see the changes that I know I couldn't make myself.  I haven't forgotten my accountability, but I'm training my eyes to see His ability in transforming me into the holy daughter of God He wants me to be.  

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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