Christian Discernment is Both Spiritual and Physical

Pastor Daniel Lacaria

In our Feb. 12, 2017 sermon on Phil. 1:9-11 titled Healthy Love’s Fruitful Labors Part One, we heard that discernment is both a spiritual discipline and a physical discipline.
Spiritual discernment is exercised by our soul as we reason over and intuit things, and exercise moral insight.
Man was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), God Who is Spirit (John 4:24), so our similarities to God have to do with our soulish capacities, not our physical bodies (because God does not have a physical body, and Christ did not take on a physical body and become Man until the time of the Incarnation). These inner capacities of soul are present in all people, but are clarified and strengthened by being born again (regenerated). Physical discernment is exercised by our bodily senses in conjunction with the soul. These capacities are our God-given five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smelling, tasting); and these physical, embodied capacities are one of our dissimilarities to God.
Both the spiritual and physical aspects of our being are given by God. This will help us understand Paul saying “all discernment” in Phil. 1:9, instead of just “spiritual discernment” as he has said elsewhere (1 Cor. 2:14). Christian capacities are able to be further sanctified and sharpened in three inter-connected ways: through diligent study of God’s Word, through crying out to God for discernment in prayer, and through living uprightly (Prov. 2:1-9). Proverbs is a fantastic book for demonstrating the linkage of spiritual and earthly discernment using both our physical (bodily) and non-physical (spiritual/soulish) capacities (see also Heb. 5:14).
God designed us as a body and soul unity (Gen. 2:7; Job 33:4). Our bodies and souls are distinct aspects of our being, yet they are both unified. They are unified, but not identical. The spiritual and the physical are different—but not disconnected. Likewise, as with the body and soul, so our physical and spiritual senses/capacities are distinct and yet unified. Consider: physical discomfort and pain can dampen the spirit, and spiritual depression or elation can have effects on the body (Dan. 7:15; Psa. 31:10; Prov. 15:13; 17:22).
God gave you the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. Exercising your spiritual discernment does not exclude using your five bodily senses in conjunction with spiritual discernment and the thoughts of your rational mind. Indeed, saving faith cometh by hearing the spoken Word of God with the ear, or the reading of God’s written Word with the eye. We trust the eyewitness accounts of the Gospels and epistles. The apostle John and the apostolic delegate Dr. Luke took great care to convey that they touched Christ with their hands and tasted meals of bread and fish with Him (1 John 1:1-4; Luke 24). Recall how Jesus bridged spiritual truth with physical truth when He instituted the ordinance of the Lord’s Table. The bread and wine are physically sensible and experiential elements used to raise the mind to spiritual realities of our salvation made available on account of His death and suffering (both His physical and spiritual suffering, mind you). The bread and wine also are appropriated to symbolize our visible fellowship and spiritual union with each other as fellow believers on account of our spiritual union with Christ (1 Cor. 10:16-17). Jesus called Himself the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and said He gives the Water of Eternal Life (John 4:14).
Contrasted to heathen use of the body and it’s five senses in uncontrolled and impulsive manner (cf. 1 Pet. 4:3-5), Christian use of our bodily senses, in a self-controlled and sanctified manner, bridges into spiritual depth of insight by building up the virtues of the spirit: specifically love, knowledge, and discernment in the case of Phil. 1:9-11. An improper use of the bodily senses leads to the opposites of love, knowledge, and discernment: namely, lust, ignorance, and blindness. Christians are told to not go back to practicing such ways of sinful living as in their former, unregenerate conduct, but to pursue the more excellent way of Christ (Eph. 4:20-24), and yet, we are told to not deny the bodily senses and bodily goods in the extreme under the guise of godliness (cf. Col. 2:16-23; 1 Tim. 4:1-6).
Beloved, taste and see that the Lord is good (Psa. 34:8) so that you may offer sweet smelling sacrifices unto God; the praise of your lips and the labor of your prayers, which are a pleasing aroma unto God (Heb. 13:15; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4). Lift up holy hands and drop to your knees giving praise unto Him (Neh. 8:6; Psa. 28:2; 63:4; Luke 24:50; 1 Tim. 2:8; 1 Kings 8), Who, not seeing with the physical eye you see with the eyes of your heart and you love Him (1 Pet. 1:7-9). You grow to eagerly anticipate the Day when faith will become physical sight (1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John. 3:1-4) to the resounding songs of praise in the Kingdom of Heaven, that heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26), which will descend down and join the earthly Jerusalem in the renewed, un-cursed, physical re-creation of earth (2 Pet. 3:10-13; Rev. 21:1-6)—the spiritual perfectly uniting with the physical as was always meant to be. Soli Deo Gloria!
*N. B. Postscript: I am not advocating the erroneous attempt to break down distinction between what is sacred and what is common. There is a theology of the sacred in Scripture spanning both Testaments. To be sanctified means to be “set apart” and consecrated for holy use. The world, in its present form, is passing away. Therefore, though Biblical Christianity affirms the good of the bodily senses, and affirms the good gifts of God given in this life, it is never at the expense of breaking down the distinctions between what is sacred and secular.
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Christ Was and Is a Sign that is Spoken Against

January 17, 2017

Pastor Daniel Lacaria

In our Christmas Day sermon, titled, “The Consolation of Israel,” which came from Luke 2:25-35, we saw Simeon give prophecy concerning the Christ-Child: “this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (Luke 2:34).”
I had mentioned in passing that atheist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said that Christ was the scourge of the human race on account of allowing the weak to live. Nietzsche “was deeply preoccupied with religion all his life and repeatedly and obsessively denounced Christian ideas and those who believed them.” He also came from a heavily Christian family with lines of numerous Lutheran pastors on both sides. His own father was a pastor who died at age 36, having an overall frail constitution. He loved his father dearly, and Friedrich was only 5 when he died. Nietzsche confessed faith in Christ early in life, but by the teenage years had effectively abandoned Christ and Christianity. Nietzsche rejected Christian theology, morality, Jesus, and the Christian God because he felt it was all too “weak.” [The information in this paragraph comes from Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism (Dallas: Spence Publishing, 1999), 20-25.]
No matter the personal motivations, hurts, stories, and families of origin, we must all face the light of day. We are accountable for our sins. Nietzsche is one of many famous and powerful people who spoke again Christ, just as Simeon prophesied. In speaking against Christ so fervently, and in a philosophical quest to almost deify himself as a model superman, Nietzsche by the end of his life had a nervous breakdown and a series of strokes from which he never recovered. Christ was the Rock under which Nietzsche was broken (Luke 20:18).
But I also providentially came across an ancient reference to Christ, also speaking of Him as a curse, historically near Christ’s resurrection and the founding of the Church. The historian Tacitus speaks of Nero’s Rome during the time of a great fire that razed much of the city, and in which Nero laid the blame on Christians. It was under Nero that Peter and Paul were both martyred. Tacitus speaks of Christ as a curse, and also of the execution of Christians:
“Nero therefore found culprits on whom he inflicted the most exotic punishments. These were people hated for their shameful offenses whom the common people called Christians. The man who gave them their name, Christus, had been executed during the rule of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate. The pernicious superstition [Christianity] had been temporarily suppressed, but it was starting to break out again, not just in Judea, the starting point of that curse, but in Rome, as well, where all that is abominable and shameful in the world flows together and gains popularity. And so, at first, those who confessed were apprehended, and subsequently, on the disclosures they made, a huge number were found guilty—more because of their hatred of mankind than because they were arsonists. As they died they were further subjected to insult. Covered with hides of wild beasts, they perished by being torn to pieces by dogs; or they would be fastened to crosses and, when daylight had gone, burned to provide lighting at night.”
[This quote comes from Tacitus, Annals 15.44 in The Annals: The Reigns of Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero, trans. J. C. Yardley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 359-360, cited in Bryan M. Litfin, Early Christian Martyr Stories: An Evangelical Introduction with New Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 4.]
Of no small side matter is the excellent historical grounding of Christ, Scripture, and the works of God that Tacitus quite naturally corroborates. The Gospel writer, physician, and historian Luke wrote in Luke 3:1: “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene.” You see Tiberius and Pilate mentioned also by Tacitus, corroborating from outside of Scripture the historical testimony of Scripture. Indeed, as Paul the apostle has said about Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, “this thing was not done in a corner (Acts 26:26),” but was publicly known.
And just as in modern times Christians who hold to Christ and Scripture are referred to as hateful, bigoted, and judgmental, etc., so these early Christians were charged with being guilty of death on account of “their hatred of mankind,” and they were also found to be “hated” by many. Their Savior was a “curse” and their religion was “a pernicious superstition.”
Even in Scripture, you see Christ being “cursed” in a very real sense immediately after His ascension in Acts 4:15-18 when some in power tried to suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
In summary, Christ fulfilled all of Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:25-35—and to this day the same One who is cursed among many is also blessed among many: “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life (2 Cor. 2:15-16).”
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Fellowship and Restoration Flow From Relationship: A Study of Repentance in the Prophet Jonah

November 28, 2016

Pastor Daniel Lacaria

When there is a relationship full of love, each person desires the good and best for the other. We see this in our relationships with fellow man: husband and wife, fathers and mothers toward children, and children’s love for their parents. We see this when brothers of blood dwell together in unity, and we see this when brothers of spirit dwell together in unity.
Jonah is in relationship to God by faith (Jonah 1:9). We see that even though there was a rupture in fellowship and communion between Yahweh and Jonah on account of Jonah’s sin (chapter 1), that there has now been reconciliation (chapter 2). Jonah repented of his sin. God did not need to repent, because He is perfect. But even though God was guiltless, note that He never stopped pursuing His son, Jonah, to restore Him to Himself. The New Testament parable of the prodigal son paints a portrait of Gospel conversion, with the heavenly Father running happily to the straying son after the son has come to his senses and repented. But Jonah’s history gives us a portrait of God’s restoration of what has been damaged by one already converted, and how He was taking initiative to restore Jonah His son to right relationship with Himself all of this time, even before Jonah repented. Jonah was wounded so that God may heal him. Unlike those apart from God — whom God wounds to irreparably destroy in judgment and cast out of His sight forever — toward His own He strikes in order to humble, heal, and to present them before His throne faultless with mutual joy and all loves excelling (Jude 24-25).
In our family relationships in which we’ve been providentially placed, there is a sense in which we belong to one another with all joy, long-suffering, obligations, and pleasures that are right and proper. It is a picture of how we are to conduct ourselves in relationship to the One that we’ve been given permission to call upon as our Father, and also how we are to conduct ourselves in the household of God: “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another (Ephesians 4:25).” Love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8), and love is the basis for our reconciliation in, with, and under truth — it is how love flourishes without hypocrisy (Romans 12:9). In our families, in our churches, in our relationship to God as sojourners and pilgrims on this earth — we are not perfect and sinless. But love, grace, mercy, and truth give us all the resources we need to overcome ruptures in fellowship so that we may strengthen and bless relationships. This is accomplished through prayer and action. Our energies are expended in growing closer to God and one another through private and corporate prayer; then we are to act. Paul speaks of us belonging to God: “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:7-8).” But there is also a true sense in which God belongs to us on account of the warm, loving, affectionate relationship granted to us by the Holy Trinity (Galatians 4:4-7). We align ourselves with God and each other through prayer that we may have healthy relationships with God and man. Jonah has confessed and forsaken his sin (Proverbs 28:13), not merely confessed it, and has demonstrated his love in deed and not in word only (1 John 3:18). As body and soul are needed for one to be alive in the proper sense (for body and soul long to be reunited when separated at death), so both deed and word are needed for love to be complete in the proper sense (and intuitively beg to be united).
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