Prayer and Fasting

Tomorrow is our annual day of prayer and fasting. Here at the beginning of a new year in the history of our congregation, we ask God for the continuing privilege of being a local expression of the body of Christ: “May we, Father, in this new year be guided by you and filled with your Spirit such that we will be fully pleasing to you in our corporate worship, in our love for one another, and in our making Christ known to those around us.”

Prayer
Here’s Paul A. Miller (A Praying Life, 2009) about how child-like faith (Mark 10:14-15) prays:

Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer. The only way to come to God is by taking off any spiritual mask. The real you has to meet the real God. He is a person. Instead of being frozen by your self-preoccupation, talk with God about your worries. Tell him where you are weary. If you don’t begin with where you are, then where you are will sneak in the back door. Your mind will wander to where you are weary. We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of — our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness — are what gets us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works. In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You’ll end up less selfish.

Fasting
Here’s Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991) about how fasting strengthens prayer:

There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father. When Ezra was about to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast in order for the people to seek the Lord earnestly for safe passage (Ezra 8:23). They were to face many dangers without military protection during their nine-hundred mile journey. This was no ordinary matter to be brought to God in prayer. The Bible does not teach that fasting is  kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying. God is always pleased to hear the prayers of his people. But he is also pleased when we choose to strengthen our prayers in a way he has ordained.

So tomorrow, with joy, let us thank God for past blessings and seek his initiatives through us for the future.

Originally posted on January 15, 2013.

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Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting and Psalm 127:1

Most years, on the occasion of our Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting, I find myself thinking about Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain; unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

Apply the verse to our context, and you get something like this: Unless the LORD builds Trinity Fellowship, we serve in our church in vain. But, in fact, will the Lord build up Trinity Fellowship? Yes, he is a God who promises to give good gifts to those who ask. And so we implore the Lord that he would cause growth throughout the congregation, and that he would guide our church in this new year. May he deepen our faith, fill our worship with his Spirit and his truth, energize our mutual love, and make our witness compelling. Then our labors, as acts of cooperation with God, will not prove to be futile. When I speak of our labors, I’m thinking of all the various activities and relationships throughout the congregation, carried out by all of us, in accord with the energies and gifts he gives us.

Read on, and various commentators will aid your contemplation of Psalm 127:1.

Work and family were the two constitutive dimensions of ordinary life in Israel. Life was set in the social unit of the family and supported by work. But both involved a mysterious uncertainty: work and family were human endeavors, but human action was not ultimately determinative in them. Work did not always come to fruition; marriage did not always produce children. The psalm is grounded in fundamental trust in the providence of God as the decisive factor in all of human life. —James Luther Mays, 1994.

The poet proves that everything depends upon the blessing of God. His examples are taken from the God-ordained life of the family and of the state. These are things which depend upon the blessing of God, without natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labors to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance. —Franz Delitzsch, 1867 (translated by Francis Bolton).

Unless the good hand of God be upon us we cannot prosperously build a place of worship for his name. –Adam Clarke, early nineteenth century.

The two human activities of verse 1 are samples of a great area of life: its enterprises and its conflicts, the work of creating and of conserving. For each of them this verse sees only two possibilities: either it will be the Lord’s doing or it will be pointless; there is no third option. –Derek Kidner, 1973.

He is far from thinking that human care and labor, which are employed in the building of houses and keeping of cities, are to be regarded as useless. These are more especially useful and effective when the Lord himself is the builder and keeper. The Holy Spirit is not the patron of lazy and inert men. –Wolfgang Musculus, sixteenth century.

Theologically the psalm anticipates a Pauline emphasis upon “good works” within a context of faith over against mere “works” (Eph. 2:9-10). Labor is to be a matter of collaboration with God (1 Cor. 15:10, 58). Under the new covenant there is an even closer intertwining of the believer’s fortunes with his Lord, as Jesus reaffirmed, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). –Leslie C. Allen, 1983.

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The Structure of Luke 2:22-40

A. (2:22-24): Joseph and Mary go to Jerusalem in order to obey the Law of the Lord.

B. (2:25-27): Simeon, a devout man who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25). He comes “into the temple” (v. 27) at the time when the baby Jesus arrives.

C. (2:28-32): Simeon’s First Speech: A joyful prayer.

X. (2:33): And his father and mother were marveling….

C′. (2:34-35): Simeon’s Second Speech: A sober warning.

B′. (2:36-38): Anna, a devout woman who never departs “from the temple” (v. 37). She sees the baby Jesus and speaks of him to others who are “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).

A′. (2:39-40): Having obeyed the Law of the Lord, Joseph and Mary leave Jerusalem.

Why Luke 1:51-55 Should Be Translated With Future Tense Verbs

In his highly-regarded 1994 commentary, Darrell Bock argues that the verbs in Luke 1:51-55 should be translated with the English future tense. Although almost all English translations use the past tense in these verses, Bock references six other commentators who see a future reference here, and I find this position makes best sense of the passage.

The Greek grammar in these verses does not tell us whether the described events take place in the past or future (from Mary’s position in time, that is). The verb forms (aorist indicative) can be translated with either the English past tense or the English future tense (Wallace 1996, pp. 554-55, 563-64).*

Context is what tells us how to translate an aorist verb. Mary’s song responds to what the angel just told her about her coming baby — thus, Gabriel’s announcement is the key context. Gabriel spoke to Mary about the present and the future. He spoke to Mary about her present state of favor with God and about the future high status of her yet-to-be-born baby. Mary responds to each of these in turn. Thus, verses 46-50 correspond to verses 28-30 (Mary’s present favor), and verses 51-55 correspond to verses 31-35 (the baby’s future reign). Furthermore, note the following future-orientated phrases: “from now on” (v. 48), “from generation to generation” (v. 50), and “to Abraham and his offspring forever” (v. 55). Finally, Mary’s song parallels Zechariah’s prophecy in verses 67-79, a prediction of the future accomplishments of the Messiah. Here then is how I translate Luke 1:46-55:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has looked upon the humble state of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One does great things for me – holy is his name.  His covenantal mercy extends from generation to generation to those who fear him.

He will most assuredly work powerfully with his arm; he will scatter those who are proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he will bring down the mighty from their thrones, and he will exalt those in a humble state; the hungry he will fill with good things, and the rich he will send away empty.  He will help Israel his servant, remembering his covenantal mercy ( just as he spoke to our fathers) to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

Mary speaks prophetically. She is joyfully certain that her promised son will bring about a perfect reign of justice and righteousness in Israel. Though she may not yet understand that “the offspring of Abraham” (v. 55) will include Gentiles, she does know that the essential characteristic of those who will experience this promised reign of righteousness are “those who fear the Lord” (v. 50). We today who are God-fearers and children of Abraham by faith experience the righteous reign of Mary’s son inside the church and we await its consummation when the Messiah returns. More on this in Sunday’s sermon!

Sources:
Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1 – 9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, pages 154-156.
Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Zondervan, 1996.

*The Greek aorist verb presents an occurrence in summary, viewed as a whole from the outside, without regard for the internal make-up of the occurrence (as opposed to a Greek present-tense verb, which presents an occurrence as an ongoing process). The aorist often corresponds to the English simple past tense, but not always. One use of the aorist verb is “the futuristic aorist.” The futuristic aorist describes an event that has not yet occurred, but it describes the event as though it were already completed, thus stressing the certainty of the event (as opposed to the Greek future tense which in itself does not indicate anything about completion one way or the other).

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One-Anothering On Sunday Morning

From Matt Merker’s excellent blog post this morning:

The New Testament describes singing as a corporate activity. A hallmark of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit is that they address “one another” in song (Ephesians 5:19). Why? Because singing is an avenue for Christian love.

You can read the whole thing here.

Merker mentions this post, which is also good on this theme.

 

Why the First Word of Isaiah 45:15 Should be Translated “But.”

From this coming Sunday’s sermon passage… most English translations render the first Hebrew word of Isaiah 45:15 as “Truly.” I cannot explain why this is. Here is what some of the better Hebrew language resources say about the word in question, the Hebrew word ‘aken.

It usually reverses what has immediately preceded. (Allan Harman in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, vol. 4, p. 1031).

‘aken usually reverses or restricts what immediately preceeds (Waltke & O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, p. 670).

Try these examples out for yourself. What English word makes most sense in place of ‘aken? Does the word, “but,” or, “nevertheless,” fit?

Psalm 31:22: I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight,” ‘aken you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy….

Psalm 82:6-7: I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; ‘aken, like men you shall die….

Isaiah 49:4: I said, “I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; ‘aken my right is with the LORD, and my recompense with my God.”

Isaiah 53:3-4: He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not; ‘aken he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows….

In this last example, notice the repetition of the words “sorrow” and “grief” in reverse order, once each before ‘aken and after ‘aken.

The sense of Isaiah 45:15 is that God hides himself from the Egyptians, Cushites and Sabeans. Note that these are the three nations that God has exchanged for Israel (Isa.43:3). The Egyptians are coming over to Israel, but God is a God who hides himself; he is the God of Israel.

Where is this all leading? More on Sunday! 🙂

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From the Cutting Room Floor: Jesus, the True Witness

This past Sunday’s sermon focused upon God’s statement to Israel, in the context of a courtroom scene, “You are my witnesses.” God’s chosen people, Israel, should have known the character and mighty acts of God better than anyone else. They should have been able to take the witness stand and proclaim the glory of Yahweh to the rest of the world. The problem was their inattentiveness (Isaiah 42:18-20; 43:8). The subsequent question was whether or not they would pay attention to God’s new work (Isaiah 43:19a).

Time did not permit me to develop another angle on this topic: Jesus as the true witness where Israel failed.

We have observed in recent weeks that Isaiah uses the phrase, “my servant,” to identify both Israel (41:8-9; 42:19; 43:10; 44:1-2,21; 45:4; 49:3) and the Messiah (42:1; 49:5-6; 52:12; 53:11). This makes sense in that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would prove to be the True Israel, everything that Israel was supposed, but failed, to be. In this light, we would expect Jesus to fulfil Israel’s role as witness to the works of God.

In Isaiah 42:6 God ordains the Messiah to a ministry of testimony to the nations:

I will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.

Similarly, Isaiah 55:3-5 speaks of the Messiah, the “Greater David,” as a witness:

I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you.

Moving to the New Testament, Jesus speaks of himself as a witness in John 3:11-13. He uses the plural, “we,” to refer to himself at first, but he is speaking about what he alone has seen in heaven:

We speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man.

Later in the same chapter, the apostle John repeats the concern about people not accepting Jesus’ testimony, but he also indicates that there will be some people who do accept Jesus’ eyewitness account of heavenly things (John 3:31-34):

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God.

In Revelation 3:14 we find a straightforward reference to Jesus as witness:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness.

None of this changes the fact that we as the church and as individual Christians are witnesses of God. However, it does tell us that we do so as we are attached to Christ. He is the lead witness and we follow in his train. We are able to give our eyewitness testimony as to the nature and works of God specifically because we are the body of Christ here on earth. On our role as chosen witnesses, see also 1 Peter 2:9-17. On the first generation of Christians as eyewitnesses of Christ, see Luke 24:48; John 3:26; 4:39; 5:33; 15:27; 21:24; Acts 1:8; and 1 John 1:1-3. May we more and more attend to Christ and so speak and live out what we have seen and heard — to our generation and the generation that follows!

P.S. I made reference in the sermon to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, expressing the concern that we might fail to be good eyewitnesses of Christ’s work because we had become distracted by today’s entertainment culture. You can find Neil Postman’s comparison of Brave New World with Nineteen Eighty-Four on this Wikipedia page.

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From The Cutting Room Floor: Objections To The Fulfillment of Prophecy

Tomorrow’s sermon text is Isaiah 41:21 – 42:17. One of the points it makes is that God proves himself by making and fulfilling predictions.

See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you. Isaiah 42:9

Now this argument: “God proves himself to be the one true God by making accurate predictions, recording them in Scripture, and fulfilling them in history,” is a very powerful argument for the truth of Christianity. So it shouldn’t surprise you that vigorous counter-arguments appear with regularity. Time will not allow me to discuss this during tomorrow’s sermon, but let’s take a brief look here at four of the most common objections to the reality of God making and fulfilling predictions.

Objection: “My servant” in Isaiah 42:1 refers to Israel, not an individual Messiah, such as Jesus Christ.
The first thing to remember, in response, is that Isaiah is poetry. Poetry uses evocative language to provoke the reader. Sometimes, “my servant” does refer to Israel (Isa. 41:8; 42:19). Sometimes “my servant” describes both Israel and a separate individual at the same time (Isa. 49:1-6)! This makes sense when you remember that Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations. The Messiah then was Israel in the sense that he came to be the true Israel, to be everything that Israel was supposed to be, but never was. There are four Servant Songs (Isa. 42:1-7; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12), and it is hard to read them carefully and escape the fact that they speak of an individual other than the nation Israel.

Objection: Jesus Christ could not be the promised Messiah because he did not bring justice to the world as Isaiah 42:1-4 predicted.
The key here is to remember that the revelation given in Scripture appeared progressively over time; God does not overwhelm his people with too much information in a single download. Isaiah was looking ahead to what seemed to him to be a messianic age. Later revelation showed us a distinction between the first and second comings of Christ. The Messiah will bring full peace and justice to the world at his second coming. In his first coming, he set the stage by providing the ground for forgiveness at the Cross and by establishing a peaceful and just community, the church (imperfect though she may be).

Objection: Isaiah 40-48 did not predict the coming of Cyrus and the downfall of the Babylonians; a “Second Isaiah” wrote after those events occurred.
This view arose after the Enlightenment, under the presupposition that the preferred explanation for any event is one that relies upon natural means rather than supernatural. In other words, because the skeptic has decided as a fundamental assumption that miraculous predictive prophecy is impossible, therefore he has no choice but to hypothesize and believe an alternate explanation for Isaiah’s accurate prediction of Cyrus.

Objection: The early church wrote its description of Jesus in such a way as to make it look as if Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.
Every year around Christmas and Easter, newsmagazine and television programs about Jesus appear. They typically include both a nod to the faithful and also the comments of some scholar or another setting out to disprove the factuality of the Christian narrative. One year I read one such article in Newsweek carefully. The skeptical portion of the article made the following argument (veiled in less frank language): Since the Old Testament predicted that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, and since we know that the supernatural does not intervene in our world, therefore Jesus must have been born in Nazareth. Like the previous one, this objection is a presupposition, not an argument. Furthermore, it fails to explain how Christianity garnered the faith of martyrs if those first adherents knew that their faith’s foundational proofs were lies.

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Hope in the Old Testament

The punch line of our sermon text and the punch line of our psalm this week are identical. Each passage ends by calling God’s people to place their hope in the LORD. Translations vary, but the NIV uses the word “hope” in both passages.

Noticing this, my first question was: “Is it the same Hebrew word both times?” Turns out, it’s not. Isaiah 40:31 uses qawah, the most common Old Testament word for hope. Psalm 131:3 uses yachal, the second-most common OT word for hope. The two words are synonyms, both denoting expectant waiting. Each has a range of meaning, and the appropriate English equivalent depends upon the context in which the word is used. Sometimes qawah contains the nuance of staying in place over time. Yachal can connote endurance.

In Hebrew poetry, they often appear in a parallel relationship:

I qawah for Yahweh, my soul qawah,
and for his word I yachal. –Psalm 130:5.

The coastlands qawah for me,
and for my arm they yachal. –Isaiah 51:5b.

In both of these examples, the first line speaks in general terms and the second is specific. Waiting for the Lord becomes more concrete when one waits for his word to be fulfilled or for his arm to act. While each verse moves in meaning from general to specific, the synonymous verbs bind each second line to its predecessor. In each case, the second verb retains the concept of waiting from the first line while at the same time providing the delightful variety that Hebrew poets love to employ.

Considering both of these Hebrew words together, the OT concept of hope can be illuminated by means of a couple of comparisons. In the English language, “hope” usually references wish or desire (“I hope it doesn’t rain today”). Our two Hebrew words are stronger in their confidence that the desired outcome will in fact come to pass. But “confidence” can be a synonym for faith, so what’s the difference between hope and faith? The difference lies in the fact that hope includes a future-oriented time dimension.

In the Old Testament, hope typically appears in a context of three elements: (a) some present form of suffering or distress; (b) a yet-unfulfilled promise made by God; (c) God himself, whose character is the foundational reason for the expectant person’s confidence. We may summarize as follows: Hope trusts God regarding an event that will take place in the future. Hope consists of an attitude of expectation, a confident waiting. Signs to the contrary do not dim hope because it is substantiated by knowledge of the God who has made himself known in his previously fulfilled promises and his mighty acts of deliverance.

Old Testament saints were able to look forward as they looked back, especially to the Exodus. Similarly today, we Christians look expectantly for Christ’s return, growing confident in expectation by looking back. A marvelous plan unfolds before our eyes as we contemplate the fact that the great Christ Acts — the Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost — were both (a) the OT saints’ expected future and (b) the NT saints’ already-accomplished ground of future hope. Persevere in hope, brothers and sisters!

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American Individualism and Jesus: Five Points of Convergence

Here’s are notes and Scripture references from the second half of today’s sermon.

Jesus, the Individual.
When you read the Gospels, you can’t help but notice the way Jesus stands out from the crowd.

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person. –John 2:23-25.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. –Matthew 7:28-29.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. Luke 9:51.

He went out, bearing the cross for himself. –John 19:17 (NASB marginal reading).

It is one thing to admire a hero from a distance, but Jesus asks for more than that. He says we must lose our lives for his sake. There’s the rub!

The Weakness of the Individual.
Sometimes, by the grace of God, people come to acknowledge their own weakness. They come to recognize that their identity cannot be formed out of the inner resources of a single human being — themselves. The life of Christopher McCandless illustrates this truth. While some say that McCandless died trying to be a real individual, the moral of his story is that a single self is not strong enough to bear the weight of life. Some young people find it’s too much to try to find their identity all on their own. Others experience that same problem in a midlife crisis. This is the fatal flaw of Late Modern American Individualism, particularly in its secular manifestations.

By God’s grace, people can come to recognize that self-centeredness is a dead end. You can’t build a self out of a mere self.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it… what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? –Mark 8:35a, 36-37.

Once you recognize that your own self-creation and self-preservation efforts are futile, you begin to look for another foundation for identity. Now you are open to the possibility of surrender to Jesus. Find your identity in a relationship of faith in him.

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. –Mark 8:34.

Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” –Mark 2:17.

We all recognize that there is something ugly about selfishness and something beautiful about humility. The key is to apply that truth to oneself — to humble ourselves before Christ, to acknowledge our own “sickness” and need of Christ the physician.

There is something appealing about the courage of individuals who yield themselves to God. For example, the prodigal son (Luke 15) who has the courage to recognize the bankruptcy of his own chosen path. Then, there’s the humble courage of this tax-collector.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” –Luke 18:9-14.

Personal Responsibility.
There remains a strain of American thought that appreciates the idea of personal responsibility. Chris McCandless’ sister, Carine, wrote a memoir arguing that the dysfunctionality of her and her brother’s family-of-origin caused Chris to become a vagabond. The question of nurture versus nature versus personal responsibility is a hotly discussed topic in America today. The picture painted in Scripture indicates that we both sin and are sinned against. The fact that Carine lived a very different life than her brother speaks to the reality that we are more than merely the results of our environment.

Jesus went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23.

Personal responsibility before God is a significant theme in the Scriptures. See, for example, the parables about the final judgment in Matthew 13:47-49. By God’s grace, people can move from pointing the finger (“others ought to take responsibility”) to recognizing their own accountability to God for their own life.

The Divided Human Heart.
In Mark 9, we find the story of the father whose son is demon-possessed. It’s the story with this famous line:

I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief! –Mark 9:24

Many people can appreciate the experience of having competing interests inside themselves. So we have this idea that we can build a life upon our own abilities and desires and interests, but our self is not up for the task because it is not a unified self. We say, “Be yourself.” Sure, but which self? We look at our earlier self and say, “If only I knew then what I know now.” The individual heart is an inadequate foundation upon which to find an identity and build a life — because it is not unified, and because it changes over time. The gospel call is to faith in Jesus who doesn’t change. In him there’s a solid foundation for life.

Slavery.
For people in an individualistic society, slavery is one of the more challenging images of sin.

Jesus replied, Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. –John 8:34-36.

No individualist wants to be a slave. People suppose that by leaving God, family, or other authority structures that they will find freedom. In fact, we are always serving someone or something. We are always worshipping something. Sometimes people use the language of addiction to describe their struggle with bad habits. This line of thinking brings us close to the reality that sin has an enslaving power.

The topic of slavery to sin is found throughout the Bible. It is there latent in the word “ransom” (Mark 10:35) and the word “redemption” (related to God’s act of freeing us from slavery). See also the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and Galatians 3-4. The theme of idols, and the theme of evil desires are also relevant, as is Romans 7.

The bottom line? Don’t go it alone! Join yourself through faith to Jesus Christ!

Two resources I found helpful in the preparation of today’s sermon:
David Wells, “Self” Chapter V in The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. Eerdmans, 2008.
Tim Keller, “Preaching and the (Late) Modern Mind:” Chapter 5 in Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. Viking, 2015.
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