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Phoney Rabbis, Lost Discernment and the Eddie Long Disaster

Line between megachurch and Eddie Long’s estate is blurry | www.wsbtv.com

Because I have such strong convictions about (against) the “Word of Faith” (or prosperity gospel) movement, I am going to keep my comments to a minimum. However, I urge you to read this post (at the top) from a widely read charismatic periodical. Study it closely, click the links (even though I couldn’t watch the entire “coronation” video due to the nausea – literally – it induced), and research what has led up to this mockery. Also search for Paula White’s involvement in a similar scenario. And, while you are at it, look up the definition of “king” and “coronation.”

Although I admit to some serious bias, this article nails it. This is scandalous but, it seems to me, this is the logical progression of a theology that is so overtly ethnocentric – putting man’s wants at the center of faith and treating God as if He is some kind of cosmic ATM. And that is exactly what the prosperity gospel espouses (subtly and not so subtly) – put distorted promises in and get earthly prosperity in return. It’s all about “us” and not about Him. Forgive my bluntness but there is a Hebrew word for this. It’s translated “garbage!”

Tragically, hordes have been blinded from seeing what a travesty this is. Way too many have been led to buy into what I believe is a false gospel, taught by false teachers, and have had their faith shipwrecked in the process. Can we not see how man-centered this is? How it dishonors the Lord of glory (who is the only King we are called to follow) and exalts depraved men (and women)? I am unwilling to speculate on the potential collateral  damage that has been done by these teachings and these teachers.

But enough of my ramblings – I’m fallible but God’s Word isn’t. So let’s hear from the Apostle Peter, who is much more of an authority on false prophets and doctrine than I am. Don’t just trust me. Read the Scriptures and test these things with biblical truth. And may we all pray for discernment, God’s will be done, and Jesus alone be exalted.

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. In their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation, [pronounced] long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep… then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, especially those who follow the polluting desires of the flesh and despise authority. Bold, arrogant people! They do not tremble when they blaspheme the glorious ones; however, angels, who are greater in might and power, do not bring a slanderous charge against them before the Lord. But these people, like irrational animals-creatures of instinct born to be caught and destroyed-speak blasphemies about things they don’t understand, and in their destruction they too will be destroyed, suffering harm as the payment for unrighteousness. They consider it a pleasure to carouse in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, delighting in their deceptions as they feast with you, having eyes full of adultery and always looking for sin, seducing unstable people, and with hearts trained in greed. Accursed children…These people are springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind. The gloom of darkness has been reserved for them. For uttering bombastic, empty words, they seduce, by fleshly desires and debauchery, people who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them. For if, having escaped the world’s impurity through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in these things and defeated, the last state is worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to its own vomit, and, “a sow, after washing itself, wallows in the mud” (2 Peter 2:1-3; 9-14; 17-22).

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**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas as a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
 

This is the second part of a discussion (see the previous post for part 1) concerning who the Christ-child of Christmas really is. In the last post we looked at Isaiah 9:1-5 and saw that the baby Jesus is the Savior, the Messiah. He came to emancipate the captives, enlightened the darkened, ensure the joy of His people, ease the burdens of His chosen, and eventually end all conflict. So let’s continue in Isaiah 9, focusing now on verses 6 and 7, to more fully answer the question, what Child is this? This time we will find the Christ of Christmas as Ruler (and King). 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). 

Here we see baby Jesus depicted as: 

  • God the Son (v. 6)
  • Eternal Governor (v. 6)
  • Wonderful Counselor (v. 6)
  • Mighty God (v. 6)
  • Everlasting Father (v. 6)
  • Prince of Peace (v. 6)
  • Forever King (v. 7)
  • Righteous Ruler (v. 7) 

Much could be said of each of these designations but the one theme that is unmistakable is power, or authority. When we ponder the Christ of Christmas, do we see Him with these attributes and titles? The manger-born baby seems harmless enough to many. Our primary perception of Jesus is as Savior. For the most part, Jesus as Savior is relatively inoffensive. But ruler, King and judge? That’s usually not our view of this infant whose birth has sparked our holiday festivities. But just as much as this child is Savior, He is also Lord – King of kings and Lord of lords. And before Him eventually all will bow down and confess Him as such. 

This worship is foreshadowed in the saga of Christ’s birth. The Magi from the east recognized the kingly nature of the Christ-child. They brought Him gifts worthy of a great ruler. Whether they knew it or not, this baby would one day be the lightning rod of both the redemption and condemnation of mankind. All men will be judged based upon their relationship with Jesus; the One God the Father has given all things. 

Although Jesus took on the “tent” of humanity, He is still God of very God. And His humbling of Himself and coming to us as a child is the reason not only for our hope but also for His eventual and ultimate glorification and reign: 

“…Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

This Christmas season, and beyond, I urge us all to contemplate the significance of the titles given Christ in Isaiah 9:6-7. They are truly awe-inspiring. They reek with attributes and character worthy of adoration and exaltation. They compel us to worship Him, not only as the child of Christmas, but as the sovereign Savior. This baby is mighty and almighty. The manger-born Jesus is more than “the reason for the season” but the reason for and ruler over all things. We can’t box Him up like a Christmas gift and open Him only once a year and still call Him Lord. We can’t keep Him a babe that never grows up – He is so much bigger than what we have twisted this holiday into. For the Child of Christmas is the Christ of all creation.

So what Child is this? John explains Him this way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:1-4;12-14;16-18).


**Since it is our cultural’s tendency to want to leave the Christ of Christmas a small baby who perpetually stays in our imagined manger scene, I wanted to remind us all that this infant did grow up. And this Jesus, in all His fullness, is the Christ I want us to know this holiday season.

What Child is this, who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap, is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?
 

We all know how commercialized Christmas has become. This is to be expected in our secular society. But the twisted and homogenized view of baby Jesus that has evolved is causes me the most consternation. Yes, He was born in a manger and eventually evacuated Bethlehem in fear of a mentally ill and threatened Herod’s commanded slaughter of all newborn males under 2 years of age. These things are true of the Christ-child. But He is so much more than a helpless and powerless infant who conjures up innocent and heartwarming feelings that desensitize us to this newborn’s true might. So let us look to the prophet Isaiah to answer the question, “what Child is this?”

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:1-5). 

Here we see this baby Jesus as Savior. Lets notice that this child has come to: 

  • Emancipate the captives (v. 1). This passage establishes Jesus as our emancipator. He claimed such as He read the prophecies of Isaiah regarding the release of the oppressed in Luke 4:14-19, which is a passage that corresponds nicely to Isaiah 9:1-5.  Jesus came to set the captive free, to unfetter the wayward in bondage to sin, to tell and be the Truth that releases us from the wrath of God that rests on those who don’t believe. He has come that we might be emancipated from all that binds us – sin, religion, legalism. Apart from Jesus we are all slaves in desperate need of His power to free us from all that separates us from Holy God. As He tells us in Luke 4:18, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.”
  • Enlighten the darkened (v. 2). The Christ-child is the light of the world. Darkness has covered humanity since the sin of our forefather Adam. We stumble along in deceptive pride and self-sufficiency. Jesus even called the religious elite blind guides (Matthew 23:16). Nothing apart from the shining brilliance of Jesus can make the blind to see and the dead be raised to new life. In Luke 4:18, Christ says, “[God] has sent me to proclaim…recovery of sight for the blind.”
  • Ensure the joy of His people (v. 3). This manger-born baby came to give life and life more abundant (John 10:10). On the eve of His crowning achievement, the crucifixion, Jesus prays that, “I am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13, NIV). Not only did Christ ensure the joy of His followers but it is His joy He gives us. And is to be known in full measure.
  • Ease the burdens of His chosen (v. 4). As an adult this child would proclaim, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus came to “release the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19, NIV)
  • Eventually end all conflict (v. 5). This infant is the Prince of Peace. He came to reconcile us to God, facilitate reconciliation between people (see 2 Corinthians 5:17-19), and eventually banish all that causes conflict and disharmony: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4). 

What child is this? He is the Savior of the world (see John 1:29)! He is more than a baby whose birthday gives us cause to erect and decorate trees, exchange gifts, and share meals. As Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV).  

I pray that this is the One we worship this Christmas. The One sent to redeem all those who put their trust in Him. He’s the only One who can emancipate us from sin, enlightened us to God’s truth, ensure our joy, ease our burdens, and will ultimately end all that causes suffering and sorrow. This Christ-child of Christmas is our Savior.


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-nine – Jesus: The Messenger and the Message

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:28-29).

Both the message and the messenger of the Sermon on the Mount prove unique, distinctive, and powerful. The Lord’s discourse is unlike anything ever heard; it completely contrasts ancient teachings and threatened the theological powerbrokers of the time. Not before Christ’s earthly ministry or after it has the world witnessed teaching of such authority, received instruction to prompt such radical change, or found education that so thoroughly challenges and inspires.

Jesus holds the position of the ultimate communicator and was often referred to by the honorable title of “Teacher.” But that designation proves a tremendous understatement. Christ told His followers that as the Messiah, He should be their only teacher (Matthew 23:10). In other words, His message is the only one that truly matters. The Sermon on the Mount, therefore, stands not just as the greatest sermon ever delivered; instead, it serves as the prologue to the incredible sacrifice Christ made at Calvary. It sets the stage for God’s redemptive strategy, proving that God has a plan to change human interactions, to reintroduce selflessness, and to restore fellowship between Himself and man. Two thousand years ago, on a hill outside Jerusalem, Jesus unveils much about His role as King as well as the intricacies of His kingdom. He speaks with divine authority. His words hold life-transforming power!

The Sermon on the Mount reveals Jesus as the Savior of the world. The narrow gate leading to eternal life. Further, Christ fulfills Old Testament Law: only through Him do sinful humans find forgiveness and reconciliation with God. As they sincerely surrender to Jesus, people begin to live by “the law of Christ,” the New Covenant standard (Galatians 6:2). This law of love supersedes, enhances, and deepens the principles of the Old Covenant and sums up the law of the prophets without nullifying them (see Matthew 22:34-40).

To one outside the Christian faith, the standard of living Christ sets in His sermon seems outrageous and impossible. But we must remember that all things—including loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety, and walking in righteousness—are possible in His power (Philippians 4:13). Further, Jesus never asked us to do anything He was unwilling to do. For thirty-three years He lived a mortal life, loving the unlovable, releasing anxiety to the Father, and walking in perfect righteousness. Jesus embodied the message He taught.

As we learn and are empowered to walk in Christ, we live out the mountainside message He shared. What a privilege to follow Him! 

Author’s Note

Not long ago a thirty minute lunch encounter shook my world. On a brief visit to the Wycliffe Bible Translators Ministry in Texas, I met an eighty-year-old translator and missionary who—along with his wife of fifty years—planned a return to the deepest jungles of Africa. I do not remember the man’s name, but I’m certain that God does.

For over ten years the man and his devoted wife worked with a remote and primitive people-group. In that time they translated small portions of the Bible into the villagers’ native tongue—a language for which there were virtually no books. By endearing themselves to the people by giving insight on how to keep the tribe’s newborns alive and free from pestilence, the two earned acceptance and eventually befriended them. Over the years, as they translated the critical New Testament texts and placed them in the hands of those who could communicate biblical truth to the tribe, the missionaries lived in tents and their target audience in huts. Their lives were not easy.

All of this happened several years before I met this devout man. The couple had long ago returned to the States in pursuit of retirement. God, however, gave them a new vision for how to spend their last days: they’d return to that African country to continue their outreach.

“This time we will tell stories of Jesus,” the man explained with a gleam of joy in his eye. “That will be quicker and more effective. The people will pass these stories along to later generations who will never be able to read.”

I asked, as the old missionary rose from the table, when they’d return home to the States.

“Actually,” he quickly replied, “we are going home. We will never return to America. We plan on dying there, in Africa, with our tribe. We have the good news to spread and little time remaining to do so. We have a King to serve and a kingdom to share.”

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

 Twenty-ThreeSlow to Judge, Quick to Discern

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:1-6).

Having already addressed His followers’ character, influence, righteousness, and aspirations, Christ turns His focus to a believer’s interactions and relationships. Jesus knew that a loving community serves a critical role in helping bring the lost home to God. Further, community drives Christ’s kingdom as His people help one another to reach their full potential in the Lord. Maintaining the health of relationships and extending godly love requires that we overcome the tendency to act judgmentally toward others.

One local church was virtually destroyed by judgmentalism. A small faction targeted one of the church’s outreach programs—the bus ministry—and in the process began to attack the pastor behind it. Through the ministry the pastor sought to reach inner city families with young children who had no other encouragement or transportation to attend church. He hoped the program would allow caring followers of Jesus and the teaching of God’s Word to reach those without access to either. The dissenters, however, accused him of “trying to pad the church’s numbers by shuttling in the dirty, unruly, and disadvantaged.” Their complaints caused such a congregational rift that the ministry was eventually shut down, the scorned pastor resigned in embarrassment and frustration, and the fractured church has yet to fully recover from the subsequent fall-out.

Jesus understands the sinfulness of humanity; He knows that followers will not live perfectly. He also recognizes that we often deal with the sin, poor decisions, flaws, and misbehavior of others. This passage does not prohibit the use of discernment, insight, wisdom, or criticism. Parents, for example, must pass certain judgments on misbehavior in order to discipline. But what Christ condemns in the passage is a condescending, harsh, destructive, and censorious attitude that passes judgment against a brother’s faults, rather real or perceived. The Lord speaks strongly against those who take a “holier than thou” approach.

Most often those guilty of condemning others themselves conceal the biggest issues. Often we find it easy to exaggerate another’s faults while minimizing our own. In doing so, we rest in a false sense of self-righteousness that’s better understood as hypocrisy (see Luke 18:9-14). This builds a major stumbling block in our relationship with others and intimacy with our King. Each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. What proves tempting to one may not affect another, but each person fights his own spiritual battles. Although our sins may vary in type, they do not vary in degree: all sin offends God. Therefore when we, despite our best efforts, fail in keeping any of God’s commands and then judge others, we essentially condemn ourselves (see Romans 2:1). We need to compare our own lives to the standards of holy God before we begin nitpicking the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Intentionally finding fault, while ignoring our own problems and spiritual issues, is wrong.

We tend to forget that in God we have a higher judge who fairly judges us all. He provides the ultimate measuring stick, the perfect standard. How differently would we treat fellow Christ-followers and humanity in general if we remembered that we will be measured against the same standards to which we hold others? In First Corinthians 11:31 Paul writes, “But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” Those who forego a hypocritical attitude and choose transparency before a holy and omniscient God will avoid His wrath (see Romans 2:3).

At times we must speak the truth with God’s Word as our guide, correcting misbehavior and helping people to strengthen their walk in the Lord. However, this must be done with grace and love. Paul encourages us to speak the truth but to do it with a heartfelt compassion for the audience (Ephesians 4:15). In every case, our attitudes and motives must prove pleasing to God.

Interestingly, Christ concludes His warning against a judgmental attitude with a call to discernment. This serves to remind believers: don’t turn a blind eye to sin; instead, approach all situations with wisdom. Jesus used two dirty animals—the dog and the pig—to portray those who live such filthy lives that sacred things and the notion of eternal life are wasted on them. Sadly, some who hear the precious gospel of the kingdom and enjoy ample opportunity to receive that truth, steadfastly and belligerently refuse God’s free offer of grace. Perhaps they live in a place of such incurable godlessness that God’s spirit no longer pursues them. Christ’s words remind believers that while we should try to reach all with the good news message, we must act prudently in how we spend our time. When people constantly refuse to receive Jesus’ truth, we should direct our efforts elsewhere. I believe Christ provided an example of this in His interaction with the two criminals crucified beside of Him (see Luke 23:32-43). The one who sneered at him with scathing cynicism, Christ ignored: the one who defended Him with a receptive heart, Christ embraced.

God’s Word clearly instructs us to make disciples of “all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Matthew 7:6 highlights the approach we should use, suggesting that we need not allow the wicked to trample the truth of Jesus and His grace. Therefore, after doing our best to exalt the King and His kingdom, we should release mean and unresponsive types to the hands of sovereign God. We must keep them in our prayers, but we should not expend all our energies on them.

This concept is reinforced in Jesus’ call for His disciples to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Jesus knew that He sent the apostles into a hostile environment that required both discernment and a peaceful, purposeful spirit that sought to point a lost world to His beauty. Since we too are sent as messengers of the kingdom’s good news, we must go with His wisdom, daily discerning without being judgmental.

Apply It.

Paul was keenly cognizant of his own sin (read Romans 7:19-25). Identify the “specks” in your own eye. Ask God to reveal things that need to be surrendered to Him. Then, as Paul did in Romans 7:25, thank the Lord for the forgiveness that comes only through Christ Jesus.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-Two – First, Seek the Lord

“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:32-34).

How will I afford new clothing, that next meal, the wine for my son’s wedding? Questions like these represented legitimate concerns faced by the crowd gathered to hear Christ’s sermon. While Jesus recognized that life brings challenges, He encouraged hearers to exchange their anxiety for faith in God’s provision. To let go of the need to secure their own tomorrow. To hand control over to God. Here, in the last three verses of Matthew six, Christ reiterates His earlier message and clarifies the essence of His kingdom.

Christ’s followers should sell out in the pursuit of His kingdom and His righteousness. Rather than wringing their hands in worry like pagans who live without the hope God provides, believers should trust that God’s in control: Tomorrow belongs in His hands. As people seek after the things of Jesus and faithfully live in the present with a hopeful eye on a glorious future, they discover peace and grow in the ability to help others. By regularly and seriously considering our ambitions and aspirations, we can gauge the depth of our relationship to King Jesus.

Within those who pursue Him, Christ places His kingdom (see Luke 17:21). In teaching hearers to “seek first his kingdom,” the Lord encouraged believers to seek after His rule in all aspects of their lives. Taking a good look at how we handle relationships, considering how we spend leisure time, appraising our approach to work, and assessing the value we place on His church reveals how completely we yield to Christ’s invasion of our hearts. True followers submit willingly and joyfully to His reign. They allow the pursuit of His honor and glory to alter their attitudes, actions, and activities. God uses our surrender to expand and enhance His kingdom. This differentiates believers from a lost and spiritually dead world (see Ephesians 2:1-6).

We must obsessively pursue Heavenly things and store up for ourselves eternal treasure by living through Jesus while faithfully acknowledging His kingdom in the present. Paul reiterates this principle when he tells the Colossian church, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above … not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Men and women who remember that life serves as a precursor to eternity with God are better positioned to most fully experience God in the here and now, to serve as ambassadors for His kingdom, and to accumulate eternal rewards.

Jesus calls us not to a balanced life, but to one completely imbalanced and weighted by Him. By placing an undivided focus on Christ we receive His power to live in such a way that the kingdom within us is most evident. This type of Godward fixation demonstrates a supernaturally powerful experience radically different than those who don’t know Christ and, thus, they are drawn to His beauty. This—not the accumulation of things or the fattening of our retirement accounts—summarizes the true purpose of life (see Luke 12:15).

To those who pursue God and wholeheartedly serve Him, Christ promises: “All these things will be given to you as well.” These “things” certainly refer to the necessities: food, clothing, and shelter (Matthew 6:25-31). I believe, however, that Christ also refers to more lasting blessings. Throughout the sermon His earnest followers find contentment in the knowledge that the kingdom of Heaven exists within them, that He provides divine comfort, that spiritual possession of the earth and divine satisfaction belong to them. Further, they enjoy God’s incomprehensible mercy, may see and know God, and they can live as God’s children. Nothing the world offers can touch the immeasurable value of these gifts of grace!

We begin to experience God’s blessings in the here and now as we learn to abide in Christ and to saturate our hearts in Him. Christ and all of His “unsearchable riches” come to those raised with Him; those whose lives are hidden in His (see Ephesians 3:8-12). Jesus is our power, hope, and purpose. When we seek His kingdom we receive the greatest treasures—relationship with Him now and the promise of eternity in His presence. Christ is our life. Our past, present, and future belong in His capable hands. 

Apply It.

The New Testament condemns “selfish ambition” on six occasions. Do a word search in The New International Version to study each passage. Then, take an honest inventory of your actions. Use two columns to list selfish things you do versus actions done for the kingdom of God. Sincerely ask God to reshape your priorities to better reflect Him as needed.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Seventeen – Loving All People

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you
love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”
(Matthew 5:43-48).

I find it easy to love certain people: My son, Samuel, my family, and my gracious, Christ-like next door neighbors for example. Loving other folks doesn’t come so easily. One particular fellow, who some describe as “our office jerk” sometimes comes across as so irritating as to border on downright repulsive. His actions? Caustic. His work ethic? Unreliable. He’s a shameless self-promoter. I know that Jesus calls me to love this man with the same kind of agape love that I show to my son and my respectful neighbors. And while doing so often seems much more difficult, it liberates me, glorifies God, and may help transform his heart.

By resisting a narrow and selfish scope of love, we acknowledge God’s rightful place in our lives and point others to Him. Matthew 5:43-48 provides a litmus test gauging our faithfulness to Christ’s kingdom principles. While people naturally tend to hate those who hate them and to love those who love them in return, Christ taught that His followers should demonstrate unbiased and assertive love to all. The King calls us to a sweeping and selfless goodness that differentiates us from the lost world.

Despite numerous Old Testament passages regarding equality and fairness in their treatment of people, the teachers of the law exhibited the natural and  human tendency to return good with good and evil with evil. Should a man show them honor or pay them homage, they would extend him favor. Should another man fail to show such subservience, however, they were disinclined to help him. The Pharisees felt justified to condescend on whomever they chose—including Jesus. Interestingly, they also approached life with the idea that only those of Jewish descent were “of their own” and therefore worth their time and investment. When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well and when He shared the parable of the Good Samaritan, He taught that the love of God transcends race, religion, and rank (Luke 10:29-37). Every individual is created and shown love by the Lord. He expects His followers to memorialize that truth through their actions.

Indiscriminate love projects the nature of our loving King and demonstrates that He is our Father and we are His royal children (Luke 6:27, 35). Dietrich Bonheoffer said that through prayer “we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.”[i] Truly, to show love to all humanity—including our enemies—we must care for others in our actions, our words, and through our prayers. The love God desires to see in us should supersede our feelings and involve practical service, both sacrificial and humble. Loving of this nature costs us time, energy, and resources, but it also demonstrates the authenticity of our devotion to Christ.

In First Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul describes the unorthodox loving that should define a disciple of Christ’s interactions: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” As we commit to interacting with others in accordance with these principles, we’ll project the perfection of God’s love. We’ll show the radical difference in those transformed by a love-extending and cross-bearing Savior. People who don’t know Jesus can’t understand this kind of spiritual metamorphosis, but it arouses their curiosity and serves as a magnet to draw them nearer to relationship with God.

Kindness in action points people to the cross: the lightening rod of God’s rich love and glory. Out of His extreme love for His creation and His own glory, God sacrificed Jesus so that He could restore His chosen sons and daughters. As we grow in Christ, we are called to image forth God-like (agape) love.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also
ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”
(1 John 4:7-12).

Apply It.

Read John 8:1-11. What does Jesus’ interaction with this woman teach you about extending love to those who seem unlovable? Ask God to give you insight into how to show Christ-like love to a difficult person in your life. Don’t forget to act on it!


[i] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship (SCM, 1959), 134.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Sixteen – Love Instead of Retaliation

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

In a statement directly related to His earlier teaching on persecution for righteousness’ sake, Jesus tackles the human tendency to strike back at those who injure us. Interestingly, His words stood against a practice adopted by the scribes and Pharisees: they routinely applied Old Testament concepts of justice and equivalent retribution within the court system to personal relationships (see Deuteronomy 19:18-21). In doing so, they claimed the power to personally punish those who offended them—completely ignoring the idea that only God and appointed judges could apply justice. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day decided to usurp authority, demanding by their actions that true authority rested in their hands.

God allows the courts as well as parents a measure of authority in maintaining order. Outside of these contexts, however, judgment and the assignment of punishment erect barriers between people. Take the holier-than-thou, judgmental Christian you knew before you were born again. Did you see the love of God in that person’s attitude? Were you drawn to the gospel’s grace and forgiveness by observing his condescending treatment of those around him? Probably not. Jesus said our love for others shows the world that we are His disciples and points them to Him (see John 13:34-35).

Personal relationships in Christ’s new kingdom are based on love, not justice. After all, the Lord died on the cross to spare us the punishment our sins deserved. Grace and mercy prevail in this new kingdom, and vengeance or the determination of justice is up to God. Paul, who well understood the grace given him said, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Since our Creator willingly forgives the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance, we must do the same. We must lay down the “right” to  retaliate against the injustices of those who wound us. We are to turn the other cheek and “pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus called individuals to refrain from taking matters (and the law) into their own hands. Therefore, the lives of those in His kingdom should exhibit an absence of revenge even towards our worst offenders. Forgiveness should summarize our response to those who hurt us. We must remember that we can commit every issue and every offense to God. A good and righteous judge who responds with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness, He will see justice served. In the meantime—and as counter-intuitive as it may seem—we must try to overcome evil with good. We should not allow angry hearts to rule our responses; God wants us to seek after the highest spiritual good.

I love that Jesus encouraged listeners to go two miles with someone who pressed them to go one. In the time of Christ’s sermon, Roman soldiers sometimes demanded average citizens to carry their gear for the course of a mile. Doing so proved an incredible hassle for the conscripted person who would’ve had to cover twice the distance as he returned home. Imagine the shock a soldier might have expressed should a man not only happily agree to his selfish demands, but offer to go above and beyond them! Jesus desires a giving spirit in those who follow after Him and pursue His kingdom. We must embrace other-centeredness that gives without reservation, whether or not the receiver proves worthy of our gift. As we do, people will glimpse the love, selflessness, and mercy that Christ poured into our hearts and desires to add to theirs.

Before His accusers and abusers, Jesus allowed Himself to be led silently, like a lamb to the slaughter. Isaiah tells us He did so willingly: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6). Mark’s gospel further describes the debasement Jesus endured:

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away
into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of
thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on
him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him”
(Mark 15:15-20).

Without retaliation, without a word in His own defense, Jesus laid down His life as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). By reacting to the evil done to us with good and calm acceptance, we bear witness to the grace and mercy of our King. Paul said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. As we acknowledge His power through humbly forgiving and helping others, we’ll reap great reward in His kingdom to come.

Apply It.

Read the story of Saul and David in First Samuel 19. A jealous and enraged Saul sought to kill David, but David refused to kill Saul when given the opportunity (see 1 Samuel 24:1-6). When did someone extend mercy to you? How did that affect your view of God? Ask God to show you how to extend grace and mercy to someone in your circle.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Fourteen- God Values Marriage

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32).

Surely a few faces turned red and several took defensive stances when Jesus began speaking out against divorce. By the time Rome ruled over Israel, the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, were more concerned with how to acceptably justify divorce than they were inclined to stand against it. The Lord’s primary concern in covering this topic was to uphold the sanctity of marriage. While many of His day invented rational excuses to dispose of a partner, Jesus gave scriptural evidence supporting the idea that God intended marriage a life-long pact:

“Some Pharisees … asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries nother woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3-9).

In the Old Testament, divorce was allowed in extreme cases of marital unfaithfulness—making provision for those who suffered adultery or abandonment. The Pharisees, however, twisted Moses’ word regarding marriage into a command that allowed marital annulment for any and every reason (Matthew 19:7). For example, a man could forever dismiss his wife if she merely burned his dinner. Should the husband one day consider his wife less-than-attractive, he could send her packing. Even if the wife lived blamelessly, he could set her aside to follow his attraction for another woman. These liberal interpretations completely
ignored God’s commands and plans for matrimony. They reduced marriage’s perceived value.

Divorce proves just as controversial today as in Jesus’ time, and our culture also believes marriage disposable for virtually any selfish cause. Within the church, in fact, divorces are considered an acceptable out whether abuse is involved, neglect is to blame, or just because one person grows tired of the other or finds someone else more appealing. In light of this, modern believers need a revised understanding of why God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). We need to recognize that He intended marriage to last a lifetime. A divinely created, exclusive covenant relationship between a man and woman, marriage provides a picture of the loving, selfless relationship God creates between Christ and His church. When we enter the sacred bond before God, He expects us to remain committed. We must not trivialize this God-ordained institution.

As the victim of divorce, I’m keenly aware of the painful ramifications it brings. I learned firsthand that because of humanity’s fallen condition, marriages do sometimes dissolve; in some cases, a marriage will fall apart in spite of a husband or wife’s best efforts to stay. But out of my experience comes a new appreciation for why Jesus placed such emphasis on a married couple continuing on together. He knew the shockwave that inevitably follows a breakup, and He recognized that if both partners would just forgive each other, faithfully loving in spite of faults, they could thrive with His help.

Christ’s theme of heart-righteousness continues throughout this passage of the Sermon on the Mount. According to Jesus, the hardness of our hearts proves
the fundamental cause of divorce. I think it safe to say that in every divorce one or both parties suffer from hardness of heart. The root causes of selfishness and a lack of willingness to forgive are the primary reasons that so few seek reconciliation, choosing instead to rationalize their choice to part. Our tendency to divorce reveals a deep and sad spiritual issue: we often choose to do what we want instead of living in submission to God’s purpose for marriage.

The Lord designed the marital bond to be both good and lasting. Kingdom living is about submitting to His ways, serving, and following Him. We need to
recognize that a flippant view of marriage indicates sinfulness and should remind us of our desperate need of a Savior. Jesus promises so much more than
an eternity with Him: He wants to redeem and restore our families. A merciful and gracious Savior stands ready to forgive our marital failures and to lead us
to repent of any attitudes that fail to align with God’s plans for marriage. No matter our backgrounds and stories, may we learn to treat the beautiful
institution of marriage with the respect God intended.

Apply It.

Read Hebrews 13:4. Consider the strength of your regard for marriage. If you are married, list intentional steps you might take to protect the sanctity of
your relationship with your spouse. If you are divorced, seek God’s wisdom and comfort in dealing with the hurt. In either situation, ask God to show you how the marriage union demonstrates Christ’s love for His bride, the church.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Thirteen – Guarding Our Thoughts

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell ou that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30).

In Matthew 5:27-30 Jesus continues to explain that our thoughts and motives—not just our physical actions—reveal the purity of our hearts. Christ spoke against lust in a time when the accepted religious stance on the subject was something like this: “if you don’t commit the act, you commit no sin.” This
idea, however, found no support in the Lord’s sermon. Jesus taught that a person who considers having sexual contact with another stands equally as
guilty as one who engages in the act. Morality, then, is weighed not in whether a person sleeps with his or her neighbor’s spouse, but in whether or not he or
she considers it!

Throughout the course of my ministry I’ve been shocked by how many professing Christians fall into the pitfalls that accompany lust. Through the media, fueled by the moral decline of our so-called progressive culture and the advance of technology, we are bombarded with sexually explicit images and messages. No one is immune to this danger. I have counseled many folks, male and female, including a disproportionate number of ordained ministers, who have fallen victim to this world’s sexual lure. Given what these experiences taught me about the serious and lingering consequences of succumbing to sexual temptation, we dare not consider these things harmless. The opportunity to fall is ever present. Once we surrender to the “lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16), the potential damage is immeasurable.

Some argue that allowing an inappropriate gaze to linger on a person of the opposite sex proves innocent, but Christ warns that we must control our physical urges and give up fleshly desires to follow Him. This is not a declaration against the natural process of attraction between men and women. Passion within a marriage relationship is God’s gift—part of the beautiful way He wired us; furthermore, the Bible offers no prohibition against attractiveness or appreciating beauty. We should, however, stand in constant vigil against misdirected desires and intentional seduction outside covenant relationship. Why? Because just as we can murder with our words and attitudes, we can commit adultery with our thoughts. Indeed, roving eyes lead us astray.

Righteousness requires more than external obedience. Kingdom living requires a purity of life that transcends perfunctory duty. Believers must constantly weigh themselves against God’s Word, seeking the conviction and guidance of His Spirit. God wants us to protect our purity by guarding our hearts: Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” We need the Lord’s power to control our sinful human nature, to guard ourselves as He desires.

Some scoff at Jesus’ advice to overcome lust: the suggestion of self-injury sounds unappealing and perhaps even life-threatening. But we must understand that this radical saying reflects hyperbole, a scholarly tool that exaggerates in order to make a point. In Matthew 5 Jesus calls not for literal maiming or physical mutilation but for decisive action that will lead to the cleansing of our hearts. He asks us to practice spiritual modification, a process often referred to as spiritual mortification.

The doctrine of the mortification of sin is found in numerous New Testament writings (see Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). It refers to the intentional practice of refusing to do things that displease God or put us in jeopardy of impurity. It amplifies Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) and promotes a lifestyle of purposeful self-denial. Galatians 5:24 restates the idea this way: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” As both Christ and Paul taught, we must do whatever it takes to avoid sin and to embrace God’s ways.

Jesus explained that if we know that the things we view will tempt us to sin, we shouldn’t look! Similarly, if doing something puts us at risk of a spiritual fall, we should stop! All of this may sound rather rudimentary, but this type of godly discipline is rarely promoted. Both hearing and practicing these principles may at first feel uncomfortable, but they will help guard our hearts against Satan’s devices and protect us from sins that cause broken fellowship with our righteous Savior. We cannot enjoy rich, intimate fellowship with Jesus when our minds are in the gutter! This is why we are commanded to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Kingdom living requires us to look beyond the external and focus on the attitudes of our hearts and minds. This proves important not only in avoiding sexual immorality but in sidestepping any worldly craving or desire that fails to honor God (see 1 John 2:16).We must diligently and practically distance ourselves from those things that would dishonor our King! Those who desire to live under the dominion and lordship of Jesus are called to deny fleshly urges. As Oswald Chambers said, “The only right Christians have is the right to give up our rights!”[i] Amazingly, when we give up our “rights” and submit to Christ’s rule over us we experience the fullness and richness of life that only He can bring. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “How much more should we submit to the Father  of our spirits and live!” (Hebrews 12:9).

Apply It.

Read Matthew 18:8-9. Here Jesus explains that if our feet cause us to sin, we should go without: we must avoid going anywhere that might lead us to sin. Consider temptations you face. What should you stop viewing, what might you cease doing, or where should you stop going to protect your relationship with
God?


[i] Chambers, Oswald. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Discovery House Publishers, 1995), 32.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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