Spiritual Slaves

…Teach older women to be holy in their behavior, not…enslaved to too much wine… (Titus 2:3, NCV)

The Christian life is filled with competing desires. We have 2 natures within us, fighting for control: the Spirit-filled nature and the sinful nature. The fight is evident in how we pursue pleasure and minimize pain.

When we find something that brings us pleasure or decreases our pain, we want more of it. What starts as an indulgence — something rare and special — can easily become an over-indulgence. We are hard-wired to create habits — and the habits we form often bring us pleasure or relieve pain. But how do we know when we have crossed the line from healthy to enslavement?

When we cannot be happy, satisfied, or functional without something or someone (besides God), we are wise to ask ourselves if we have become enslaved. Another warning sign is if our thinking changes from “I like this” or “I want this” to “I NEED this”. Christians are not exempt from enslavement, but far more life helps us recognize and overcome it.

We are tempted to think that faith in Christ is all we need to drive away sinful habits and compulsions. So when we struggle with or give in to sin, we may be tempted to think it is because we lack faith. And plenty of people with bad doctrine will confirm that false belief. So we do more of all the things we think will increase our faith: we go to church more; we study the Bible more, maybe even memorize parts of it; we pray more; we try harder to be good people. But working hard to grow your faith usually does not overcome an over-indulgence that has enslaved you. Why? Because lack of faith is not the problem. Even the Apostle Paul, a man of great faith, wrestled with this:

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. (Romans 7:21, NIV)

It would be great if a switch was flipped when we accepted Christ. That switch would turn off the pleasure we receive from sin, impure thoughts, anger, anxiety, fear, and pain.  It would turn on peace, patience, and a desire for only pure hobbies, entertainment, and fun. But that is not what God chose for us.

…It is God who is at work within you, giving you the will and the power to achieve his purpose. (Philippians 2:12, PHILLIPS)

Accepting Christ delivers us from the penalty of sin; we will never be punished for our wrongdoing (Romans 8:1). And it delivers us from the power of sin; we now have a clearer understanding of right and wrong and His Spirit living within us gives us power to choose what is right (2 Peter 1:3). But it also increases our awareness of sin; we realize things we thought were okay are actually displeasing to God, and some are actually enslaving us (John 9:39-41). We will spend the rest of our lives becoming aware of actions, thoughts, feelings, and beliefs we have embraced that are contrary to righteousness. There is no need to feel shameful about this; it is God’s plan for us. Far more life is being alert, honest, and humble about these areas.

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin…having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18, ESV)

We live as spiritual slaves, either to sin or righteousness. The Greek word translated slave, doúlos, means “someone who belongs to another”. So plugging that definition into the above verse reads, “…You who once belonged to sin…now belong to righteousness.” We want to be independent, self-determined, our own masters. But spiritually speaking that is simply not possible:

…Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. (I Corinthians 6:19-20, NIV)

God, our Creator, owns us. Although we originally rejected Him and chose sin, He paid a high price for a restored relationship with us: the blood of His Son. God is our rightful master. And once we become His through Christ, nothing can separate us from Him; we belong to Him for all eternity (Romans 8:38-39). We have security as a slave to the righteousness of our perfect, loving Heavenly Father. This is hard to grasp, but there are benefits of being a slave to righteousness:

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22, NIV)

As slaves of God, we become a new creation. Our new nature desires to please God. We want to do what He says is right, to be holy like He is holy. We want to live in awe and reverence to Him. As new Christians, we see some changes right away and eagerly pursue more! We experience unconditional love and want to share it with others. We find purpose and meaning that satisfies us. We gain true pain relief through embracing His truth. We get a taste of far more life!

Sisters,
Think about what brings you pleasure; are you walking in the Spirit-filled nature or the sinful nature when you pursue it?
What do you do to avoid (emotional) pain? Which nature does that reinforce?
What do you NEED to be happy, satisfied, or functional? Is this healthy or could it indicate enslavement?
How do you feel about being a slave to righteousness? Does that feel different from “belonging to” God? If so, why?
Thank God for the benefits of being a slave to righteousness. Far more life is one of them!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Deeper Righteousness

Do you ever struggle with feelings that you are not “good enough” to make God happy?  Or that He is disappointed with you, your life, and the bad habits and sins you cannot seem to break? These thoughts and feelings rob you of far more life and keep you bound to depression, anxiety, fear, and self-deprecation.

The truth is that we – on our own — can never be good enough for God to accept us. But the good news is that we do not have to be. The Bible says:

There is no one righteous, not even one. (Romans 3:10, NIV)

Jesus was given to die for our sins, and he was raised from the dead to make us right with God. Since we have been made right with God by our faith, we have peace with God. (Romans 4:25-5:1, NCV)

We cannot earn God’s approval because that would require us to be perfect like Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin so that, when we accept his payment, God sees us through His perfection and righteousness. Once we have God’s approval, we cannot lose it.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (I John 5:13, NIV)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe… (Romans 3:22, NIV)

The righteousness we receive from God is deeper than any “righteousness” we can achieve on our own. His deeper righteousness changes us to be like Him. It changes our desires to match His. It changes our motives; we begin acting out of love for God and others. It changes our thoughts; we think of people as eternal souls and earth as our temporary home. And those lead to different behaviors. We are no longer trying to earn God’s approval. Deeper righteousness frees us to love and live for Him. 

But we still sin sometimes. We fall into old habits and patterns. We give in to fear or worry instead of trusting God. Is God disappointed in us at those times? His Word says:

Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior]. (Romans 8:1, AMP)

We will not go to hell when we die. We will not be judged for our sins when Christ returns. God will not allow bad things to happen — or withhold good from us — as a punishment for our sins and wrong choices. He will not scold, criticize, or shame His children. 

When we sin—or even make mistakes — we can be overcome with disappointment in ourselves. We may become angry, harsh, critical, judgmental, and demanding. We might return to old patterns, fearful that we are not good enough. We often assume God is also disappointed with us and has negative feelings toward us. But there is no verse in the Bible stating that God experiences this kind of disappointment toward His children. Instead, here is God’s instruction to us:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:1-2, NIV)

These are not critical, condemning, disappointed words. These words encourage us to look to Jesus, confess our sin, be thankful for His sacrifice on our behalf, and get back to pursuing deeper righteousness! 

The Bible does say God can grieve over our sin (Ephesians 4:30).  But our disappointment and God’s grief are vastly differently. God’s grief is rooted in compassion. He sees how sin hurts His children, and He feels compassion for them. He sees the pain, confusion, or deception in our hearts and feels compassion that we cannot see them, too. He is grieved when miss out on the safety, wisdom, and happiness offered by His perfect ways. God’s grief is motivated by love and a desire for us to be and experience all He intended. He wants us to find far more life in Him.

I came to bring them life, and far more life than before. (John 10:10, PHILLIPS)

In Christ, we are free to let go of our disappointment and pursue deeper righteousness. Rather than feeling obligated to obey God, deeper righteousness loves Him wholeheartedly. Rather than following rules that shape our behavior, deeper righteousness conforms our motives and thoughts to His. Rather than living in fear of His judgement, deeper righteousness lives in anticipation of His blessing and approval. And as we pursue deeper righteousness, we reap inner peace and contentment – far more life!

Sisters,
Are you trying to be good enough to win God’s approval?  If so, how will you attain His perfect standard?

If you have accepted Christ, what can separate you from God’s love? (Refer to Romans 8:38-39)
Do you believe that God ever condemns or punishes His children? If so, read through Romans 8 and talk with a pastor or spiritual mentor about your concerns.
What differences are there between God’s grief and human disappointment?
Pursue deeper righteousness today through the freedom of far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso
Photo credit: Jenjoe Marsh

The Gift of Grace

God’s grace can be a hard concept to fully grasp, maybe because it is so different from our experience in everyday human interactions. I’ve heard grace explained using the acronym “Great Riches At Christ’s Expense”. I’ve also heard it is “getting blessings we do not deserve” while its companion mercy is “not getting the punishment we do deserve”. These are simplified versions of the Dictionary.com definition: “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings”. God’s Word confirms all those explanations are consistent with His expression of grace:

Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17b, NIV)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24, NIV)

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. (Ephesians 1:7-8a, NIV)

Far more life understands that grace is a gift from God. A right perspective on grace enables us to live the best life possible. But we can think too much or too little of ourselves and miss the wonder of God’s amazing grace.

Thinking too much of ourselves leads us to minimize our sin and our need for God’s grace. We miss out on far more life when we believe our sins are “not that bad”. If this were true, then Jesus did not have to die to pay for our sin and the spiritual darkness it reveals! We could have overcome separation from God on our own; we did not need his gift of grace. These strong words from Romans 3 make it clear this is not the case:

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12, NIV)

Grace is a gift. From God. Failing to recognize the Giver leads us to try and earn this precious gift, to prove our worthiness. But that is impossible. Earning it is not God’s plan; our efforts can actually pull us further away from the security of His grace.

On the other hand, thinking too little of ourselves leads us to minimize ourselves and reject God’s grace. We miss out on far more life when we continually question, “Why would God save me? I’m not worth it.” From God’s perspective we are the most important part of His creation. We are the only part made in His image (Genesis 1:27). We are the only part granted forgiveness (Colossians 1:13-14). And we are the only part that God lives inside (Romans 5:5, I Corinthians 3:16). We are worth it because God, our Creator, decided we are worth it.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)

If we don’t understand God’s grace we will be tempted to think that doing good works will prove our worth and love for Him; we believe that will make Him happy with us. So when we fail to obey — which we will! — we feel guilty and condemned because we believe we have let God down. We fear that he will pull away from us. We may even feel separated from Him and assume that He has pulled away. But far more life frees us from feeling condemned when we sin. Instead it understands that God’s children live under grace. It enables us to acknowledge our sin without letting it define or conquer us. It believes this Biblical truth:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NIV)

Rather than being under the condemnation of sin, far more life is living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace-filled living is characterized by inner joy, peace, gentleness, patience, love, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness that radiates from us. God’s light shines through us and reveals the brilliance of His character. Grace also provides the power to choose righteousness rather than sin. We do not take Christ’s sacrifice for granted; our freedom was purchased at a high price. But that sacrifice was not the end; it was a new beginning. Jesus is alive. He overcame sin and death and sent His Holy Spirit to give us far more life. What a precious gift!

Sisters,
How do you define grace?
How do you minimize your sin?
How do you minimize your worth?
If you have not accepted God’s grace, what is stopping you?
If you have accepted God’s grace, how do you see His power changing you?
Praise God for the gift of grace and the power to live far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

Far More Moments

But godliness actually is a source of great gain when accompanied by contentment [that contentment which comes from a sense of inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God]. (I Timothy 6:6, AMP)

This verse has always intrigued me. The premise is simple but the implications are profound: godliness and contentment are far more life! In context, this verse follows instructions for slaves to honor their masters — whether their actions are honorable or not — and is part of a warning against the lure of false teachers. If anyone is tempted to feel far more life is unavailable, I think it would be a slave bound to a wicked master! But far more life springs from what happens inside our hearts. So godliness and contentment are within the grasp of every child of God, no matter what their circumstances!

Godliness is responding as God would if He was in our place. Anyone who has accepted Jesus — and as a result has the Holy Spirit living inside — is capable of godliness. We have moments of godliness, but no human has mastered it. We all have areas where Satan’s lies and our own experiences in this fallen world trick us into choosing sin. As we recognize our moments of ungodliness, we have opportunity to obey this Biblical instruction:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)

The key to growing in godliness is examining and changing our beliefs. As we compare what we hear and experience in this world to the principles in God’s word, we will find differences. Some beliefs are deeply buried — created by our interpretations of life at a very young age — and define our view of ourselves and God. As we renew our mind by adopting God’s truth, our relationship with and understanding of Him deepens. This naturally leads to more moments where we respond in godliness. More moments of far more life.

As the Amplified Bible explains, contentment is inner confidence based on the sufficiency of God. Contentment is: knowing God is in control (Psalm 93:1); understanding His love for us (I John 3:1); and believing He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Contentment frees us from fear and worry because we know God is for us (Romans 8:31) and will provide all we need (Philippians 4:19). Contentment is a direct reflection of our beliefs about God. The Apostle Paul writes:

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV).

If we are not content, we are wise to examine our beliefs about God. He will give us strength to do this.

Every day is a collection of moments where we respond with godliness and contentment or sinfulness and discontentment. The moments of godliness and contentment are moments of far more life. A segment of King David’s life gives us a clear example of this.

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war…David remained in Jerusalem…From the roof he saw a woman bathing…and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (2 Samuel 11:1-4, NIV)

In this passage, David is not content. He shirks his duty to command his troops and choses an ungodly pursuit of Bathsheba. Knowing she is pregnant, David continues to sin, ultimately killing her husband. When confronted, David repents of his sin (2 Samuel 12:13), but there are consequences; God declares the child will become sick and die. During the illness, David begs God to spare this son, but once the child dies David returns to normal life. His servants are confused by the sudden change, but David explains:

He answered, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:22-23, NIV)

In that moment, David chose far more life. He could have chosen bitterness toward God but he chose contentment, even in his grief. This enabled him to choose God-honoring actions; he comforted his wife (2 Samuel 12:24) and lead his army in battle (2 Samuel 12:29).

The Bible shares more moments — some far more life, some sinful — that weave the story of David’s life. Even though David was not perfect, Acts 13:22 describes him as a man after God’s own heart. A man of godliness and contentment. Our lives are also a collection of moments where we choose godliness and contentment and moments where we do not.

I used to be afraid my moments of ungodliness and discontent would cause God to pull away from me. It was such a relief to understand my relationship with Him is secure (Romans 8:1; I John 5:13). Now I can pursue godliness and contentment out of gratitude and love. The foundation of far more life will continue for eternity.

By doing this they store up a treasure for themselves which is a good foundation for the future. In this way they take hold of what life really is. (I Timothy 6:19, GW)

What we experience on this earth is just a small part of life. The bigger part extends into eternity with God in heaven. Each time we choose godliness and contentment we choose far more life. It is a source of great gain on this earth and for eternity.

Sisters,
Are you living in godliness? Contentment?
What beliefs hinder you from exercising godliness? Contentment?
How does the weaving of your life look?

Enjoy far more life in the moments of your day!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso