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3 Lies That Hinder Our Mission According to John Calvin

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Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution? -Romans 8:35

I’ve often heard that “self, society, and Satan” are the three sources of lies. My flesh (like so many other’s) often fights against these pithy sayings, but so far as I can tell all lies ultimately come from one of these three sources.

However, all of these “sin sources” are biblical (Eph. 2:2-3). I was reading Calvin’s commentary on Romans the other day and came across his remarks on Romans 8:35. He writes:

Tribulation includes every kind of trouble or evil; distress is an inward feeling, when difficulties reduce us to such an extremity, so that we know not what course to pursue. . . . Persecution properly denotes the tyrannical violence by which the children of God were undeservedly harassed by the ungodly.

It struck me how closely his definitions of these three words lined up with the “self, society, and Satan” line of thought. Let’s deal with them in turn:

Self

Calvin refers to the word translated “distress” in Romans 8 as “an inward feeling.” In other words, we come under distress when we stop trusting in God and His sovereignty and start looking at our own circumstances and allow our own thoughts and feelings to get carried away with worry. Surely someone like Moses could have had this happen to him when he was chased to the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians hot on his tail. But instead of “leaning on his own understanding” (Prov. 3:5-6) he trusted the Lord. It just so happens that God can make ways of escape for his people that humans can’t do or understand on their own (in this case, parting the Sea!).

Experientially I confess that often I am the cause of lies I believe. I resonate with the theologians rock band Lit who said, “It’s no surprise to me I am my own worst enemy.”

I can also cry out with Paul who in Romans 7:24-25 wrote:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Thankfully, Jesus sets us free from ourselves. Through him I can be liberated from my ability to deceive myself.

Society

Society tells me t hat certain kinds of clothes, food, jewelry, car, house, neighborhood, weight, size, shape, skin color, teeth, school, or work determine my self-worth. While these things have varying degrees of importance, God tells me that my identity is drawn from Jesus and to seek him above all these things. If I’m honest, at times I’m too quick to believe the lies society bombards me with rather than what I confess to true from Scripture.

Calvin’s comments (v. 8:35)  focus specifically on what the people of God suffer at the hands of those who are opposed to God. While most people in the US have not experienced physical acts of violence as a result of their faith, some are concerned that this sort of persecution is on the horizon. In the meantime, it is far more likely that society will woo us to conform to its image through its clever marketing and that we will adopt their markers of success.

Churches are truly tempted to make budgets, baptisms, and “butts in seats” synonymous with success. These are all good and important things, but don’t necessarily equate to faithfulness to Christ. God desires above all that his Church seek him and make disciples that obey the teachings of Christ (Matt. 28). Yet, it’s not hard to find churches that have abandoned this distinctive for societal marks of success and brought the Church’s mission into subordination to the American Dream.

Just as Jesus gives us the power to overcome our own self-deception, He’s given us the power to overcome society’s lies. In Galatians 1:3-4 we read: “The Lord Jesus Christ . . . gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.”

Satan

Finally, we come to Satan, our adversary and “the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). If not for him, no sin or lies would exist within humanity. He is the source of all tribulation that’s not tied to the first two sources. Satan filled the heart of Judas on the night he betrayed Jesus. There’s an evil lie that tells us money is better than God and this lie shaped Judas in his betrayal (Matt. 26:15; 1 Tim. 6:10).

While Satan should be feared and we should not underestimate his ability to deceive us, we can take comfort knowing that God is sovereign and Satan can only do what God permits him to do (see Job 1 for this). While he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour us (1 Pet. 5:8), we need only resist him and he will flee (Jas. 4:7).

Not surprisingly, Jesus has given us the power to overcome Satan as well:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb. 2:14-15)

Finding Our Way Back To The Truth

While all of us will give in to believing lies from time to time, thankfully Jesus has overcome these things and has imparted His victory to us by our faith in Him. We have God’s inerrant truth in the Bible and can always turn there to help us in fighting off these lies. We also have prayer so we can trust in God with all our heart instead of leaning on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). What is prayer if not a vocal reliance upon our sovereign God?

Thankfully, despite this “unholy trinity” working against us, nothing can separate us from God’s love that was made available to us through Jesus. In fact, Paul goes on to say that we are “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37). What does it mean to be more than a conqueror? Well it’s possible for an army to conquer a competing army in battle yet suffer many casualties. But we are more than conquerors, so even if everything in creation was against us (even ourselves at times!) since God is for us we will not suffer casualties. We may be martyred for our faith, but we will live again and have life abundantly.

As we seek to make, mature, and multiply disciples, we must beware of the lies that threaten to hinder our mission.

Sean Nolan (B.S. and M.A., Summit University) is the Family Life Pastor at Christ Fellowship Church in Fallston, MD. Prior to that he served at a church plant in Troy, NY for seven years and taught Hermeneutics to ninth and tenth graders. He is married to Hannah and is father to Knox and Hazel. He blogs at Hardcore Grace and the recently started Family Life Pastor.

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