Dead to sin. Alive to God: Part 4

Instead of your old self rationalizing reasons not to give, let your new self give to God first, trusting that he’ll take care of you.

James F. Borgwardt

“God always pays for what he orders,” a generous member once told me. He was irritated when he’d hear couples limiting or delaying having children because of finances. He related a time much earlier in his life when money was tight and his wife was expecting yet another baby. They had continued to tithe their income, a discipline learned from his father. They trusted that God would provide. And God certainly did.

“They need my money more than I do.” The poorest woman I’ve ever known said this to me as she gave her money away. You’d be surprised at what little income she lived on. I occasionally ate a fast food lunch with her. More than once she left a $5 tip with a thank-you card for an elderly “busboy” cleaning the tables. Anyone would argue that she needed the cash more than the worker did. But even with her limited means she lived out Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

There’s no snappy quote from my parents about giving. Their giving lessons were caught more than taught. As a kid, I peeked a couple times at the number they wrote on their regular offering checks. I was astounded! How did my parents—a pastor and a part-time teacher—cover housing and food costs for a family of eight, pay for high school expenses and most of six college tuitions, and still have that much left to give to the Lord? Because they didn’t give to God what was left over. They gave generously to the Lord first—before mortgage, groceries, tuition, and everything else—and God provided the rest.

They knew well Jesus’ words, “Seek first [your heavenly Father’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Jesus was true to his word. We lacked nothing growing up in the ’70s (except good fashion sense).

YOUR OLD SELF HAMPERS GIVING

I need these giving lessons from others, because trust, generosity, and priority aren’t part of my sinful nature. I was born selfish, and that old self still continues to express himself through multiple self-destructive personalities:

He’s a control-freak. He insists on running my life. He worries and frets about every little detail outside his control, showing his utter lack of trust that God will provide.

He’s a miser. He lives a delusion that I deserve all the financial blessings in my life. His tight-fisted grip on money squeezes generosity out of my life.

He’s a thief. He wants to rob God by grabbing the best for himself and leaving only the leftover scraps for work in God’s kingdom.

You have to call your sinful nature what it is: your old self. And your old self, like mine, will always remain an enemy of God that lives within.

But there’s a new self. God has given you freedom from your sin and your sinful nature by giving you his Son Jesus. In fact, the freedom Jesus gives from your old self is so complete, you can describe your salvation in the past, present, and future.

• Long ago, he saved you from the punishment of your sins when he transferred them to his Son who suffered the divine penalty for you.

• Daily, he saves you from the power of sin when you drown your old self in the waters of your baptism by repentance and gives you a new self.

• Ultimately, he will save you when your old self will be forever buried in the dirt of your grave.

It’s that second point that refers to your life of good works and how you intentionally live as one dead to sin and alive to God. Until your old self is buried for good, you have to daily turn from him and cling to God’s forgiveness in Christ. That’s how your new self asserts itself. Your new self is your true identity before God

YOUR NEW SELF REJOICES IN GENEROUS GIVING

Some complain that Christianity is all about giving. Go ahead and agree with them! Giving is the central message of the Bible: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

In our churches, you’ll always hear about God’s giving to you. Occasionally, you’ll even hear about your giving to him.

One message I hope you don’t hear is this popular excuse not to give: “Some people don’t have any money to give, but they can give their time instead.” That may be true for a few people in this world, but unless you’re reading this magazine from your cardboard box shelter in the woods, it’s not true of you. If Jesus applauded the faith of the widow who gave her last two coins (Mark 12:41-44), he rejoices in your giving too.

Instead of your old self rationalizing reasons not to give, let your new self take these words of the apostle Paul to heart: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (ESV). This passage is often quoted by athletes. But Paul’s not talking about playing basketball. Read all of Philippians chapter 4 and you’ll see he’s speaking of generous giving and contented living. So quote the passage if you must when you lace up your shoes. Far better, repeat it when you fill out your offering envelope: “I can give to God first and trust he’ll take care of me. I can give 10 percent or even more to God’s kingdom, because . . . ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ ”

Yes, Christian, you can, because of the promise that Paul shared next: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

And as you raise your children to live their own life of good works, teach them the right way to give: first God’s kingdom, then your own. And then be ready for the lessons your kids will teach you.

One of my most memorable lessons on giving occurred in our family kitchen. It came from one of my young children at a time when our congregation was going through a stewardship appeal that focused on God’s giving grace to us. Our son knew the riches he has in Christ, and he wanted to respond. He was eager to be part of what the church does—bringing the gospel to more souls. So he asked us how he could express all this with the little money he had. His simple question reminded me that all this is done from a joyful heart.

“Can I give too?”

Funny. He was waiting on my answer, not realizing he was the one teaching the lesson.

James Borgwardt is pastor at Redeemer, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

This is the fourth article in a six-part series on sanctification and good works.

 

 

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Author: James F. Borgwardt
Volume 102, Number 09
Issue: September 2015

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