Tag Archives: sin

Anxiety over Judgment is a Type of Judgment

Among Christians, there is a lot of discussion about judgment. There are warnings that individuals are going to be judged for sin, and warnings that countries are about to be judged for sin. In modern times, there has been a shift away from the view of judgment in which God Himself inflicts harm as punishment. Many Christians warning of judgment today have a different view, in which judgment is the loss of God’s help and protection as a result of persistent disobedience.

Some Christians seem to be comfortable with the concept of judgment because they feel assured that they are right with God and are safe. But other Christians feel less secure and worry about judgment. What I will propose in this article is that, many Christians who are worried about future judgment, might already be living in a type of judgment (and have been for a long time), but they don’t recognize it because their minds are thinking about what the future holds.

Let’s look at Romans 8:12-13 – We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

I believe this passage applies in two different ways. Passages like this are often used to say that if you persist in living according to your own desires rather than living for God, then you will experience judgment manifested in either literal death or a figurative type of death such as illness or various crises. And while I think that is a valid interpretation, there is another application of this passage that is not talked about very much.

First off, what does “the flesh” consist of? Since flesh is contrasted with spirit in the passage above, I take it to mean that flesh constitutes all non-spiritual (i.e. biological) aspects of a person. So, a person’s organs, chemistry, and psychology are all part of the flesh. Many commentaries equate living in the flesh with living in sin. That may be a valid interpretation, but I believe it is only half of the story.

So, what is the other half of the story? To understand it, we need to consider the way we feel about ourselves when we do various acts. I believe it is normal to feel good when we do good things, and to feel bad when we do bad things. God made us to be that way; otherwise, there would be no incentive to do what’s right.

But I believe the problem is when we let the presence of that good feeling resulting from good works dictate whether we can feel good about ourselves as a person, or how we feel about our relationship with God. I believe this is a type of living according to the flesh, because our lives revolve around maintaining that positive sensation in our minds.

When we have that positive feeling, we feel good about the future. We think that we’re on the right path and that we’re making progress, so God isn’t going to let misfortune happen to us. In the midst of this bright feeling about ourselves and the future, temptations can be suppressed for a season. That positive feeling can even be a motivation to do good works, because we want that feeling to last.

But even though temptation might be confined to a small corner of one’s brain, it is still alive. Over time, temptation slowly starts reclaiming territory in the back of our minds, but we don’t realize it because the front of our minds are still shining and optimistic. And since we still are not sinning necessarily, there is nothing we have to worry about according to conventional religious logic.

But then there comes a point where, we start to feel the growing presence of temptation. For a while, resisting was a matter of just saying NO to temptation and moving on. But now, it takes more effort to say no, even though we’re still saying it. Our conscience seems to be putting heavier demands on us, and we seem to lack the willpower to meet those demands.

At this point, although we’re still confident that we are living right, and thus feel good about the future, the bright, positive feeling in our minds starts to subside. Then, without that tailwind in our minds, fighting temptation gets really hard. At this point, we may start returning to habits that we thought we had kicked a while back. Or, we might continue to resist those temptations, but lose the motivation to do certain good deeds. Maybe prayer starts to feel burdensome as we lose confidence about our spiritual state.

You see, that good feeling we once had was generated by the flesh in response to the good that we saw ourselves doing. It’s like watching an instrument that gauges your performance and trying to keep the meter rising. This is just as exciting to one’s mind, and just as addicting, as any kind of sensual pleasure.  But we then started living for that positive feeling, and when the feeling slipped out of reach, the drive to continue our progress weakened.

Then we’re worried about judgment again. Now, when people talk about impending judgment upon the nation or individuals, it hits close to home because we’re not so sure what God thinks about us at this point. The bright, positive feeling we once had gets replaced with a sense of dread and anxiety. This dread or anxiety is a type of death, and a form of judgment resulting from living in the flesh during the season when it appeared that everything was going right, morally and spiritually. Furthermore, the anxiety can cause us to fall into habits such as lack of sleep or unhealthy eating habits that can cause health issues or other problems in life. Thus, ironically, by worrying about judgment, Christians can end up facing the same problems in life that they worry are about to come upon others because of sin.

I believe that Christians who are struggling with guilt need to realize that, ultimately, they are right with God regardless of what their performance meter is doing, and they need to let go of the vision of mastering their lives and keeping their meter rising in order to finally become a good Christian who is safe from judgment.

The Apostle Paul wrote that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

But here’s a critical observation. Romans 5:20 is not an experiential reality. Even though it is a true statement, it is never going to “feel” true in our own lives. In other words, committing sin does not cause us to feel an even greater presence of grace.

Some Christians try to test out Romans 5:20 to see if it’s really true. I’m not saying that I recommend doing that. But to satisfy the curiosity, I’ll go ahead and say that it doesn’t bring a feeling of grace or peace. Even though God’s acceptance of someone doesn’t waver as they go through the experiment, what they feel is even more inward angst. Furthermore, testing out this principle actually takes a lot of effort. It makes you feel tired.

On one hand, we need to realize that Romans 5:20 does not fail upon application. If we think it will fail when tested, we go back into performance meter fixation. But when we realize that Romans 5:20 is a robust principle, we find a new motivation for doing what’s right. That motivation comes from the fact that putting grace to the test just causes more tension than it’s worth. This realization comes from the Spirit’s work in us. Likewise, doing good works isn’t about trying to become a good Christian. Rather, it is about wanting to see something uplifting and beneficial coming from our lives.

So, to summarize everything, the key point that I have become convicted of is that, anxiety over judgment is actually a type of judgment. It is the Biblical message of grace that sets people free from this judgment and enables them to become what God has made them to be.

Demystifying Spirituality – Part 1

I want to start a series of posts in which we look at highly spiritual terminology in the Bible, particular phrases such as “dying to sin,” being “born again,” having a “renewed mind,” and being “separate from the world.”

Now, might be thinking, “This is going to be heavy and serious.” Well, I don’t think it has to be. In fact, I think it will be an enjoyable series because I will show how you can relate these phrases to your everyday life. If you are not someone who says these phrases a lot, you may think that Christians who frequently use them are somehow more “holy” or devout than you are. However, I don’t believe we have to think of people that way. In past times, I separated this spiritual terminology from my day to day, secular activities. However, that changed about a year ago as my personal life evolved and I started looking at certain Scriptures more closely. Now, I can relax and think about “dying to sin” while playing games. I am going to share with you how I do this, and you can decide for yourself if it is right to think similarly.

Romans 6:5-7: “For if we have been united with him [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin.”

All right, let’s think about this. First, consider what it means to be “alive” to something, versus being “dead” to something. Here’s an example: Some people have food allergies. A certain food will prompt a specific part of a particular person’s immune system to overreact, causing adverse activity in that person’s body. When I was young, I was allergic to eggs. My immune system was “alive” to eggs. Eggs would provoke, or “tempt,” my immune system. Then, my immune system would “sin” by reacting adversely, causing a rash. However, by the age of 9, my immune system “died” to eggs. I was no longer allergic.

Now, let’s look at our own lives. If we sin, it is because something provokes us and we fail to react appropriately; either we get agitated and do something bad, or we get intimidated and freeze, failing to do the things we should. Suppose you’re someone who hates the sound of nails on chalkboard. Somebody does that just to annoy you, and it makes you lose your temper.

You lose your temper as a reflex of sorts because your nerves are “alive” to the sound of nails on chalkboard, and your vocal chords become “slaves” to your nerves. But now, suppose a physiologist claims he can fix your reflex to that noise. He gives you a potion that makes you completely unconscious for three days. During that time, people set up a chalkboard next to you and scratch their nails on it day in and day out to see if they can make you lose your temper. But you never do. You have died to that reflex, or to that “sin”. Your brain is not listening to it; your nervous system is not reacting to it; your vocal chords are not reacting to it. The whole “body of sin” that used to trigger that reflex has been deactivated. While you are unconscious, the potion is working on your brain and nervous system. When you return to consciousness, you still don’t like to hear nails on chalkboard, but you can choose to control your temper because the potion adjusted the internal workings inside of you.

I find it significant that Paul used the phrase “body of sin.” I believe that, in many cases, the cause of sin is not our intellect, but rather, it is in our physiological systems. I think that factors such as the nervous system, brain chemicals, hormones, and reflexes, respond to what we see and hear in a way that leads to sin. This is why motivational tactics to change our behavior often fail; the problem is not rooted in the part of our brain where we motivate ourselves. The problem is rooted in our physiological systems that produce sensations in response to what our consciousness perceives. Thus, overcoming sin requires a physiological adjustment, not just mental motivation. And this physiological adjustment is something that happens through the Spirit. Look at Romans 8:11:

“He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”

Notice that the Spirit injects life into your body. I believe that living according to the Spirit, or being filled with the Spirit, involves the Spirit working in your physiology so that you respond to situations differently.

So, how do we actually experience this transformation in our own lives? Many of us are still dealing with physiological problems that cause sinful reactions. The deliverance from these problems described in Romans is something that has to be accepted in faith, given that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). So, how can we have faith in this reorientation of our bodies and minds when we see and feel things to the contrary in our day-to-day lives? The next few post will examine that.

Being a Real Christian – Part 5

In Part 1, I mentioned what often happens when we try to change our ways. Although a small percentage of us will succeed, most will not see a meaningful, sustained difference. And I think that in Romans 7, Paul describes why that is the case. It took me many years as a Christian to see that Paul is actually admitting the difficulty that we all face when we try to change ourselves. It was too hard to believe that the Bible was acknowledging these things.

Look at Romans 7:4-5, “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.”

Notice that Paul mentions “sinful passions aroused by the law.” This is why changing one’s lifestyle through self-motivation can be impossible. You set rules for yourself, but when you push yourself to follow the rules, desires to do the opposite are also energized, so the net result is little or no change, or even a negative difference. The “just do it” mentality breaks down.

Some have said that when Paul refers to the law, he is only referring to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, and that he is not referring to Biblical morality. If we were talking about the epistle to the Galatians, that is probably the right interpretation (I may write an article on that later). However, in Romans, the concept of law encompasses more than religious rituals. The problem that Paul addresses of law stimulating desire to do the opposite, thus nullifying one’s efforts, applies to laws of any type, and I think subsequent passages in Romans 7 make this clear.

Paul writes, “What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” (Romans 7:7-8).

More evidence that trying to follow laws can keep us trapped in bad habits comes when Paul has to address the misconception that the law itself is sin. If Paul were not saying that good laws can trigger bad psychological reactions leading to sin, why would anyone come to the bizarre conclusion that the law itself is sinful? Also notice that Paul uses the law forbidding coveting as an example. This is the ultimate proof that, in Romans, Paul’s references to law are not confined to ceremonial rituals.

Looking at verses 19-20, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

Here Paul is describing a human condition which further explains why the “just do it” mentality can fail us. Notice that Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” Notice that he used the word “cannot.” Some people say that we should stop using the word “cannot.” But Paul used that word! Many think that if we fail it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. In a sense, that may be true. However, if we’re under a mentality of law, antagonistic parts of our minds will eventually cause us to stop trying. At least, this is what my personal experience has shown.

So, if imposing rules on ourselves causes these problems, should we stop trying to follow those rules and just do whatever we are inclined to do instead? I think we need to find a balance between two situations, the first being insistence on doing what’s wrong even if the temptation to do it isn’t all that strong. This approach makes existing problems worse. The other situation is forcing ourselves to continue noble but vain efforts that contribute to a vicious cycle. I think that Romans 8, which we’ll look at next time, has some clues for how to find a balance between those two situations.