Keep Your Form ( LifeLift #6)

lifelift podcast Mar 03, 2020

The Pharisees asked Jesus an incredibly insightful question one day— insightful because of the answer He gave, not necessarily because of the question they asked. It happened shortly after Jesus called Matthew to follow Him. Recall, Matthew invited “many tax collectors and sinners,” and they all came to dine with Jesus and the other disciples. 

The Pharisees wanted to know why Jesus ate with them. Of course, they asked the disciples why He did it rather than just confronting Him  directly. 

Upon overhearing them, Jesus replied, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12 ESV).

With those few words, Jesus reframed sin from strictly a moral issue into something more far-reaching. He shifted sin from a mere external behavior to something internal…

  • He presented sin as a sickness, an illness
  • He proposed sin hinders wholeness and health
  • He posited that sin distorts the image of God, of that person we see reflected back to us in the mirror

I used to believe sin separated us from God. Because of Jesus work on the Cross, it no longer does. Read it here— and note the emphasis (Romans 8:35-39, emphasis added): 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I know— that sounds like an odd way to present a topic that’s usually presented as a right vs. wrong legal-type of standing we have with God. 

In other words, sin isn’t just a “bad” thing. It’s far worse than that. In fact, the more I study the topic, and the more I gaze at the Father’s grace, the more I believe that the “moral” aspect of sin is the “least” important aspect of it.  

The greater issue is this: sin creates a distortion of our unique form, of the greatness we were given from the very beginning. Sin fractures that mirror image we discussed in the beginning of this book, keeping us from seeing who we really are. Sin hinders wholeness, completion. 

 

God’s original intent

In Romans 3:23 (probably one of the most widely known and often-quoted Bible verses in the church), Paul tells us everyone has sinned. That’s right, everybody.

Here’s the entire verse (NKJV):

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

The first thing I want you to notice about this verse is this: the second half of the sentence.  

This part:

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

Now, before I go any farther, let me tell you that I didn’t “discover” what I’m about to tell you on my own. Here’s the truth— I attended a conference and heard this from another guy.

A few years ago, during the opening remarks of his Open Heavens conference, Bill Johnson said something like, “Everybody knows Romans 3:23.” He reminded us, “You can probably quote it right now…  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” 

Bill highlighted that although we often focus only on the first half of the verse, we need to keep both halves of the statement in mind when we read it. 

“Notice,” he said. “You were originally destined for glory. Glory is God's intention for you.” 

He added, “And I'm not just talking about eternity… I'm talking about right here, right now. You. Glory.”

He strung together a few more verses that elaborate on what this might mean.

“Moses reflected the glory that came to him— God’s glory that shone on him. He absorbed it and it was visible to everyone around him” (see Exodus 34:29, 2 Corinthians 3:16-18).

Bill then explained that because “Christ in you is your hope of glory” we have an unprecedented opportunity, something which people like  Abraham, Moses, David, and others who lived before the time of Jesus didn’t have (Colossians 1:27). “You’re in an era, because of the Cross— and because there’s nothing the Cross did not resolve permanently— whereby Isaiah actually calls you to something incredible…”

He took the crowd to Isaiah 60:1, where the prophet encourages us to “Arise and shine, for your light has come.”

Bill elaborated, “Notice that this verse doesn't say to reflect glory— as if you’re simply transmitting something that’s not your own. Rather, it says to shine it. You possess that glory. It's part of who you are.”

In talk 2, “Jesus Shows Us What We’re Really Like,” we discussed this. The glory is your identity. It's who you are.

We often carry labels from our past experiences— as well as the names we’ve been called and the titles we’ve been given. And, let’s be real with one another about it: sometimes, the worst critic is the one inside our head.

The message the Cross is, “No. That may have been who you were, but you’re different, now. Things have changed. Your condemnation is gone. You’re now free to be the person you really are…”

Or, to say it another way, “Your past describes you, but it doesn’t define you.”

Or, “Your past explains where you’ve been, but it doesn’t establish where you’re going.”

And, “Who you are is that mirror reflection of Jesus… radiating glory.”

Take a look a the graphic below. Again, this is the image which provides you with an outline of the overall LifeLift teaching, which we discussed in the introductory talks (here and here).

 

I intentionally began this content talking about Identity— about who Jesus is and who we are because of Him (part 1). Next, we’ll move to the unique relationship we have with the Holy Spirit— because of what Jesus has done (part 2). We’ll study all of this before discussing the spiritual gifts (part 3). 

(Yes, a lot of talks already planned!)

Here’s why— 

  • If you don’t rest secure in your true identity (part 1, Identity), you’ll seek to create one. And you might use ministry to do it. I know. I’ve been there and done it.
  • If you don’t walk in relationship with the Spirit (part 2, Presence and part 3, Expression), you’ll seek to fill your relational reserves through interacting with people— even in unhealthy ways. I’ve done that, too. 
  • If you don’t remember each of these potential pitfalls and maintain Kingdom perspective (part 4, Perspective), we can easily fall back into either of those ruts. 

We don’t ever “finish.” As we begin walking in our gifts, we should continually refine who we are and move more in sync with the Spirit. Since the gifts are all relational (God expressing Himself through us to others for their benefit), we then find ourselves— as Paul says— transforming from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

Radiating glory

That said, we’re designed to radiate the glory of Christ in us. In fact, Paul describes it this way: “You shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). 

Astronomers tell us that stars shine, they don't reflect. The moon isn’t a star. It’s just a massive rock. It simply reflects and reveals light from the sun. On its own, the moon looms cold and dark— hence the phrase “the dark side of the moon.” 

The sun, on the other hand, is a star. It is its own source of fuel; its radiance comes from within. 

So it is with you. You don’t simply reflect God’s glory; you possess it. You shine it. 

It’s who you are.

Or, to say it another way, it’s who you are— and who you are in the process of becoming— because of Jesus.

As a result, glory is now what you do, too. You see, in the same way that sin isn’t disconnected from sinners, glory isn’t disconnected from the redeemed.

So what’s the worst part of sin? 

The most hideous part is that sin keeps you from your glory (your glory to glorify God), from shining as the star you really are— to reveal the glory of God in Christ.

 

What is sin, anyway?

I’m guessing that you probably haven’t heard it presented that way before. Perhaps we should dig deeper, then, because if the result of sin is that we miss the glory for which we’re created, it might help to define what this “sin” actually is.

The word for “sin” is hamartia in the Greek. When we break it down we get this:

Ha, the prefix, means “without.” That is, something is missing. We lack something that we need. Furthermore, we actually see, sense, and feel this lack.

The first part of this verse, then, actually says, “All are without… all are lacking…”

Martia, the second part of the word, comes from the Greek word meros, that is, “form” or “design.” The word often refers to architecture, craftsmanship, and art.

Put the parts of the word together and we get this: “All of us are lacking our form… we’re lacking our design… we’re without who we were created to be.”

(And, remember, we were created to experience glory.) 

This sounds a lot less legalistic than we usually define the word sin, doesn’t it? 

(No, we don’t need to minimize the real impact and relational ramifications of sin. There are true consequences.)

And, this definition actually describes the plight of most people today…

You’ve probably also heard people say things like: 

  • “I just don’t feel like I’m doing what I was created to do…”
  • “I want to find what I’m really great at— and then pour myself into that…”
  • “I want my life to matter… I want to be doing something that makes a difference.”

Again, you’ve likely heard each of these phrases before. If you’re like me, you’ve actually said them— more than once. 

Whenever these statements (or statements similar to them) appear, we’re resonating with the truth that Paul says: We’ve stepped away from who were were originally designed to be. We’ve moved from “glory” to something else.

 

The art of you

Here’s where it gets really interesting. When Paul described how you were created, he used craftsmanship language— like God was intentionally forming something. Paul actually wrote it like this (Ephesians 2:10 ESV): 

[You] are His workmanship… created for good works He planned before hand [before time began] that you would walk in.

I want you to see a few things from this verse.

First, you are a “workmanship,” an individual creation. You're not a mass-produced assembly-line kind of creature. You're one-of-a-kind. 

The word “workmanship” here in the Greek language of the New Testament is the word poema— a word used of art, craftsmanship, and poetry. It’s the imagery of a master-designer creating something extraordinary. Intentionally. Intimately. With His hands. 

Dad used to say it like this: “You are a unique, unrepeatable miracle of God.”

We see imagery like this throughout the Bible— that God is the Potter and we're the clay. And that He's crafting us, molding us... shaping us into something exquisitely wonderful.

This verse about “workmanship” is part of Paul’s same thought process as Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV). In fact, in his original manuscript it’s all just one long run-on sentence: 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

The end of that verse leads us to our next observation…

Second, Paul says the same grace that transforms you from sin to light is the exact same grace that has a destiny for you. Your salvation and the purposes you walk in are not separate concepts. God doesn’t give you the one (forgiveness) without providing you with the other (your destiny of glory).

In some sense, we understand grace. True, we may not grasp the full measure of grace in our lives, but we realize that we bring nothing to our  salvation, that Jesus does it all. 

In equal part, that same grace doesn't just redeem us, it actually empowers us… it empowers us to walk back into who we were originally intended to be… to embrace our unique form and live it.

Third, Paul says God planned all of this “beforehand.” Most Bible commentators suggest this means that God ordained your uniqueness a long, long time ago. 

David realized God intentionally created him (Psalm 139:13 ESV):

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.

Jeremiah, one of the Old Testament prophets, said God not only designed him, but that God had a unique destiny for him. God literally “set him apart” for a great work (Jeremiah 1:5 NIV): 

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I  set you apart.

Isaiah reminds us that the same God who created the cosmos is the One who created us. This leads many commentators to believe that God had a plan for you not only before you were born but before time began (Isaiah 44:24 ESV):

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.”

Paul, the most quoted New Testament author, reminds us that it’s God’s grace that does all of this (Galatians 1:15 ESV):

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace…

You see?

Paul says the same thing about himself that David, Jeremiah, and Isaiah all declared. God’s planned something amazing for you for a really, really long time. 

Remember, too, Paul actually killed Christians when he was an adult. In other words, he tells us that God’s grace is so radical that the Father destined Paul for goodness before he ever sinned. And, even then, as grandiose as his sin was, that waywardness couldn’t derail what the Father wanted to do! No sin is great enough to erase God’s purposes!

Again, the same grace that “saves” you is the same grace that created you for some extraordinary purpose. 

 

Sin = walking away from who you really are

Now that we know all of this, it makes all the more sense that Paul told the Galatian church that he “travailed” like a mother in birth pangs until Christ was formed in them (see Galatians 4:19). To him, their spiritual awakening was akin to something like a new person being born (which is, really, how the Scripture portrays it— that an old self dies and a new one comes alive!).

In other places, Paul wrote about being… get this… transformed. (I love how that word closely relates to meros and “form.”)

Of course, Paul said the way to begin this process was by renewing your mind, that is, by seeing things differently than you’ve ever viewed  them before (Romans 12:1-2).

He also calls the church to remember their form, to recall who they were designed to be (Romans 15:15).

In ancient literature, this word meros is often used of blueprints— that is, designs for buildings. If the design isn’t solid, the final product is distorted from what was intended by the architect. 

Paul reminds us that we have a perfect design. Sin isn’t just a moral issue, then; sin is a decision to walk away from our eternal design. 

I love how, rather than appealing to a legalistic “do vs. don’t” mentality, Paul calls us to something greater, to elevate ourselves above the rules of right vs. wrong and walk in the beauty of who we were designed to be. 

 

But don’t just lean into the good deeds

There’s a catch to all of this. After reading about your gifts and after studying sin and how it’s a distortion your fore-ordained destiny, Paul cautions us not to go full throttle into the “good deeds” mode. He cautions us that we don’t only distort our form with the “bad things” we do— our sins— but we can do this in our greatest hits moments, as well. 

He told the Philippian church (3:4-9 NIV, emphasis added): 

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Verse 7 is interesting. The word Paul uses for “loss” is the word we use for… well… poop (I highlighted it for you).

He does’t say our righteous actions are poop. Rather, he says that compared to the greatness of a living encounter of Jesus… compared to that they’re poop.

He concludes with this: “I want to know him… and the power of His resurrection” (3:10). Recall, that’s the power of the Spirit which now lives and moves through you (Romans 8:11).

Paul’s admonition is a great place to conclude these talks in our study and move into the next steps of our journey. You see, ministry / service / helping others works best when we serve from a place of ongoing relationship— presence— with the Spirit.

Our unique form is to reveal the Messiah, using our personalities and gifts. Since He shows us who we are, living in the Presence is the best habit we can develop.

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