Sanctification as Re-Directed Worship (Romans 8)

“What people revere, they resemble,” writes G.K. Beale, “either to their ruin or restoration.”  Worship, we’ve often emphasized, is both the expression and formation of our love.  Worship shapes us in often unseen ways.   I often point out the way that people can pick up accents through no other method than time and exposure.

This has a profound influence over the way we conceptualize sin.  Yes, sin is an inward disposition, but what can be said about its nature?  In the fourth century A.D., a writer named Augustine described what he called the ordo amoris, or “logic of the heart.”  In today’s terms, we might conceptualize the human heart as something of a pyramid.  Love for God belongs at the apex of the human heart.  But in our natural state, we tend to replace God with some other idol.  An inordinate devotion to money will render you a prisoner of greed.  An inordinate devotion to sexuality will render you a prisoner of lust.  And an inordinate devotion to self-interest will render you a prisoner of Sin.

The gospel promises freedom from all of this.  In our previous post, we talked about how sanctification—the means by which God changes us into His likeness—can be described in three ways: positionally (a changed status before God), progressively (a gradual change in our moral character), and perfectly (a total renewal that comes only in the resurrection of our bodies).  All—repeat all—forms of sanctification are the work of a God who reaches into our world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Because of this, we are renewed.  Made whole.

It’s for this reason that Paul can tell his readers in both Ephesus and Colosse to:

put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

We can’t escape the fact that this is a direct command.  So if sanctification is a work of God, then what role could we possibly have?  The answer is somewhat mysterious, but we know from the verses above that while we can never earn God’s favor, we can nonetheless exert effort in response.

Here’s what I’m saying: if Sin is a form of mis-directed worship, than our movement away from sin—away from self, away from idols—is a form of re-directed worship.  At first glance this smacks of effort—but the gospel provides both the motivation and the means:


Because we have been forgiven through the blood of Jesus, we are no longer God’s enemies but the children of God:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 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. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:12-17)

Too often Christianity becomes a form of what we might call “fire insurance”—good for avoiding Hell and judgment, but little else.  If God is only my judge, then forgiveness might make me grateful, but will never warm my heart towards him.  A judge—a teacher, professor, employer—who overlooks my poor performance only makes me want to flee his presence, lest he or she change their minds and I get “zapped” like I deserve.

But if God is my father, that changes everything, because now I want to spend time with Him and live more like Him.


In his excellent book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation,  James K. A. Smith makes a distinction between what he calls “thick” and “thin” practices.  Thin practices have little bearing on our character, but are instead “instrumental to some other end. They also aren’t the sort of things that tend to touch on our identity” (p. 82).  Brushing one’s teeth, for example, has little to do with personal desire or character development.  Thick practices, however, reveal and shape our deeper vales.   “These are habits that play a significant role in shaping our identity, who we are. Engaging in these habit-forming practices not only says something about us, but also keeps shaping us into that kind of person” (p. 82). Cell phones, for example, could potentially reveal practices (texting, Facebook apps, etc.) that teach us to value convenience over true relationship, and in so doing orient us away from others and toward self.

What we need, then, are practices that shape our character away from self and toward God and neighbor.  In Christian circles, we might highlight several of these practices:

  • Staying devoted to God’s Word—that is, the Bible.
  • Devoting oneself to corporate worship. Why go to Church?  We attend a weekly service not as a ritual, but an expression and celebration of the Church body of which we are a part.
  • Realized community—showing love and compassion to others through face-to-face interactions rather than relegating others to texting and social media.
  • Sharing our faith with outsiders, which reminds us of the need to reach our world with the love of Jesus, and to sharpen our understanding of the gospel as we seek to relate God’s truth to a world full of darkness.

Finally, we must—in all things—remember the role of the Holy Spirit.  Much of this is the result of a supernatural intervention from God.  In that sense, most of our practices are about not getting in the way (!).

We conclude, then, with a quote from a John Bunyan poem:

“Run, John, run

The law commands

But gives me neither feet nor hands

Tis better news the Gospel brings

It bids me fly

It gives me wings”*


Why Roots Matter (Ephesians 1, Romans 8)

Sunday begins our Christmas season sermon series which will run throughout the month of December – covering not only the four Sundays, but also as a part of our theme for Christmas Eve.

Our study will be called “The Roots of Redemption: Jesus’ Family Tree.” In our series brochure, as well as on our introduction page, we set up the series with this description:

Our origins speak powerfully to our identity—and destiny.  Where we come from tells us something about who we are, where we’re going. 

But not everyone’s family tree overflows with good fruit.  Some of us have closets full of skeletons.  Sometimes even our own past seems a barrier to our future. 

When we look at Jesus’ family tree, we find a lot of broken branches and scandal.  The ancient world believed that such past blemishes could tarnish your whole reputation—that yes, one bad apple spoils the whole bunch.  But Jesus shows us that His life of purity can redeem even the darkest of family roots. 

Every family tree has some sap running through it – so goes the old saying. Yep, that’s true, and pretty much all of us don’t need to look as far back as Adam and Eve to find the sap. We’re more than a bit sticky ourselves!

I have been pretty open in recent years about my own identity search, and being adopted, I had two distinct family trees to go back through. Over the years I have known a lot about the family tree and history of the family with whom I grew up (which was biologically my mother’s side). But my father’s side was mostly a mystery with only a name and a mere handful of facts.

So with the resources of such research and computer tools like, I was able to learn a great deal. I even discovered a long-lost cousin and connected with him for a visit one day. He died rather suddenly just a few months after that, so it was good I caught him. I learned a lot – much also that helped me understand myself a bit more.

But, be careful what you hope for and look to find out when you start digging through the recesses of a dark closet. I’ve only been able to get the roots (on my father’s side) as far back as three generations before me. The leads there grow cold and have been a brick wall. My best guess is that he was an orphan who was taken in by a miscellaneous family. He worked in a post office, got caught pilfering something in the mails, and spent time in a federal prison. However, it appeared that he completely changed his life for the positive after that event.

But it was certainly not what I hoped to find. I would rather that my biological history went back to the Founding Fathers of America or to an industrialist that fueled American exceptionalism and enterprise.

Yet even when there is some extraordinary individual in a family tree, as we saw with King David, there is a lot of clay in the feet of even the greatest human beings.

We all need a different sort of “additional” family tree – the family of God. And to be a part of it, we need an adoption into it. And that is what Christ came to do…………

Romans 8:14-16 – For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Ephesians 1:3-8 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.

We have a new family, with new roots. We are the children of the King through adoption into sonship by the redemption of the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Devil Made Me Do It? (Romans 8:1-4)

I know, I know … I just lost everyone under age 50 with that title. It of course refers to the 40-years ago television program called “The Flip Wilson Show.”  I guess we were easily entertained in those days, because everyone tuned in to see Flip play the character roles of “Reverend Leroy” – the arrogant pastor of “The Church of What’s Happening Now,” and the sassy “Geraldine Jones” – the impulse-shopping African-American woman who would justify her every indulgence by saying, “The Devil made me do it!”  The phrase became a national catchphrase. Yep, it was a simpler time!

However, the problem we all know is that there is some power that makes us prone to sin – even after knowing Christ as Lord and Savior. The Apostle Paul was no exception to this. And in chapter seven of Romans he goes through a cyclic litany of “I don’t do what I want to do, and the things I do, I don’t want to do” utterances that express the frustrations of the war that goes on within the human heart and flesh. Then, in the final verses of that chapter he says, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

So what about this evil power of the flesh and sin nature … are we bound by it? Are we condemned by it?  The beginning of chapter eight of Romans – our reading for today – says that we have no condemnation against us in Jesus Christ. The word for “condemnation” is one that means there is no sentence of punishment against us because of a guilty judgment. Why? Because God has been propitiated – satisfied – by the substitutionary payment of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The law condemned a man – showing him his sin and demonstrating the utter impossibility of keeping it … it was a law of sin and death. But a new law exists – the law of the Spirit – a power within that makes it possible to live a life of obedience to God and truth. And the old law of sin in the flesh leading to death – that law and power is what has been in actuality handed the sentence of condemnation (the same basic word as above).

So that is very cool! Sin and death is being judged, not us. Rather, we have the Spirit of God to help us live for Him as we yield to His presence within. The title of the first sermon of this “Cross Words” series last Sunday – “I’ve Been Judged” – no, we do not need to have that feeling; sin has been judged and God is satisfied with the payment.

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set youfree from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.And so he condemned sin in the flesh,in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

To those of you reading this on varied devices — to follow the ongoing puzzle you will need to go to the URL or in some fashion go to the web page to see it. The big day when the whole thing is revealed will be on April 22.

Again, here are two more words for the puzzle. I hope you are keeping track of this so that at the last week, you can take a shot at solving the whole thing and winning the grand prize!

Law – We talked about this today. The Law of Moses with all of its regulations – though it had a prescription for atoning for sin in a temporary way, it ultimately was powerless to defeat it and give a final victory. But Christ fulfilled the Law, and as the perfect sacrifice paid the penalty that rendered the Law of no lasting effect.

Freedom – The Law never made it possible for a person to feel free. There was always a sense of condemnation and requirement. But as it says in today’s reading, we have been set free from this by the great work of Jesus Christ. Freedom is indeed a “cross word.”

Puzzle day 5