Passion of the Flesh

As we continue to work through Jeremiah Burroughs’ Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, we come to the fourth examined cause, Passion.

“Passion” is used here in a way that is lost in today.  We think of passion in terms of romance, but Burroughs employs the old use of the word which suggested a much more consuming desire:  emotions as devoid of reason; an intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction.  

When James writes of the passions that divide us (James 4:1), the word he uses in Greek is where we get our English word “hedonism,” the pursuit of personal pleasure at the expense of everything else.  James says that these passions are the cause of quarrels, fights, and ultimately murder within the church – where we cut one another down with our words and actions.

It’s not just James who speaks so strongly against the passions of the flesh. Throughout the New Testament, these are the adjectives used to describe our passions: dishonorable, sinful, youthful, worldly, human, defiling, sensual, and ungodly.

When we put these passions above everything else, you can see then why Burroughs addresses them as a chief cause for our divisions.  Passions set us on fire.  We insist upon our way, upon our preferences; and when our desires are not met  “our hot passions cause the climate where we live to be like the torrid zone, too hot for any to live near us…”

So then, what is the cure for our worldly passions?  Burroughs offers thee:

  1. Know that God is with us. You probably remember hearing as a child, “Wait till your father gets home.”  Something about the father’s presence corrects a child’s behavior.  In the worst case, it could be a fear his anger, in the best case, a love and desire to honor – whatever the case, knowing the father is near changes us.  Burroughs reminds us our Father is near to us. “God is come among us, we may see the face of God in what he has done for us, and shall we be quarreling before his face?  If we love and honor him, how can we fight amongst ourselves in his presence?” Knowing God is with us, how can we allow our passions to lead us to fighting among ourselves.
  2. Know God has called you to do His will.  Before knowing God and his grace for us in Jesus Christ, we were lost in following the desires of our own hearts, the passion of the flesh.  But in Christ, we have been brought from death to life so that we may live for God’s glory.  He gives us a new will, His will, that we may know Him, glorify Him, and enjoy Him forever.  Rather than continue to be consumed by our own passions, we are to “set our hearts and hands to the work of God – being willing to do His will.”  Is this not what Jesus said, in calling those who would be His disciples, that we are to take up our cross, die to ourselves daily, and follow Him?
  3. Know what Sacrifice Pleases the Lord. We must continually remember the mercy that God has shown us, and give to Him a sacrifice of praise.  Psalm 57:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” If we would honor the gift that God has given us in Jesus Christ “we would lay aside our divisions, our frowardness; we would abandon all contention and strife; we would put on [hearts] of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another, forgiving one another, if any have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, even so do ye.” Later Burroughs writes, “God shows that he can own us, notwithstanding all our infirmities; why should not we own our brethren, notwithstanding their infirmities? Why should our divisions cause us to cast off one another, seeing our divisions have not provoked God to cast us off?”

The fighting and divisions that arise from our pursuit of personal pleasures are a scandal to the Church and to the name of Christ.  “Our hearts have been broken from one another in our unhappy divisions; O that they could break toward one another, in love and tenderness!”

May God continue to root out from us, and from our Churches, those dishonorable, sinful, and worldly passions from us; that we may demonstrate the unity of the body of Christ, and the world may marvel at how we love one another.

SDG

Return to Me…

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;  and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12–13)

Last week I shared from the prophet Hosea what is often considered the Gospel of the Old Testament – Hosea chapter three.  It is the story of Hosea redeeming his wife, Gomer, from a life of infidelity and adultery, as an illustration of the way in which God has redeemed His people from their sins and idolatry through His love in Jesus Christ.

Turning this week to the prophet Joel, we hear again the heart of God calling us to repentance for our sins.  The word of the Lord comes to Joel as a message of judgment and destruction in the Day of the Lord. The punishment is extreme, as locusts destroying the harvest, or deep famine reaching across the land.  The Day of he Lord is a day of wrath for the sins of the nations.

Yet in the midst of the destruction there is a call from the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart…”  This is a call to repentance, given to the elders down to the nursing infants.  All are called to repent, that they may escape the coming judgment.

In the two verses given above (2:12-13), I see three keys to genuine repentance:

  1. Repentance is always a response to the call of the Lord.  Notice in Joel that it is the Lord who calls the people to repentance, to return to the Lord.  This isn’t Joel’s pleading with the people, but the Lord Himself calling His people back home.
    This is essential. No one may come to Christ unless the Father calls them (John 6:44), no one seeks the Lord unless He first draws them unto Him. Apart from God’s gracious call, no one would return to Him.  Our repentance always follows the gracious call of the Lord, the effectual call of His Holy Spirit.
  2. Repentance must be genuine.  In the Scriptures tearing your clothes was a universal sign of anguish and repentance, mourning over calamity and distress.  But it was simply that, a sign.  It signified something happening within, a sign of the heartfelt sorrow and grief over sin or trouble. The sign of torn cloths meant little, what was essential was the contrition of the heart.
    How many times is our “repenting” merely a sign, never really reaching to our hearts?  We confess sins, generally, but never bring ourselves to utter those sins that have their hooks in our hearts.  We’re comfortable keeping our repentance on the surface, “God I am a sinner,” but rarely will we get real in rending our hearts, “God, I am an idolator, I am a fraud, I murder with my thoughts and words.
    God calls His people to repent, and that repentance must be genuine and sincere.
  3. Repentance turns us to the grace and mercy of God. We must never forget that our repentance is a turning from sin and a turning to God. A repentance that dwells in the valley of the shadow of death, mourning sin but never getting past it, is only a partial repentance.  God calls His people to return to Him, for “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Too often we miss out on the joy of salvation repentance brings because we don’t really believe that God will be gracious.  We allow our repentance to make us dour, sour Christians, which is no Christian at all.
    The promise of Joel 3:1 is for all who are in Christ, all who, having heard His call to repent, having turned from their sins, look to the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father.  The promise is that God will restore their fortunes, He will establish them.  As Psalm 126 says, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

SDG