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Believer’s Two Inner Natures

 

The moment we believe in Jesus, we form a bond with Him that cannot be severed and will never perish.  When we say “how to grow a healthy new life” we mean “how to stay bonded to Jesus in our daily living”.  In other words, we have become believers and have been united with Jesus; there is nothing in this world (including us) can separate us from Him (Romans 8:31-39).  However, the healthy growth of our new life depends on whether our bond with Jesus is strong or not and on whether we live out this bond in our daily life.

 

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:1)  “… I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. … I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out … because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. … You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” (Romans 7:14, 18; 8:2, 9)

 

After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. … Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 3:3; 5:18, 25)

 

After becoming Christians, we all desire to have good deeds to please the Lord.  However, we often mistakenly think that we understand God’s word and will, and proceed by relying on our own intelligence, ability, and talent (i.e. trying to use “I” – the means of the flesh – to accomplish His will).  Even though at times we may appear to be making progresses but we are doomed to fail from the start.  So we always end up sharing Apostle Paul’s lament, “What a wretched man I am!” (Romans 7:24)

 

What does God think of us when we rely on our own efforts to do good deeds?  Galatians 3:10 says, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse.”  That is, trying to do good by our own efforts is not pleasing to God.  It’s like doing a thankless job.  What then is the right way to please our God?  Let’s examine this further.

 

 

I.        Two Roads, Two Trees, and Two Foundations

 

Jesus gave “the Laws of the Kingdom of Heaven” as proclaimed in Matthew Chapters 5-7.  The laws explained the characters that the citizens of the kingdom of Heaven should possess.  Although at that time Jesus’ teaching was clearly intended for Jews, but in reality it was not just for the Israelites of that time or of the future.   His sermon was aimed for all people through the ages who acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and King.  Therefore, it is fitting to say that His sermon explains the characters that all Christians should have.

 

After reading this part of the Scripture, many people, myself included, felt that although this is a great teaching, but the standard Jesus set is too high for us to reach.  We briefly touched on the passage of Matthew 7: 7-28 in the previous lesson and will continue the discussion here.  However, we are not going to discuss what characters the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven should have.  Rather, we want to discuss what Jesus said about how we may attain these characters.

 

At the beginning of Matthew Chapters 5, 6 and 7, Jesus proclaimed the Laws of the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e. the DOs and DON’Ts of life.  These proclamations remind us of the laws in the Old Testament which only require that our outwardly visible behaviors be moral, yet none of us can live up to them.  But now in the laws for the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, God’s requirements go beyond just the outwardly visible moral behaviors.  He even demands that our inner thoughts and motives be pure as well – a much higher standard compared to that of the laws in the Old Testament.  How can we possibly achieve such a new higher standard?  In the past, my attitude was: “I’ll do the best I can; at least it’s better than not trying at all.”  And of course, in the end I can only repeat Paul’s lament, “What a wretched man I am!”

 

Fortunately, after Jesus gave us the laws (the DOs and DON’Ts) He proceeded to point out what it would take for us to attain the characters required by these laws: choosing the right way, connecting to the right source of life, and building on the right foundation.  In Matthew 7:7 and 7:11, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  “ If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” (see also Luke 11:9-13).  Jesus pointed out here that the characters of a citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom could not be attained through your own wisdom, talents and abilities.  Rather, they are attained through a new way -- that is to ask the Lord, to seek the Lord and to knock on the door of the Lord.  Renowned Bible scholar William MacDonald thinks that although this passage is equally applicable to both believers and seekers, it is, in fact, meant for the believers. 

 

A.    Two ways: leading to two different results, i.e. leading to two different values (see Matthew 7:13-14)

 

    Comparing two different ways and their resulting values:

 

Two Ways

End Results

Eternal Value

The way of “by faith” (the way of calling on the name of the Lord)

Leads to Eternal Life (pleasing  to God)

Yes

The way of “not by faith” (the way of relying on one’s own talent, reasoning, and analytical ability)

Leads to death (for believers: not a loss of soul but inability to live according to God’s will; fruitless and a waste in God’s eyes)

No

 

1.      The way of “living by faith” (i.e. the way of “calling on the name of the Lord”) – this is the only way that can lead us to eternal life.  God sent His son Jesus into the world to complete the plan of salvation, thus, opened a new and living way for us.  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (see Hebrews 10:20-22)  Give thanks to God for opening a way so that “by faith” we may approach God directly.

 

1)     By faith – entering through the narrow gate: Jesus pointed out that to meet the requirements of the laws of the Heavenly Kingdom the most important thing is to take the way of “living by faith”, that is to enter though the “narrow gate”.  Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep; … whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:7, 9).  We were once nonbelievers, but by one act of belief, calling upon Jesus (saying that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself and I accept Jesus as my personal savior), we entered through the narrow gate and were saved, born again and received eternal life (new life).

 

2)     By faith from first to last (Romans 1:17) – take the narrow road: after becoming believers through faith, we must continue to live by faith.  In all our daily encounters (no matter difficult or easy, disappointing or not, displeasing or not, and even when my sinful old-self has surfaced or is exposed) we must continue to live by calling on the name of the Lord.  Our prayer should be, “Lord, there is nothing good in me.  I should not rely on myself to handle what I have to face.  If I rely on myself, I have neither the wisdom nor the abilities to meet your expectations.  Lord, save me from myself.  Deliver me from relying on myself.  Lord, I thank you because your life is in me; you are my life.  I will only rely on your life to reach the standard you have set for us.”  This is the meaning of taking the narrow road.  The reason that this gate or this road is narrow is because we can only live by faith, live by calling upon the Lord.  There is no other way.  We must not, can not and should not depend on our own ability, reasoning and wisdom.  Only this road of “living by faith” (i.e. calling upon the name of the Lord) can lead to eternal life.  There are two aspects to the eternal life referred to here: one is to have the everlasting life; the other is to have the everlasting value through meeting God’s requirements (attaining the characters of the citizen of the Heavenly Kingdom). (see John 4:36)

 

2.      The way of “not living by faith” – it is the ways to destruction.

 

1)     We all know that the final outcome of a non-believer is forever separation from God or forever death.

 

2)     A believer who still acts on his own fervor, talent, experience, wisdom, and abilities (i.e. taking the wide gate and the broad road) rather than living by faith – Matthew 7:13-14 says that it will lead to “destruction”.  According to Bible scholar William MacDonald, the term “destruction” refers not to the loss of one’s soul, but inability to live according to God’s will and purpose.  Therefore, his life has no value and is a waste in God’s eyes (according to the dictionary of the original bible text, the term “destruction” here implies waste or fruitless effort).

 

Jesus points out here that in order to attain the characters of the Kingdom of Heaven we must first live by faith, that is to acknowledge that we were sold to sin, and were corrupt and unable to meet God’s requirements.  But now, Jesus Christ is my life and I should not rely on myself to do anything but should only call on the Lord’s name for He shall deliver me to meet God’s requirements. 

 

B.      Two trees: two different lives bearing two different kinds of fruits (Matthew 7:15-18)

 

We are referring to two different trees of life, the good and the bad.  The bad tree comes from bad seed and bears bad fruits; the good tree comes from good seed and bears good fruits.  If we use trees as the metaphor for the human life, then there are only two kinds of trees – “in Adam” and “in Christ”, and of course these two kinds of trees will have different fruits.

 

1.      The tree from the bad seed symbolizes the life that is “in Adam”.  Because of his disobedience, Adam became slaves to sin and brought sin to all people in the world.  Therefore, he is the seed of all bad trees.  The Bible calls the life born of the earthly parents the “old self”, that is what we commonly referred to as of blood and flesh.  It belongs to the bad tree category (in contrast, Jesus is of the good tree).  The bad tree bears bad fruits (not rotten but of bad seed).  It is bad because the life of the bad tree not only does not meet God’s standards but also the fruits (its deeds) are bad and hostile to God.  Being self-centered is the basic expression of a life that is in Adam (i.e. the nature of the bad fruits is boastful, low self-worth, self-pity, arrogant, egoistic, prideful, etc.).  It’s only human nature that we always put our own interest ahead of everyone else’s.

 

2.       The good tree refers to the life in Christ.  (Being obedient to God’s will, Jesus came into the world and completed the salvation plan, and became the source of eternal salvation and life for all those who submit to Him.)  The new life we received through rebirth by the Holy Spirit is the life of the Son of God.  It is a life of obedience that’s everlasting and will never perish.  This is the life of the good tree.  As it is written in 1 Peter 1:23, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”  This life is good because it is capable of attaining the characters of the citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom (God’s requirements of us), and is pleasing to God.  Only those trees that can bear good fruits (i.e. having deeds that meet God’s requirements) are good trees; and only through the life of a good tree can one live out the characters of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

 

Jesus used this parable to point out that the fruits are manifestations of the life of a tree.  From two different sources of life come two different trees bearing two different fruits.  The fruits characteristic of the citizens of the kingdom of heaven must come from the tree with the new life of Christ.  But if we try to do good deeds using our own wisdom, abilities and will power, it’ll be like looking for good fruits from a bad tree.  Perhaps people look at your outward behaviors and think that you are very good but in reality you are only fooling them.  It is just like having “fake” good fruits on a bad tree because we know a bad tree can only bear bad fruits.

 

A comparison of “two trees”, “two kinds of lives” and “two kinds of fruits”:

 

Two trees

Two kinds of lives

Two kinds of fruits

Tree of good seed

A life that is in Christ

·        In agreement with God’s will

·        Pleasing to Him

Tree of bad seed

A life that is in Adam

·        Not in agreement with God’s will

·        Not pleasing to God

·        Hostile to God

 

 

3.      The relationship between the two ways and the two trees

 

To live a life of the good tree is to take the way of calling on the name of the Lord -- admitting that I am not capable of doing good, so I must look to Christ to be my life and to do it all for me.  To live the life of a bad tree is to take the way of relying on the flesh, and doing things based on my own intellectual reasoning – everything is done by me.  Once I start to rely on “myself” to act, all the conditions associated with the “old-self” and the life “in Adam” will surface.  The two trees Jesus talked about refer to the two kinds of life we can choose to live out.  Is it the life of relying on myself (the bad tree)?  Or is it the life of in Christ (the good tree)?  The fruit borne from the life in Christ is good and the fruit borne from the life of relying on myself is bad.  Good trees cannot bear bad fruit, and vice versa.

 

The relationship of two ways, two trees, two kinds of fruits, and two kinds of values:

 

Two Ways

Two Trees

Two kinds of Fruits

Two kinds of Values

The way of calling on the name of the Lord

Good tree: through calling on the name of the Lord, Christ becomes my life and He fulfills everything for me

Bearing fruits that are pleasing to God

Has eternal value

The way of relying on one’s own ability, intellectual reasoning, and analysis

Bad tree: through using my own ability, reasoning, and analysis to live a life of “relying on myself” (controlled by the sin nature)

Bearing fruits that are (1) not pleasing to God and (2) hostile  to God

Will lead to destruction and no eternal value (wasted, futile)

 

 

C.    Two foundations and two outcomes (Matthew 7:24-27)

 

Jesus compared our deeds as similar to building houses.

 

1.      The house with its foundation on the rock:  Jesus said, Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25).  What was Jesus referring to when He said “….. hears these words of mine and …..”?  In the past I thought it simply referred to such commandments as do not hate, kill, commit adultery, etc.  However, if we pay attention to the context of the entire Chapter 7, it would not be hard to discern that Jesus was referring to the message in 7: 7-13.  Simply put, the words He wanted us to receive is the message of taking the road of “asking, seeking, and knocking”, or taking the path of “calling on the name of the Lord”.  When we call on the name of the Lord and acknowledge that He is our Lord and king, then the peace of God, which transcends all human understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Through the Holy Spirit, we are filled with peace, or God’s word, or God’s will (i.e. the anointing teachings).  Then we just follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit (the anointing teachings) and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit (the Holy Spirit is full of power) to act.  This is the true meaning of putting the Lord’s word into practice and setting the foundation on the rock.  Such deed is like a house built on the rock, which will not fall from wind, rain, or the floods. 

 

In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul expressed a similar message.  In verses 14-17, he stated that when we pray, our inner being will be strengthened with power through the Spirit to follow God’s guidance.  Upon following God’s guidance, His power within us will accomplish immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (verse 20).  We will discuss on how to rely and obey the Holy Spirit to act in the following sections.

 

2.      The house with its foundation on the sand:  this obviously refers to our abandoning the way of calling on the name of the Lord and relying on our own mind, method, abilities and will power to live.  Such a life cannot withstand the difficulties of the world (just like the house built on sand cannot withstand the wind, rain, or floods).  Furthermore, even if we manage to survive the difficulties of the world, our deeds are but of wood, hay and straw in God’s eyes, and will not withstand the fire that tests the eternal value of our works.

 

 

Comparing two foundations and two outcomes:

 

Two different foundations for building the house

Two different outcomes

Rock: Hear the Lord’s words and put into practice (take the path of “calling on the name of the Lord”, follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and rely on the Holy Spirit to act)

The house (the results of our deeds) will not fall but will stand forever.

Sand: Hear the Lord’s words but do not put into practice (depend only on one’s own abilities and intellectual analyses to act)

The house will fall, and with a great crash.

 

D.    Through the three parables above, Jesus wanted to make it clear that the way to attain the necessary characters of a citizen of the heavenly kingdom (that is, if we want to please God), is completely different from what people normally would assume – must be experienced, must be capable, and must rely on your own ability and competence to do good deeds.  Relying on God and relying on oneself are two entirely different paths.  They originate from two different lives, have two different sources of power, and resulting in two different fruits.

 

Comparing two ways, two trees, two foundations and two results:

 

Two ways

Two trees (two different sources of life)

Two foundations (two different sources of power )

Two results and two values

The way of calling on the name of the Lord ( the way of by faith)

Good Tree: through calling on the name of the Lord,  Christ is my life and accomplishes all for me

Hear the Lord’s words and put into practice (take the path of calling on the name of the Lord, follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and rely on the power of the Spirit to act)

Attaining the characters of the citizen of the kingdom of heaven, pleasing to God, and having everlasting value

The way of relying on one’s own intellect, abilities and analysis to live

Bad Tree: using my own intellect, abilities and analysis, live a life of “relying on myself” (which is controlled by sin)

Hear the Lord’s words but do not put into practice (rely on one’s own abilities, intellect and analyses to live)

Can’t meet God’s requirements; can’t please God, hostile to Him.  A wasteful effort and without value

 

It is therefore obvious that we must take the way of “by faith”, which is to call on the name of the Lord, admit to our own corruptness and powerlessness, and look to Jesus Christ to be our life and to accomplish all for us.  Following the guidance of the Holy Spirit and seeking His empowerment is the only way by which we can gradually attain the characters of a citizen of the heavenly kingdom.

 

II.      The law of sin and death

 

Why must we choose the way of “calling on the name of the Lord” (i.e. the way of the Cross) in order to please God?

 

In Chapter 7 of the Book of Romans, Apostle Paul described his struggles because of sin, and in Chapter 8 he said that he was finally set free: because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”. (Romans 8:2)

 

What is law?  Law refers to unchanging truth.

 

After Adam’s fall, we are all controlled by sin.  Our sin-controlled body becomes the body of sin, which cannot help but commit sins resulting in our separation from God, which is eternal death. (see Romans 5:12)

 

A.    The law of sin:  There are two aspects to this law.  

 

First, Adam sinned and was controlled by the sin nature therefore all men (we are all born in Adam) are also controlled by the sin nature.  This is an unchanging law -- the law of sin.  In other words, if you are a member of the human race, you are born in Adam.  Like it or not, you cannot escape the control of the sin nature.  It’s not up to you, this is the law.

 

Second, since all men in Adam are controlled by sin which will surely enslave the body of the old-self to commit sinful acts (our greatest sin is to be self-centered), therefore, our old-self has no freedom not to sin.  It’s not up to you, this is the law.

 

B.      The law of death:  Once we are under the control of sin we have no choice but to commit sinful deeds which lead to death.  Thus under the control of sin, one’s deeds always result in death (hostile to God and separated from God).  It’s not up to you, this is the law.

 

C.    The law of sin and death:  A man born in Adam will surely be controlled by sin, commit sinful deeds, and end up in death.  It’s not up to you, this is the law of sin and death. 

 

Therefore we know that it’s impossible for a person in Adam to please God, because he has no choice but to sin, and must face death in God’s court – i.e. being hostile to God and separated from Him. (Romans 5:12) 

 

III.    How does Jesus Christ free us from the law of sin and death?

 

A.    Several ways the sin nature and sinful acts are referred to:

 

Sin Nature: the Power of Sin (1 Cor. 15:56); the reign of sin (Romans 5:21); sin (Romans 5:12). Some books refer to the sin nature as the original sin or the root of sin.

 

Sinful Acts: the Bible refers to sinful acts as sins (Romans 5:12).  Some books refer to sinful acts as the actual sins.

 

B.      God’s salvation

 

1.      God had forgiven our sinful acts through the precious blood of Christ, and cleansed us of all our sins.  We are therefore no longer sinners before God’s righteous court of law.  However, His blood did not wash away our sin nature.

 

2.      His blood only effected the forgiveness of our sinful acts, but did not resolve the issue of our sin nature.  If the sin nature is still in control of us then we will forever be in the revolving door of committing sins and then seeking forgiveness.  It is an endless vicious cycle.  (Note that in China a heresy by the name of “Eastern Lightening” asserts that the Jesus they believe in can only wash away our sins but cannot free us from the root of sins.  Therefore, the Jesus they believe in is not the One we believe in.)

 

3.      God’s salvation surely doesn’t stop at just cleansing of our sinful acts.  Since God set out to save us He definitely would see to it that our salvation be complete.  Therefore, He must take care of the issue of the sin nature.  So what was his solution?  He did not put the sin nature to death.  He did not remove it from us.  What God did was to use Jesus’ cross to put us, the sinners (those who are controlled by the sin nature), to death.  Because Jesus was crucified and because we believe in Him, God made the sinners in us die with Jesus on the cross.  Therefore, through being united with the Lord in death God freed us from the control of the sin nature.  Thus, when we died with Christ, we died to the sin nature, and sin shall never be our master or our king, because “anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:7).  When we are no longer under the power of sin, we have complete freedom not to sin.  In summary, God took care of our sinful deeds through the blood of Jesus.  He freed us from the control of sin through Jesus’ death and our death with Jesus by faith.

 

4.      Give thanks to God, through faith, we not only died with Christ, but also received new life having been raised together with Him from death.  Praise the Lord, through calling on the name of the Lord, we can die to sin and be alive to God (righteousness).  It’s not by our own efforts, but by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In weakness we die, but in glory we are resurrected.

 

God used Jesus’ blood to take care of our sinful deeds.  He used Jesus’ cross to make our old-self die on the cross with Jesus through faith.  Now that our old-self is dead we are freed from the sin nature and in turn, we are freed from the law of sin as well as the law of death.

 

C.    The way of the Cross

 

When we come to Christ, by faith (i.e. by calling on the name of the Lord), all the things associated with God’s salvation have been accomplished for us.  But how can we personally experience the promise of God’s salvation plan?  When we first believed in Jesus, it was by calling on the Lord’s name and following the “way of the Cross” so as to be saved and born again.  Now that we have become Christians we should continue to live by constantly calling on the name of the Lord (i.e. to live in Christ and to bond with Him more closely in our daily life).  We must follow the way of the Cross so that our life may grow.   The way to experience God’s salvation is to:

· acknowledge our own inabilities and look to Him to be our savior;

· continually acknowledge that He is our Lord and lift up His name on high;

· rely on the Holy Spirit, obey his guidance and acknowledge that he holds the power of life;

· look up to His grace.

 

Through the way of the Cross, we will continually experience dying with Him as well as being raised with Him to free ourselves from the control of the sin nature.  Gradually, we will put to death the misdeeds of the body and experience continual growth of our new life, bearing good fruits, and become the children that are pleasing to our Father God.

 

   


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