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More Kingdom thoughts: Severed ropes, memories and new life

The other night, I was channel-flipping and ended up on Trinity Broadcasting Network. Now, I’m not a normal viewer of this channel (heh, just take a look at my TiVo category), but that night, my finger hovered above the channel-up button when I caught a glimpse of a muscular preacher striding around his packed sanctuary (which revealed an impressive number of young men and women) with a rope looped over his shoulders and about seven or eight people walking behind tied to the same rope.

It didn’t take long for the tagline along the bottom of the screen to identify this intriguing character: Bishop Eddie L. Long of Atlanta megachurch New Birth Missionary Baptist Church—a controversial figure in some circles (see end of this post) but a rather captivating speaker.

As I listened, I discovered that the people behind Long represented sins—lust, adultery, pornography, drugs, alcohol, lying, etc. Long walked through aisles and down rows of chairs, pulling his “sin” behind him. “I’m tired!” he shouted

It was a strong and impressive illustration about how sin ties us down in our hearts and head—but there was more to come.

Why do we carry all this sin around? Because of our bloodline, Long answers. He pulls up out of the audience another young man and young woman, labeling them Adam and Eve, and walks them over to the line of people tied by the rope. He places their hands on the link, illustrating that our sin comes from them, their bloodline—our bloodline—bringing sin with it.

But, Long says, when we surrender to Christ, we are part of a new bloodline. What does that mean? Long pulls out a knife and cuts the rope holding him to the sin he’d carried around throughout the sanctuary. When we become part of Christ’s bloodline, Long tells us, we are free from the sin’s bloodline—you are free from the power of sin. It can try to follow you around and pull you down but, says Long as he holds up the severed rope, it can’t. You belong to another bloodline.

So, why does it feel like such a struggle?

“Do you know what you’re fighting?” Long asks. “You’re fighting a memory.”

Heh. I’ve never thought of it that way, but I think he’s really onto something.

It’s like Dan Stone says when he talks about being a new creation. It may not feel like it, but we are new creations—dead to the old—when we surrender to God. “You look like the same old Tom, Dick, Harry, Mary, Jane, or Elizabeth. Externally, you still are. But you have been renewed from within. Life is within. . . . You already are a new creature. You don’t have to try to become a new creature.” But until we get that we are new, we’ll keep trying to make ourselves new (what we already are). The key is to learn to live according to what is true, not what appears to be true:

The old is gone. To whom? To God. It may not disappear as quickly to you, in the seen and temporal realm, as you’d like. But it’s gone to God. He sees the unseen and eternal. He sees the first from the last. And He knows that the old is gone. The question is who’s keeping score? You or God? The old you is gone to the One who is in charge of the universe. To Him, you are not the same person you were before you entered into Christ. You are a brand new creation in Christ.

It took me 21 years after getting saved to catch up to what already was. I said, “Oh my goodness. Look how God has been seeing me for 21 years, and I’ve been bogged down in this flesh conflict, continually trying to make myself new, and losing.” The losing ceased when I stopped trying to become who I wanted to be, and saw that I already was.
Long’s illustrations convey a truth of our new life in a different but very powerful way. Sin is part of a life we have died to with Jesus, but our flesh—our old nature—has strong memories of the old life. And memories, as we know can be very powerful. But Long’s illustration puts it in perspective: At the core of who we are, we are free from sin. We have a new life, one which comes from, rests in and trusts in God. In its throes of death, sin fights to take us down. But in reality, its as if we are fighting a memory. And being a follower of Jesus is all about learning to live out of that new life (or, as Stone says, live as we already are) and not out of our memories.

This—like many other Kingdom truths—often doesn’t feel or seem true, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t. It’s like most spiritual truths: they must be learned and owned. It comes down to Romans 12:1-2 (NLT):

Don’t copy the behavior and the customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect His will really is.
We must renew our minds, learn to think according to reality rather than what appears to be true. How do we do that? We live in relationship with him. We spend time in the word, we pray, we seek after God, we talk with him and we listen. We spend time with others on the Way, whom we can encourage and whom can encourage us. These aren’t formulas to get to God. They are ways we talk with God, walk with God, interact with God, hear from God, listen to God. And it is our relationship with him (not the things we do) that begins to transform our mind, that begins to root out those memories in our flesh—bringing it under the control of the new life and the Spirit, who explodes the new life within us.

We are in the already-but-not-yet; we are new creations who live in a fallen world. Often that world and what we see in it (including ourselves) seems to completely contradict the truth of who God has re-made us to be. But the truth is, he has made us new. He has made us un-broken. He has made us free—from sin and its memories. We need to trust him that what he says is true and allow him to change the way we think so that we can learn to see right, smell the Kingdom air we breathe and walk explodingly-outward with him as he redeems the creation he longs to redeem.

Eddie Long as well as Potter’s House TD Jakes have been criticized for their theologies, mansion-style homes, expensive cars and their wealthy lifestyles. Critics suggest their theologies are laced with prosperity gospel language, while others laud Long’s outreach ministries and one-of-my-fav-writers Lauren Winner suggests that Jakes in particular preaches a gospel we all need to hear. But no matter what you think of Long or Jakes, these illustration are an interesting and even helpful way (at least for me) to think about what Kingdom life looks like. And I’m adding it to my collection.

(Image: by tauntingpanda at flickr)