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The Christian Counter

   
THE SEALING
Lesson 30

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Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.

-         Revelation 7:2-4

Introduction

God showed the prophet John an interesting sight that he describes in Revelation 7. He saw an angel rising in the east who had the seal of God delaying the destruction of Earth. The angel from the east calls out to four angels who are about to harm the Earth, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” What does this vision mean? What is the seal of God? How does the sealing relate to the 144,000 and the salvation of man?      

The Carnal Nature

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8) These words are a promise. Yet, when I look around and also look within myself, I find an overwhelming amount of sin. When it comes to having a pure heart, all human beings have two problems. First, we come from the womb with a sinful nature. Because of this, we are predisposed to rebel against authority from the moment of birth. Second, the devil understands our human predisposition toward sinning and the inherited traits that push us in that direction. Knowing this, he does everything he can to entice us into complete rebellion against God’s will and authority. All these factors make rebellion against God and His laws easy and submission to the will of God very difficult. In fact, in our present state it is impossible to consistently submit to the will of God.

When a person experiences the miracle of spiritual rebirth, God installs a second nature – a spiritual nature – that is antagonistic toward the sinful nature. As a result, every born again person lives in a constant “state of war” because these two natures are diametrically opposed. When asked about his born again experience, Martin Luther summarized the contest between these two natures by saying that even though the carnal nature remains, it does not reign. No doubt his words were borrowed from his favorite Bible writer, the Apostle Paul. Paul reminded the Romans that the carnal nature does not have control over us if we allow the Holy Spirit to live in us. He wrote, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)

No writer in the Bible explains these two warring natures as well as the Apostle Paul. After Paul had been a born again Christian for about 25 years, He wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:16,18) Paul’s statement confirms the fact that after a person is born again he or she remains in a constant state of war between the two natures. Paul’s discovery about his carnal nature is something like the discovery of gravity by Sir Isaac Newton. For thousands of years no one thought it strange that objects fell in a downward direction because they had weight. Over the course of time, however a new explanation was needed about the direction objects fall because man discovered that Earth was a large sphere spinning on its axis. The question begged to be asked, why do objects fall in the direction of down on a rapidly spinning sphere when logic suggests they should fall in the opposite direction! Finally, the presence of gravity was discovered and Sir Isaac Newton was among the first to qualify the law of gravity. In a similar way, the Apostle Paul understood the presence of the carnal heart and he qualified the law of sin that operates upon it. Both the law of gravity and the law of sin are predictable and unchangeable. The law of gravity and the law of sin also have one other similarity – both can be thwarted under the right circumstances. The law of gravity can be thwarted if a spaceship exceeds 17,000 miles per hour. At this speed, man can overcome the force of Earth’s gravity and escape the planet. Likewise, the law of sin can be overcome if a person chooses to obediently surrender his or her will to the Holy Spirit. In this situation, the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit will enable a person to escape the control of sin.

What is the law of sin? It is a code of conduct, an inbred or inborn rebellion against authority. The law of sin has dominion over every fallen being. Paul understood that there is no escape from the law of sin except through faith in Christ. He wrote, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me…what a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:21,24,25) Carefully consider the words of this reformed legalist: “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Romans 7:20) So, this is the explanation. As hard as it may be for some of us to admit, we are sinful from within the core of our being and sooner or later our conduct will prove it!

Somebody Help Me!

Paul lamented the inescapable effects of the law of sin in his own life. He wrote, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” (Romans 7:21) Paul’s remarks in Romans 7 are very revealing because he once belonged to a religious body that believed sinless ness, purity and zeal for God were absolute mandates and Paul was as devoted to God as anyone could be. (Philippians 3:4-7) The Pharisees had meticulously defined impurity as a violation of any one of some 600 laws and Paul was zealous to observe every law. He summed up his life as a boastful Pharisee saying, “…as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” (Philippians 3:6)

Then, Paul met Jesus. Eventually he began to understand that the “righteousness” achieved by rigorous obedience and religious devotion cannot produce a pure heart. Religion had deceived Paul. As a Pharisee he was completely convinced that righteousness came through legalistic obedience-the avoidance of sin. But after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he saw how wretched and offensive he really was in God’s sight. (Romans 7:24) This remarkable change in his perspective occurred because he caught a glimpse of the righteousness that God requires and it changed everything. God requires a pure heart, but a heart is not pure until it has absolutely no attraction for sin. We may avoid sin; we may escape falling into certain temptations, but the avoidance of sin is not to be confused with a pure heart. When Paul met Jesus, the perfectionist discovered his imperfection. The arrogance of Saul the Pharisee was shattered. God transformed him, renamed him and called him into the service of His saints.

When a person experiences a complete “meltdown” over long held religious beliefs, psychologists call this a paradigm shift. A paradigm shift occurs when concepts believed to be true are proven to be totally false. A paradigm shift shakes us to the core of our being and is very emotionally disturbing. When Jesus spoke to Paul, Paul was devastated to learn that his “perfect” religious life was offensive and unacceptable to God. After Paul realized that he could not make himself pure or acceptable before God by good works, Paul had nothing more to boast about. (God sure knows how to silence legalists.) When Paul saw that he had no righteousness in God’s sight, he became a meek man. In this new state of mind, he became a champion of the righteousness of Christ. He wrote, “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ “ (Romans 1:17) When Paul finally grasped the idea that salvation requires a righteousness that man cannot produce, only then did he realize his desperate need for Jesus.

The Nature of Sin

Since the law of sin declares that human nature remains rebellious toward God, how can any person ever become pure in heart? It is impossible through human effort. Consequently, the carnal nature is man’s greatest problem. Our carnal nature makes us rebellious and prevents us from having faith in God or obediently submitting to His commands. We are born with a “spring loaded” carnal nature, ready to do wrong at an early age. Children don’t have to be taught to do wrong, and adults cannot achieve the purity of heart that God requires. Since Adam and Eve’s sin, the human race has been in trouble. Yet, a miracle happens every time a person experiences a rebirth. A miraculous change occurs within the heart. Whereas the carnal heart was full of rebellion, the born again heart becomes divided. Part of the heart wants to obey God and part of it wants to remain in rebellion against God. This tremendous struggle never ends. This is why Paul, as a mature Christian lamented, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:18) Do not despair-there is good news on two fronts!

Peter demonstrated that we could walk on water through the power of Christ. Paul wrote, “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:13,14) This is the key. The presence and work of the Spirit within the heart is crucial. He brings victory to all who live by faith. The victory that the Spirit brings is not man-made and is not merely the avoidance of sin. When the Spirit brings victory, rebellion is removed.

When we become no longer attracted to a specific sin, then the heart has been set free from the law of sin in this area of life. Therefore, the heart is no longer under the dominion of sin! Sometimes, the Spirit will not give victory where we want victory the most. Instead, the Spirit may focus on other issues that need His attention first, but you can be sure that the Holy Spirit always controls the purifying process for each person. If a person is not gaining victory over a sin, as he or she wants, it could be the Spirit wants control over every aspect of this person’s life first. This requires patience and perseverance. James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

On the second front, good news comes in the assurance of forgiveness as we admit and confess our sin. John wrote, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense- 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.” (1 John 2:1)

Can We Become Pure?

Is it possible to have a pure heart if we want one? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” But the means and timing of this event may not be what you think. A number of views exist within the Christian community about the topic of purity. At one extreme, people believe that a pure heart comes through an exhaustive struggle with self and take the responsibility for purity upon them. They do everything they can to shut out all worldly influences, hoping to avoid corruption. These people often succumb to the temptation of being legalistic about God’s definition of righteousness. The concept of isolation from sin contributed to the early formation of monasteries and stems from the idea that man is inclined to be evil. Therefore, in order to be pure, a person must be physically separated from worldly influences. (The truth is, humanity is inclined to do evil because we have a carnal nature. Wherever a person goes, sin is there, for sin is within each person’s heart!)

On the other hand, some people believe that a pure heart is not possible or necessary since Jesus paid the price on Calvary for man’s salvation. Such Christians shudder at the thought of self-denial or dealing with a cross to bear. Unfortunately, these Christians often succumb to spiritual complacency. They think they are insulated from the penalty and properties of sin by religious rituals, rites and services. But none of this is true. Like the law of gravity, there is only one way to escape the relentless of the law of sin. His name is Jesus-He is the Way!

No doubt our personalities, religious heritage, culture, and family traditions color our understanding on this fundamental subject. There is no purity in isolation because the carnal nature is within and there is no righteousness in religious rituals, rites or services because the carnal nature is ever present. So, what is a person to do? Before answering this question, let us level the playing field for everyone.

A Christian Handicap

There is a serious handicap that can occur among those people who grow up in a Christian home. Let us suppose “Johnny” was born into a Christian home and taught to avoid certain bad habits such as gambling, drugs, smoking, drinking and pornography. Somehow, Johnny becomes an adult without getting hooked on sex, drugs, cigarettes and alcohol. Since Johnny knows nothing about drug addition or alcohol dependency in his own body, he may conclude that he is purer than “those poor souls captured by these sinful habits.” This is not true.  Johnny still has a carnal heart just like every prostitute and addict. Johnny was fortunate to avoid the prison of addition and the subsequent consequences because of his good fortune (a Christian home). Johnny cannot understand the power of addition because he has not been a slave to lust, drugs or alcohol. But, and this is an emphatic but, Johnny’s nature is no different from the worst sinner. His lifestyle may be different, but his carnal nature is the same. Johnny, just like everyone else, could have become an addict if his home life and parental guidance had not been as positive. As you may have heard, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” True words have not been spoken. This illustration is given because “lifestyle” Christians sometimes get vain and self-righteous. Just because Johnny does not have a craving addition for something grossly evil, this does not mean he has a pure heart! It must be stated again, “Man’s greatest problem is his carnal nature.” Yes, avoiding sin is good. Yes, religious services can be beneficial. But, neither avoiding sin nor attending church is a substitute for a pure heart.

What to do about the Power of Sin?

Suppose I want to do something that I know is sin. I have at least four options:

 

  1. I can yield to temptation because I cannot help myself.

 

  1. I can resist the temptation and avoid sinning as far as possible.

 

  1. I can pray ahead for help since I know temptation is coming.

 

  1. I can recognize the inner attraction for sin, confess it to Jesus and ask for deliverance.

Of course, all of these options are acceptable except number one. Resisting sin is an important process in character development. However, no person can resist every sin-the carnal will not permit it. As Paul said so well, “What I want to do, I don’t do.” In my estimation, option four should be our greatest focus, followed by option three and then two. Ask Jesus for deliverance. Ask Him to do something for you that you cannot do for yourself. Even more, ask Him to remove the desire. This is the key. Remove the desire and the attraction is gone! Victory over sin often depends on being prepared for temptation at any given moment. When you fall into sin, quickly admit it, confess your sorrow and do not forget how it happened. The Bible says we have an Advocate who is willing to forgive us. (1 John 2:1,2) But the Bible also cautions that if we continue in willful rebellion against God, He will not forgive us. (Hebrews 10:26,27; Matthew 12:31) The process of sanctification, or the struggle between the carnal nature and the spiritual nature, does not occur without a constant connection and communication with God. Peter quickly sank into the depths of the Sea of Galilee when he took his eyes off Jesus and we will most assuredly sink into the depths of sin for the same reason.

Why the Torture of Sanctification?

The following statements about sanctification are very important:

1.      When a person is born again, a sanctifying struggle begins.

 

2.      No one is granted eternal life on the basis of human perfection. Everyone who receives the assurance of eternal life must continually submit to the humiliating process of sanctification.

 

3.      The process of sanctification ends at death or when the carnal nature is eliminated.

God watches over each one of us. Nothing is hidden from His sight. (Ecclesiastes 12:13,14; Luke 8:17; 2 Corinthians 5:10) God measures our love and faith for Him by what we do (or do not do). James wrote, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17) Sanctification is a lifelong experience under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit. When the Bible says that Enoch, Noah and Abraham walked with God, the Bible does not mean that these men merely walked with God down a country road. No, it means that these men endured the humiliation of sanctification and as a result, God was pleased to visit and speak with them as friends. The carnal heart hates humiliation because it hates authority. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) Our response to the sanctification process is our way of expressing praise, honor and faith in God. God would much rather see the sanctification occurring in the lives of His children than to hear the praise of 10,000 choirs. (Isaiah 1:13-18) Obedience and submission to authority is the most basic form of praise or glory that a child can produce! (Ask any parent if you do not believe me.) So remember, that (a) sanctification does not merit or bring salvation, and (b) our struggle with sanctification does not end until death or the carnal nature is eliminated.

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