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Posts Tagged ‘discipleship’

Jesus has a lot to say about his disciples and wealth. In fact, besides the general theme of the kingdom of God, there’s nothing he talks about more. And what he has to say is quite radical, especially to us, who live in what is certainly the most wealthy country that has ever existed; and who live in a culture that glories in wealth – in the seeking of it and in the indulging of it. But Jesus teaches us another way – and this is our topic for today.

Our passage is found in –

Luke 12:13-21

13 Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (NRSV)

I chose this text for two reasons. First, because it shows us how serious this topic is. God says, “You fool” to the man as an expression of judgment and condemnation. And we don’t want to be called fools by God or be condemned.

Second, because it gives us the closest thing to a definition of what it means to be wealthy that I can find from Jesus. There is an abundance beyond one’s needs (bigger barns), which you store up for yourself. It’s as simple as that. It’s not how much you make. It’s how much you keep for yourself. So if you’re here today and you have a large income Jesus isn’t necessarily talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. And, if you’re here today and you have a small income Jesus may well be talking to you. Maybe. Maybe not. In both cases it all depends on what you do with what you have.

With this background in place, let me share with you three things that Jesus teaches regarding wealth. And the first is –

Don’t go on accumulating wealth

There are two obvious reasons to accumulate wealth beyond our needs, both of which will kill us spiritually:

1. We want wealth as our security, to rely on in an uncertain world. The farmer stored up his abundance in bigger barns to take care of his future. But this is not loving God with all our heart – the greatest commandment. This is idolatry, which is actually hatred of God, because we make wealth to be our true god. We trust in it to take care of us.

As Jesus said in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

2. We want wealth in order to enjoy it. The farmer said to himself, “relax, eat, drink, be merry” (v. 19). But this is not loving our neighbor – the second greatest commandment. This is love self love and hatred of our neighbors. For even though there are many in the world who don’t have their basic needs met – including fellow believers – we want to keep our abundance for ourselves, for our fleshly desires and comforts.

So whether we accumulate wealth beyond our needs for the sake of idolatry – which is hatred of God, or indulgence – which is hatred of our neighbors, our lives with God will be destroyed. And so we should have nothing to do with it.

Hear the words of Jesus from our passage in v. 15 – “be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” And hear the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:9 – “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”

Love God, not your wealth

This has to do with getting our heart in the right place regarding our wealth.

1. Be content with God’s provision for you. Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Give up seeking after more and more and more. Work hard, but be satisfied with God’s supply whether it’s much or little, because he’s with us and that’s our true treasure.

2. Give up your possessions. Jesus says in Luke 14:33, “So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up (or renounce) all your possessions.” (NRSV) Notice he isn’t talking about a certain percentage, say 10%. He’s talking about all our possessions, all we have.

We have to recognize that whatever God gives you is not your own, it’s God’s. And if he takes it all, or asks you to give it all away – that’s fine. But how many of us can say our hearts are committed to this? Do we own our possessions or do they own us? This is talked about in Acts 4:32 when it says about the early Christians,  “and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own,” but they were willing to part with them.

So this is a call to dethrone your possessions, because without this we can’t follow Jesus. As he says, “none of you can become my disciple . . .” if you don’t do this.

Well, if we give up holding onto our abundance for our security and comforts, and if we have a right heart toward our possessions being content with God’s supply and renouncing what we do have – then we are ready to do with them what God wants us to do with them, which is to –

Love others with radical generosity

We are to act with our wealth to love our neighbor. Let me just highlight two basic patterns for doing this in the New Testament.

1. We give to the needy. Jesus says in Luke 12:33 – “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” Jesus isn’t saying, “become needy” but rather get rid of your excess – sell it, give it to those in need. (And you can even give up what you need to help others, because giving sacrificially is encouraged, as we learn from the story of the widow who gave all she had in Luke 21:1-4.)

An example of this is seen in the early Jerusalem church in Acts 2 and 4. As there was need, those who had excess would sell and give to the needy among them – 2:45; 4:34-37.

2. We share what we have with others. Jesus said this in Luke 14:12-14 – “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers and sisters or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Use what you have for God’s kingdom. It’s God’s so share it.

An example of this is found in Romans 16:23 – “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.” Here was a well to do man who used his large house to host the church in Corinth (they had no building) and he hosted Paul as well.

A final word, wealth is dangerous. But only if you accumulate it for yourself. The other side of this is that wealth is a blessing of the Lord, as Psalm 112 says, but again, only if you are generous with it.

Wealth is a strange thing spiritually. It’s from God, but if you keep it for yourself, it’s like trying to store up God’s provision of manna – it spoils and becomes a bad thing. But if you’re generous with it, you can bless many in need and thus store up treasures for yourselves in heaven. Wealth can be a curse or a blessing and it’s your choice which it will be in your life.

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“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.”

In our Scripture this morning, Jesus is talking about yokes. Now, we know about animal yokes. And, for instance, Paul talks about not being unequally yoked with this in mind. But in this passage Jesus is talking about human yokes – one’s that go across your shoulders to carry heavy things. Here is a modern day example:

yoke

A yoke something like this is described in Jeremiah 27:2, where it says, “make yourselves straps and yoke-bars and put them on your neck.”

A yoke is often used metaphorically to speak of being in subjection to someone – in Jeremiah it refers to being subjected to the Babylonian empire. And in the New Testament it is used to refer to slavery (1 Timothy 6:1).

Now let’s look at our verses.

1. Many of us are weary from our yokes, carrying heavy burdens

Jesus talks of “all who labor and are heavy laden.” The first word “labor” has to do with hard work and also the weariness that comes from it. The second word can also be translated as “burdened.” So the image is of a person with a yoke on, but the load is really heavy and it takes a lot of work just to move around. Think of the two buckets in our picture as bigger and loaded down with heavy rocks.

Jesus is certainly talking here about the traditions of the elders which the Pharisees added to the Law, or God’s will. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 23:4, where he says, “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear and lay them on people’s shoulders.” These are rules about how far you can walk on a Sabbath, rules about healing on the Sabbath and on and on (see the stories that come right after our verses). You name the activity in life and there were rules for it; lots of them. Rules, rules, rules. Rules that went beyond the Law of Moses, but you had to follow them to be accepted.

Well, Jesus rejected these traditions of the Elders (Matthew 15:6). He doesn’t load us down with a host of human rules; things that go beyond God’s will for our lives.

Maybe you are carrying a yoke today of human rules and expectations that are not God’s will for you. Maybe church rules about how to dress or how to worship that go beyond Scripture, churches are good at making up extra rules. Or maybe expectations for your life that others impose on you that have nothing to do with what God has called you to do.

And you are here this morning and you are tired of it. You are tired of being subjected to carrying this heavy burden around. Jesus is talking to you today in this passage!

There are other yokes and burdens, and I would just mention also the yoke of slavery to Sin (John 8:34; Romans 6:16-20). This is where we live our lives apart from God’s will, doing our own will, going along with the world and our friends. But sin once chosen becomes our master. It comes to control us and take over and it begins to ruin our lives – because sin brings misery and then death.

And you are here this morning and you are tired of the burdens of sin – the shame, the guilt. You are tired of disappointing and hurting others and hurting God – but you can’t break free.

You too have a yoke on, And maybe you are tired of it this morning; you are worn out. Well, Jesus is talking to you this morning in our passage!

Well, whatever yoke we may be carrying this morning –

2. Jesus invites each one of us to take up his yoke

I say each one of us, because he says, “Come to me all” who labor and are heavy laden. That’s all of us.

And he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” In the Old Testament, the Law was seen as a yoke that the people of God bore as they did God’s will (Jeremiah 2:20; 5:5). But here Jesus offers his teaching as the yoke to put on our shoulders – which is the correct interpretation of the Law, or God’s will. As he says in the verses just before ours, the Father has revealed all things to him. And this is what he teaches us.

And so to take on Jesus’ yoke is to live your life according to what he teaches. Not doing more than this by adding on extra human rules, or taking away from it so that we are walking in sin. It is to live according to just what Jesus teaches. We become disciples of Jesus. The word “learn” here is from the same word as the word “disciple.” We become students of Jesus. We study his teaching and example and we do what he says and models for us.

When we take on Jesus’ yoke –

3. Jesus will give us rest for our souls

Why will we find rest? Because of who Jesus is – v. 29 – “for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” The first word “gentle” is really meek or lowly. The second word can also be translated as humble in heart. Jesus is not a slave driver. Indeed, he himself came and walked this earth as a servant. And he knows that being in charge means serving others, not lording it over them (Matthew 20:25-28).

We will also find rest because, as he says in v. 30 – “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “Easy” is better translated as “comfortable” or a yoke that fits just right. “Light” has to do with having little weight.

Now none of this means that following Jesus can’t be hard – there is still a yoke and a burden; there are hard things to do and you can suffer for it. But in comparison to being weighed down under slavery to sin or human traditions it is a comfortable yoke and a light weight. It is God’s will for our life. It is not less than this so that you are living in sin, and it is not more than this so that you are carrying the burdens of human rules. It is simply God’s will, perfectly revealed in Jesus.

And this is the gift promised by Jesus here – rest, v. 28 – “and I will give you rest.” v. 29 – “and you will find rest for your souls.” Rest here means the cessation of toilsome labor from carrying really heavy weights that we are not meant to bear. It means peace, wholeness and well-being – which comes from following Jesus. (Jeremiah 6:16). It means we have this deep in our hearts and souls. And it is connected to the Sabbath rest and how this foreshadows the rest we will have when the kingdom comes in its fullness. (Again, see the stories on the Sabbath that follow our text.)

I invite you this morning to come to Jesus and find this rest for yourselves . . .

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(rewritten)

Proverbs 23:29-35

“Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper. You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (NLT)

Let me begin by telling you what I’m not talking about this morning. I am not talking about whether a Christian can or cannot drink alcohol in moderation. Christians can disagree about this and I have expressed myself on this before – see here.

What I’m here to do is to emphasize the line which the Scriptures draw quite clearly, which is that drunkenness is wrong. And as we will see, this certainly includes drug abuse as well.

But more than just make this point, I want us to look at why this is forbidden, to get some insight into this. Is God just not fun? What’s up with this?

First, we look at what is clear in Scripture

Drunkenness is forbidden

This is especially plain in the New Testament. Turn to 1 Peter 4:3. “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do . . . drunkenness . . . (and) drinking parties . . ..” Peter is saying, Stop doing these things! You are believers now. You know, haven’t you already wasted enough of your time with this?” Look at v. 4. He says, your friends may be shocked that you don’t do this anymore, but, as he says in v. 2, you are to live your live after God’s will from now on.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul says it quite simply, with 4 words, “do not get drunk . . ..”

Then he spells it out a bit in Galatians 5:19-21. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality . . . drunkenness (etc.) . . .. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Here we learn that it is a work of the flesh, a sin like sexual immorality (and the other items on this list). And if you persist in it, you will be judged; you will be rejected by Jesus on that final day.

And then, just in case it isn’t clear enough already, we also have 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. “Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral . . . nor drunkards . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” Whatever rationalization you might want to entertain, Paul is saying, “don’t be deceived.” It is wrong and it will kill you eternally. (See also Romans 13:13)

This is why this teaching is a part of our congregational covenant. A commitment to this scriptural standard is a basic part of the Christian life and it is a part of what it means to be baptized.

Now, let’s look at three reasons why drunkenness is forbidden.

1. It will destroy you

 When you’re drunk you lose control of your mental faculties and of your behavior in general. This is the definition of drunkenness or intoxication. You also lose control when you are “high” on drugs. The result of this is that you end up hurting yourself in very serious ways. Let’s look at some Scriptural descriptions of this sad reality.

It will make a fool of you. Proverbs 23:23 talks about having “hallucinations” when you are drunk. You lose touch with reality and this shows up in your behavior. This also comes out in Proverbs 23:35. The drunk person says, “They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up.”

You won’t even be able to walk. Proverbs 23:34 speaks of those who “stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a mast.” Isaiah 28:7 talks about people who reel, stumble and stagger.

Drunkenness also makes you stupid. Proverbs 23:33 says, “you will say crazy things.” Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler” That is, you can become arrogant, obnoxious, overconfident and even violent when you are drunk (Proverbs 23:29 mentions “fighting”).

Related to making poor decisions, this year, 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes; one every 50 minutes (MADD website)

Finally, we know the story of Genesis 9 where Noah is passed out, naked in his tent from drinking too much. As Proverbs 20:1 says at the end “whoever is led astray by (wine and strong drink) is not wise.” No, you become a fool for all to see.

It will lead you to degrade yourself morally. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” Debauchery means unrestrained self-indulgent immoral behavior. And that make sense. Once you’re drunk and lose control, who knows what you will do, or what will be done to you?

Alcohol is a sin magnifier. It amplifies whatever sinful desires you have and takes away whatever restraint you might normally have.

Long term, it will make you poor. Proverbs 23:20-21 says simply, “Be not among one who drinks too much wine or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.”

It will bring you sorrow. This is the result of what we have seen thus far. Proverbs 23:29-30 says, “Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks.” This is talking about reaping what you have sown, from all the stupidness of your drunkenness.

It will enslave you. This reality is described in Scripture. In Proverbs 23:35 the passed out drunk says to himself, “When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?” After all the pain, all you want is more.

Isaiah 28:7 speaks of drunkards, not as those who swallow wine, but as those who are “are swallowed by wine.”

Titus 2:3 says, older women are not to be “slaves to much wine.” The language of enslavement is explicit here.

It can kill you. To the one given to drunkenness, wine may look good, it may be enticing, but really “in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper” – Proverbs 23:32. And, of course, alcohol can be literally poisonous. In the United States, roughly 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning deaths are reported each year. (alcoholinformation. com)

2. It will destroy your relationship with others

When you don’t have control of your thinking and your behavior, you cannot love and serve others. You will lack the judgment and clarity of thought needed to do this. Rather than loving your neighbor as yourself, you will more likely be ignoring or harming others.

This is especially a problem for those that you have charge of, because drunkenness will cause you to forsake your responsibilities to them.

Proverbs 31:4-5 says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” There is a real theme in both the Old and New Testaments that leaders must not be those who drink too much precisely because they are responsible for many people. (Isaiah 5:22-23; 28:7; Ecclesiastes 10:16-17).

Paul tells us that church Elders are not to be “drunkards” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7) and Deacons must not be “indulging in much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8)

This is certainly true for parents with children in the home. An estimated 6.6 million children under 18 live in households with at least one alcoholic parent (alcoholinformation.com). Just to give one indicator, alcohol is involved in half of the reported cases of domestic violence (Betty Ford center).

But even short of violence, drug and alcohol abuse brings untold pain to families. It is a sad reality when a parent loves alcohol more than their child.

You cannot both love and serve others and have a life given to drug and alcohol abuse. It is impossible.

3. It will destroy your relationship with God

When you don’t have control of your thinking and your behavior, you cannot love and serve God. You have to have clear thinking and self control to serve God and these are the very things you give up when you are drunk. Who knows what you will do? You certainly won’t be loving God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

And then when you’re enslaved, your god actually becomes alcohol. You live a life of idolatry, giving up everything for it and looking to it for peace.

Isaiah 5:11-12 says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! . . . they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.” In the context here it is a part of why the people went off into the judgment of exile. (See also Hosea 4:10-11)

Jesus said in Luke 21:34, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness . . . and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” This is talking about when he returns. If you are given to drunkenness you will not be ready for Jesus.

You cannot both love God and have a life given to alcohol or drug abuse. It is impossible.

An encouragement

So these are three reasons why God forbids drug and alcohol abuse. But let me say, I do not share this to condemn anyone or to make you feel guilty (unless that guilt leads you to change). The reason behind these reasons is that God loves you. And God wants what is best for you and for those you love.

And the good news is that Jesus gives us the power to overcome. You can find new life. You can learn to love others. You can come to love God fully. It may not be easy. It may be the hardest thing you will ever do. But Jesus gives us the power to overcome.

William Higgins

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[rewritten]

We are looking at five steps that you can take to overcome sin in your life; to overcome in the area where you struggle to do God’s will. Today we look at step #4. Once you are in a test, receive strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Now, we need strength in a time of testing, because not only does Satan attack our mind, he attacks our heart – our desire to stay true to God.

 Satan pushes hard to get us to choose sin

And we are weak and prone to sin. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. And this is especially the case when we are put under pressure to do what’s wrong; when we are in a test. Satan wants to make it so that it is really hard to follow God and easy to sin.

When the pressure is applied, what happens is that there is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit, who encourages us to do God’s will even if it is hard and requires sacrifice, and the desires of the flesh, which want us to take the easy way out even if it means sinning against God. It’s like Paul said, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other” – Galatians 5:17.

We have to choose which way we will go – the desires of the Spirit or the desires of the flesh.

Let me give you an example of this conflict. I worked as a house painter when I moved to Boston in my 20’s. Well, when tax time came around I asked for my information and I found out that most of my pay was meant to be “under the table.” So I am on the phone with my boss and he is telling me this and I realize that he expects me to go along, because it helps him save money and if I don’t then my coworkers might have to start declaring their income and paying more taxes as well.

I was under pressure and I felt the conflict. I knew I should pay my taxes (Romans 13:7) and that this was a matter of integrity. But I didn’t want to lose the job; I didn’t want to cause my coworkers trouble; and I was poor and the thought of having more money was pretty appealing. I should probably just go along and get along. It’s just the way things are done, right?

This is a conflict between the desires of the Spirit and the desires of the flesh. We have all experienced this many times and in different ways.

Well, in times of testing, when we are struggling, what I am saying is that –

The Spirit can help us

So in your moment of weakness pray, “Spirit fill me and empower me. Give me the strength I need to do your will.” The Spirit is powerful and can enable us to overcome.

When we do this there is a death and resurrection that takes place within us. The wrongful desires of our flesh are crucified and the new life that God is raising up in us is more fully manifested.

Although the flesh is weak, Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. That is, the Spirit is willing to help us. How does this work? Well, it is the Spirit of God that first gave us a new heart with new desires when we were born again. And the same Holy Spirit can strengthen our desires for righteousness in a time of testing, when the desires of the flesh seem to be prevailing so that our desire for righteousness is greater than our fleshly desires and so we choose to do God’s will.

As Paul said, “Walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit), and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16 (NRSV). The power of the Spirit gives us the strength we need to override the desires of our flesh.

What we are really doing when we do this is putting to death the desires of our flesh that oppose God. Paul writes in 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.” By the Spirit, that is, the strength the Spirit gives us, we put to death the deeds of the body; we deny or say “no” to our fleshly desires that oppose God, so that we can do God’s will in our lives. As Jesus told us, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way daily – Luke 9:23.

Another way?

Now, often we try to overcome the desires of our flesh on our own. We don’t look to God for help. Sometimes we use rules or being hard on ourselves; sometimes even religious rules. Paul talks about, “self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body” and he says these, “are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” – Colossians 2:23.

Sometimes we rely on our own good intentions and will-power. And we may make some progress here or there, but there will always be areas where we fail. Paul describes such a person, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. . . Wretched man that I am!” – Romans 7:18-19; 24.

The problem with these other ways is that the flesh can’t fix the flesh. The power of sin is too strong. The flesh is too weak.

It is the Spirit alone who can set us free from the power of sin. As Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” – Romans 8:2. The Spirit sets us free! The Spirit enables us to do “the righteous requirement of the law,” that is, God’s will – Romans 8:4.

How do we receive strength from the Spirit?

We ask for it. We pray for the Spirit to come and fill us and empower us. This is the promise regarding receiving the Spirit, “For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” – Luke 11:10

We should pray this, opening ourselves up to the Spirit to change our hearts and strengthen us in righteousness.

Now, let’s illustrate this step with –

Peter and Jesus

First, Peter’s failure. He tried to stay true to Jesus, but he only relied on the power of the flesh. As you remember, he secretly followed Jesus after he was arrested and was outside in the courtyard where Jesus was being tried – Mark 14:66-72. Satan used the world to pressure him. The crowd put him on the spot. They said, “This man is one of them!” – Mark 14:69. And they did this three times. The third time it says, “Peter began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know this man (Jesus) of whom you speak’” – Mark 14:71.

Despite what he had said earlier, Peter wasn’t prepared to die for Jesus. When it came down to it he denied Jesus in order to save his life. Only relying on the power of the flesh and under pressure – he gave in. To use the words of James 1:14-15, Peter was “lured and enticed” by his desire to live. This “desire gave birth to sin.” He denied Jesus to save his life.

Jesus’ example. He received strength from the Spirit to do God’s will. Jesus didn’t want to die on the cross. He didn’t want to be abandoned by God. He didn’t want to come under the judgment of death.

But Jesus received strength from the Spirit. Again, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. And the Spirit was at work in him. You can see this in his prayer in Gethsemane, “not what I will, but what you will (God)” – Mark 14:36. His desire to do God’s will was greater than his desire to stay alive.

He received strength to undergo arrest, false accusation, mockery, torture, crucifixion and death. Jesus crucified the desires of his flesh in his heart, which led, in this case, to him offering up his body for literal crucifixion.

Do you receive strength from the Spirit?

When you are in a time of testing and you feel weak, do you ask God to empower you and enable you to do his will?

This is absolutely the key to overcoming sin in your life, above anything else we will talk about. Even if you want to do God’s will, you will find yourself in situations where you don’t have what it takes. You are too weak. And if you don’t access God’s power, you will fail.

The Spirit gives us power beyond what we have in ourselves – to do what is impossible in our own strength. And by this power we can deny any fleshly desire in order to do God’s will. Even when it is extremely difficult and involves self-sacrifice.

William Higgins

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We are looking at Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal trying to see what our Christian lives should look like, so that we can examine ourselves and see how we are actually doing. I suspect we already know where we are failing. But it is good to be encouraged to deal with what we already know about.

The first mark is Complete Yieldedness to God. And, as we saw last week, it is the key to all the rest. Because when we deal with our sins, then we are able to experience all that God has for us. And as we’ll see today it is the key that releases the Spirit to work in our own hearts, and then also to work through us to touch other people’s lives.

I want to begin by pointing out that . .

Our sin blocks the Spirit from working in and through us

When we don’t yield ourselves to God we grieve the Spirit. Did you know that you can do this? Paul says in Ephesians 4:30, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” We can cause the Spirit to be distressed, sorrowful, pained, sad; that’s what the word “grieved” means. We do this when we sin.

In the verses just before and after v. 30, Paul talks about various sins in the lives of Christians:  v. 25 – lying; v. 26 – inappropriate anger; v. 27 – stealing;   v. 29 – corrupt speech; and v. 31 – bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. We grieve the Spirit through these things, and any other sins which we allow to remain in our lives.

Also when we don’t yield ourselves to God we quench the Spirit. Paul talks about this in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench the Spirit.” To “quench” means to suppress, or to extinguish, like putting out a fire. This is what we do when we sin. We put out the fire of the Spirit within us. We put a lid on what the Spirit wants to do. We shut the Spirit out of our lives.

And that’s why David prayed in Psalm 51:11, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” He was repenting of adultery and murder and he knew this would affect the Spirit’s presence in his life. And he didn’t want that to happen.

The result of our sin is that we hinder the work of the Spirit in us and through us. God is not able to do what he wants in us to strengthen and help us. And we are certainly not in a place where the Spirit can work through us to minister to others.

Instead of being filled with the Holy Spirit, we are empty. We are dried up spiritually. We are weak and helpless.

Now, the Spirit doesn’t give up on us. The Spirit still works to convict us of our sin and unrighteousness, as Jesus talks about in John 16:8. The Spirit waits for us to respond to deal with our sin.

And this is exactly what you should do. Yield yourself completely to God. Submit every area of your life to God. Hold nothing back. Deal with all your sins, your failures and your compromises. Remove all the hindrances to the Spirit’s full working in and through you.

And then, ask God for the Spirit to come into your life anew. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Luke 11:9. He goes on to say, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” – Luke 11:13

Once we have dealt with our sin and found forgiveness, the Spirit is free to come and work. All we need to do is ask in faith and God will give us of his Spirit.

This brings us to the fourth mark of spiritual renewal . . .

4. The Spirit comes to work in us

When the Spirit comes we come alive again. The Spirit’s presence rejuvenates us. As Jesus said in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life.” When the Spirit is present, the Spirit brings forth life. Just as we were born of the Spirit when we first became a Christian, so our life is renewed when the presence of the Spirit comes again in fullness.

We are also transformed within. Instead of a heart of stone that is dead to God, as Paul says in Romans 5:5, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit works in us to produce change. Paul speaks of this as fruit in Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” Something new and different, happens within us.

And a part of this is that we are enabled to do God’s will. In Romans 8:4 Paul talks about how “the righteous requirement of the law” is “fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

And Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” All of us have weaknesses and brokenness in us; our flesh is weak. And these are sorely tested in times of difficulty and trial. But the Spirit helps us to endure and to overcome despite our weaknesses and times of testing.

The Spirit not only comes into us to make us new, the fifth mark of spiritual renewal is that . .  .

5. The Spirit comes to work through us to minister to others

The Spirit empowers us. Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . .” throughout the world.  – Acts 1:8. The word power means also, strength and ability.

The disciples are a good example here. Before the coming of the Spirit, they were fearful. But once the Spirit came they were strengthened to speak with conviction and boldness.

The Spirit gives us words to say. Jesus says that when you are being persecuted and brought before the authorities and you are anxious about what to say, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:12). And if God can give us the right words to say under such duress, how much easier in our everyday lives?

The Spirit gives us gifts or abilities. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Each one of us is to receive and use the gifts of the Spirit to minister to the needs of others. Paul mentions things like words of wisdom and knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues.

After giving these examples, he says, in 1 Corinthians 12:11, “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

So we are not alone, or left to try to serve God in our own strength. The Spirit helps us in all these ways and more.

Let me end by saying that as we minister to others in the power of the Spirit, the cycle starts over. Those we minister to

1. Are convicted to yield themselves completely to God

2. They experience renewed relationships with God, and 3. others

4. The Spirit comes to work in, and 5. through them.

And the cycle continues, again and again. This is how spiritual renewal works.

William Higgins

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I want to share with you about spiritual renewal for the next few weeks. We are preparing for our time of covenant renewal on October 4th. I would like for this to be a time when we examine our lives and our commitment to God. It should be a time of spiritual reflection on where we are in our life with God.

We’ll focus on Five Marks of Spiritual Renewal. And as we look at these, we will see what our Christian life should look like. And also reflect on what our Christian life often actually looks like. The difference between what should be and what is.

We begin with Complete Yieldedness to God. This mark is foundational, because without it you don’t get anywhere else in terms of faithfulness or renewal.

Another way to say this is that . . .

We are to give ourselves completely to God

  • To be totally committed to God.
  • To hold nothing back.
  • To be obedient in every area of our lives.
  • To yield in every way to what God’s will is for us.

Jesus calls us to this in several different ways: 1) He names this as the greatest of God’s commandments to us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30). Every part of us is to love God. And to love God means at its core, that we keep God’s commandments, as I John 5:3 says.

2) Jesus also calls us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). The rule and will of God is to be our first priority in all of life. Think of all the other things there are in life; good things. The kingdom is to be first.

3) Jesus told this parable to tell us what God wants from us – “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44). To be truly submitted to God; to be a part of God’s kingdom and under his rule – it will cost you everything. This man sold all that he had to gain the kingdom. We will have to do the same.

4) A final example is Jesus’ call to take up the cross. He said,  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). The cross is an instrument of death. We have to deny ourselves; we have to die to ourselves. This is the commitment that is called for; this is the commitment that is required by God.

In all of these different ways, and more, Jesus calls us to complete yieldedness to God.

Now, if we ask, ‘What does this kind of commitment look like?’ The answer is – You just need to look at Jesus.

Jesus is the standard

And he’s the standard because he gave himself completely to God.

  • Jesus was totally committed to God
  • Jesus held nothing back
  • Jesus was obedient in every area of his life
  • Jesus yielded to God’s will. At the time of his greatest testing, he prayed, “not my will, but yours (God) be done.”

1)       He loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.

2)       He sought God’s kingdom first.

3)       He gave up all he had for the kingdom.

4)       He denied himself and took up his cross – literally.

And he is now the standard for us as we seek to do God’s will. For he is the only one who truly and completely did God’s will. So if you want to please God; if you want to do God’s will truly and fully – do what Jesus taught and modeled for us.

This is, in fact, what Jesus calls us to. He said, “Learn from me” – Matthew 11:29. Jesus is our teacher. And so we learn from his teaching how to do exactly what God wants; how to please God in every way.

And Jesus is also our example. As we saw, he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34). What he did, we are to do. Just as he denied himself and took up his cross, we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

Jesus is the picture of complete obedience and we are to learn from his teaching and example how to be completely obedient to God ourselves.

Now, this is what we do at baptism. We commit to give ourselves completely to God, like Jesus did. But often it isn’t long until we have gone back on this; we retreat from such total commitment. And that’s because there are many –

Obstacles to complete commitment

And the first obstacle is You. Your own human weakness.

  • Your propensity to do what you want, instead of what God wants.
  • Your tendency to take the easy way, instead of the way of Jesus.

Jesus speaks of our human weakness in Mark 14:38 when he said, “the flesh is weak.” We are weak when it comes to doing what God wants of us.

And then there is the obstacle of the World – all those who don’t follow Jesus or share his values, who pressure us to go along with them instead of following Jesus. This is peer pressure. This is following the crowd instead of following Jesus.

  • The world offers us many opportunities to fail in our commitment. Jesus said, “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” (Matthew 18:7)
  • The world offers us many distractions to keep us from seeking first the kingdom. Jesus talks about “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19)

The world pressures us to fail and to be distracted, along with everybody else.

And in all this is Satan who puts us in tests where we have to make hard choices and then encourages us in our weakness to give in.

The result

. . . of these obstacles so often is that when hard choices confront us; when we are in difficult tests – we compromise; we choose what is wrong. We want what we want, not what God wants. We want the easy way out, not the way of Jesus. We want to fit in with our friends and peers, not submit to God.

And then we start to make excuses. We rationalize our sin. We think of many good reasons why we should do what we are doing. We think of why its OK in our situation. And we can always find someone else who is worse than us.

And then we become apathetic about our Christian life; we stop doing the hard work of denying ourselves and taking up our cross and dying to ourselves. We begin to coast.

And then we begin excusing this. We put our trust in cheap grace, telling ourselves ‘It’s OK if I allow constant patterns of disobedience in my life. I’ll just shoot a prayer up to God for forgiveness and all is well. We deceive ourselves forgetting that without repentance, there is no forgiveness.

What should you do?

First, be honest. Stop living in denial. Take a hard and rigorously honest look at your life. Stop making excuses – if my life had been different, if I were in different circumstances, if, if, if. And stop comparing yourself to other Christians, so that you come out looking good. Well at least I’m doing better than so and so. Jesus is the standard! Compare yourself to him.

Be honest with yourself and before God. God already knows the truth about you, it’s just a matter of whether you have the courage to know and acknowledge the truth about yourself.

  • Where are you holding out on God?
  • Where are you are not fully committed to God?

The second thing you should do is make some hard choices. Where you are compromising, choose to yield to God. Where you are holding out, submit.

1)       Choose to love God fully in every are of your life

2)       Choose to make God’s kingdom first

3)       Choose to give up everything for the kingdom

4)       Choose to deny yourself and take up your cross

And make whatever sacrifices you need to make to keep to this: friends, the approval of others, your privacy by confessing and being accountable to others; access to what leads you to sin. Even though its hard, do what it takes.

Jesus made this point in Matthew 18:8-9 –

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Complete yieldedness to God has to be at the core of our Christian lives.

We will still fail. But with this in place we won’t excuse it or tolerate it. We will immediately deal with it.

And with this in place in your life, and in our congregation as a whole, we will be in a place to experience the spiritual renewal that God wants for us.

William Higgins

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I want to share with you some teaching today that speaks to the big picture of how we interpret the Scriptures, but which also deals with some specific aspects of Christian obedience; things that are rarely or never talked about.

We begin with the big picture question, which is: Are Christians supposed to keep the Law of Moses? For instance:

  • Are Christians to keep the Sabbath, that is, Saturday, as a day of rest?
  • Should Christian men be circumcised?
  • Should Christians eat only clean foods and abstain from foods like pork?
  • Should we maintain ritual purity for example, if we touch a dead body?
  • Should Christians tithe according to the precepts of the Law?

It seems like there has always been confusion among Christians about the role of the Law of Moses in the Christian life. Didn’t Jesus change things? Didn’t Paul teach that it is no longer binding?

Well, I want us to look at the answer given by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28-29. But first we have to note, by way of background, that . . .

Jewish Christians continued to follow the Law of Moses

Jesus himself was Law observant, all the way down to wearing four tassels on his garment (Deuteronomy 22:12/Matthew 9:20). Oh, he stretched some things now and again, like touching a leper (Matthew 8:1-4; Numbers 5:1-4), but this was to heal the leper. And even in this case, he told the leper to follow the Law of Moses to be certified as clean.

And not only was Jesus Law observant, he also taught his Jewish disciples to keep the Law. As he said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them.” (See Matthew 5:17-19; 23:2-3; 23:23).

Now for sure, Jesus rejected the human traditions, or the “tradition of the elders” (the oral law) which the Pharisees used as a guide for keeping the Law (Matthew 15:1-9). Rather, he gave his disciples his own teaching and example as a guide (Matthew 23:10) which clarifies and perfects the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17). So for instance, with regard to the Sabbath: his Jewish disciples should keep it, but recognize that mercy has priority, which is why Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14).

Paul also kept the Law. James, the brother of Jesus, and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, who was himself famous for his strict observance of the Law, bears witness that Paul was Law observant in Acts 21:20-24:

  • When Paul came to visit Jerusalem, James spoke of how the Jewish Christians there were zealous for the Law.
  • But, they had been told a rumor that Paul was teaching Jewish Christians to forsake the Law.
  • To counter this, James had Paul publicly go through a Mosaic vow ceremony.

James says in v. 24, “Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.”

Now, these Jewish believers, didn’t keep the Law in order to be saved by it. Jesus is the Messiah and Savior. They kept the Law because Moses is the authority that God has placed over them, just as we submit to the authorities that God has placed over us and the laws of our land. And the authority of Moses for Jews will not pass away until the coming of the kingdom in its fullness, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:18.

The Jerusalem Council

But what about Gentiles? Should they keep the Law? There was a heated debate about this because Jesus didn’t leave any specific instructions on this point.

  • Some taught that Gentiles must be circumcised and become fully Law observant Jews in order to be accepted by God (Acts 15:1; 5). [To be circumcised is to commit to obey the whole Law of Moses – Galatians 5:3]
  • Paul and others taught that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised and keep the Law, to be fully accepted by God (Acts 15:2).

So, there was a gathering to settle this issue, the apostles, along with the elders of the church of Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, called the Jerusalem Council.

They decided that Gentiles are not required to keep the Law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:13-19). As Peter said:

  • Gentile Christians, like Jewish Christians, are “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).
  • They are “disciples” of Jesus, that is, they obey Jesus’ teaching (Acts 15:10).
  • They have received the “Holy Spirit” as a witness to their salvation (Acts 15:8).

But Jewish Christians would continue to keep the Law, not for salvation, but in submission to Moses.

So this helps us to understand the bigger picture of Scripture, why some passages sound like the Law is to be followed; talking to Jewish Christians (see again Matthew 5:17-19; 23:2-3; 23:23). And why others sound like the Law does not need to be followed; Paul talking to the Gentile Christians.

Now to the issue of specific behaviors – that are rarely if ever talked about. It was also decided at the Jerusalem council that there was one portion of the Law that Gentile Christians should observe.

We see this in what is called . . .

The Apostolic Decree

. . . a letter that was sent out to the Gentile churches. It says in part,

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” – Acts 15:28-29.

This letter gives three essentials that apply to everyone: 1) Do not eat idol food. 2) Do not eat blood (or what is strangled, because the blood hasn’t been drained). 3) Do not practice sexual immorality

If we ask, where do these essentials come from? It is quite clear. These refer back to Leviticus 17-18, which talk about these same issues in the same order as in the Apostolic Decree: 1) Idol food – Leviticus 17:1-9; 2) Eating blood – Leviticus 17:10-16; 3) Sexual immorality – Leviticus 18.

So the decision of the council was that, Gentile followers of Jesus do not need to submit to the Law of Moses, except for a particular part of it that comes from Leviticus 17-18.

What does this mean practically in terms of specific behaviors? 1. Do not eat idol food. This isn’t a pressing issue in our context today. It was huge for them, and still is in some parts of the world. But basically it means, if you know the food has been offered up to an idol, don’t eat it.

2. Do not eat blood. This means that our meat needs to be butchered so that the blood is drained, which is the common practice today. (The widespread acceptance of the Decree in the Gentile churches and the later influence of the church on society no doubt played a role in this being common today). And also don’t eat dishes that have blood in them.

3. Do not practice sexual immorality. This seems self-explanatory, but Leviticus 18 gets pretty specific, you know, beyond just the basics, (you can read the whole chapter yourself, I rate it at PG 13 or above). Here are three examples:

  • Do not marry close relatives – vs. 6-18
  • No sexual relations during menstruation – v. 19
  • Do not engage in same-sex acts – v. 22

Alright, as I said, some of this is never really talked about, but this is God’s will for our lives. As the letter said, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (the apostles and elders)” – Acts 15:28. It really doesn’t get any clearer than that.

Why these three items?

It’s because they teach a ‘creation righteousness’ that is not Jewish specific, but applies to all people, everywhere.

  • Why can’t we eat food sacrificed to idols? Because God is our Creator and we are to have no participation with idolatry or false gods, including idol food. This applies to everyone, since God created everyone.
  • Why can’t we eat blood? Because the life is in the blood, (Leviticus 17) and the life belongs to the Creator. Originally God only allowed a vegetarian diet. God gave Noah permission to eat meat, but then only without the blood (Genesis 9:4). So this command applies to all the children of Noah; that is, to all people.
  • Why can’t we engage in sexual immorality? Because our Creator has established the boundaries of sexual behavior. And as the end of Leviticus 18 makes clear, Gentiles are held accountable to these boundaries. The Canaanites were judged, in part, for the sexual immorality described in Leviticus 18. These boundaries apply to all people.

Finally, what about Paul and the Apostolic Decree?

Well, he was there, he shared, and he supported the Decree – which, in fact, vindicated his position. Act 16:4 says, “As Paul and Timothy went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.”

He supported the specifics of the Decree. Now, there is no discussion of eating blood in Paul or anywhere else in the New Testament, other than Acts 15. But on the issue of idol food, Paul taught his people not to knowingly eat food sacrificed to idols – I Corinthians 10:14-22. (See also Revelation 2:20). And on the issue of sexual immorality, numerous examples could be given. Here are two: no incest (I Corinthians 5:1) and no same-sex behavior (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

He also supported the general principle of the Decree. This gets us back to the big picture level. All were to follow Jesus’ teaching and example as Christians, and then according to the Apostolic Decree:

  • Jewish Christians continued to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-24)
  • And Gentile Christians were only to keep the three essentials from the Law (Acts 21:25)

Paul affirms this in I Corinthians 7:17-20:

“Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision in nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”

He is saying, if you are a practicing Jew when you become a follower of Jesus, don’t give up your observance of the Law; don’t remove the marks of circumcision. But, if you are a Gentile when you become a follower of Jesus, don’t seek to start obeying the Law of Moses; don’t seek circumcision (at least not as a means of salvation).

Remain in the condition in which you were called, when you were saved. The Jew remains a Jew, the Gentile remains a Gentile. Just make sure, whether Jew or Gentile, that you are obeying God; that you are following Jesus’ teaching and example.

This is the mystery of God, according to Paul, that was hidden from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 3:1-6).

God has chosen to put together both Jews and Gentiles as the people of God.

  • Gentiles should not be forced to become Jews, which is what Paul fought.
  • And Jews should not be forced to be Gentiles, which is pretty much what has happened ever since the time of Paul.

Both Jews and Gentiles come together in Christ as one, on an equal footing.

____________

A footnote: The teaching of the decree was followed in Gentile churches for centuries as is evidenced in various church manuals and other writings:

  • No idol food: Didache 6:3; Apostolic Constitutions 7:2:21.
  • No eating blood: Irenaeus Fragments xiii; Tertullian Apology 9; Apostolic Constitutions 7:2:20.
  • No sexual immorality: The Apostolic Tradition 16:20; Apostolic Constitutions 6:5:28 forbids same-sex practice, intercourse during menstruation, etc. and appeals to Leviticus 18.

For an earlier version of this teaching – Should Christians Obey the Law of Moses

For a version of this teaching that focuses on sexual immorality and in particular same-sex practice – The voice of the Spirit and the Jersusalem Council on same-sex practice

William Higgins

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