Secret Lovers or Sworn Enemies?

AtlanticStarr_SecretLovers
Atlantic Starr’s breakout song, “Secret Lovers” (A&M Records)

Atlantic Starr had their breakthrough hit “Secret Lovers” back in 1985. Stevie Wonder’s song, “Part-Time Lover” reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 that same year. I still enjoy 80s music! It doesn’t matter what genre of music is your favorite or what era you choose, you’ll find several popular songs that feature infidelity. In the 21st century we see it so often in every form of entertainment that its overlooked or dismissed as a harmless indiscretion. Atlantic Starr’s lyrics do seem somewhat innocuous…

Secret lovers that’s what we are
Trying so hard to hide the way we feel
Cause we both belong to someone else
But we can’t let it go, cause what we feel is oh so real.

Atlantic Starr, A&M Records

During my time at Asbury Theological Seminary (ATS), one of the things I loved the most was the exceptional biblical teaching, sermons and lectures. One chapel when president, Dr. Timothy Tennant spoke, he said something that stuck with me and became a permanent part of my witnessing toolkit. He said, “When we become Christ-followers, sin becomes our sworn enemy not our secret lover.”

That stuck. That stung a little bit too. I have been a lifelong Christian, but for a big chunk of my life, I treated sin like sweets, a little white lie, fatty food, or yes, a “secret lover.” Just try your best to use some self control, but it’s no big deal if you slip up. Just ask for forgiveness. I mean we really can’t control our base instincts, our primal urges, right?

When I look closely at Paul’s theology of sin, he uses strong language and clear illustrations to help us understand the relationship to sin that a justified, redeemed child of God is supposed to have: “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2, NLT) I guess that’s the daily battle in my own life and the big question I have for many of my friends and colleagues who chose to excuse their ungodly behavior by saying things like, “That’s just how God made me,” or “That’s how I was brought up,” or “I’m not hurting anyone. That’s personal!”

God’s grace (see what Paul says in Romans 6-10 and Ephesians 2) and the love of Jesus Christ, gives me (and all believers) the ability to not be defined by our sin. We don’t have to live in it. We shouldn’t want to live in it! μὴ γένοιτο! (Never may it be! Some would even translate that as, “Hell no!”) You and I should be defined by our faith and our fruit as we live lives that are “dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11, NLT). If our “part-time lover” (sin) is dictating even a fraction of our life, it is holding us back from giving all of ourselves to our Creator (Romans 12:1). We can’t move toward a Christlike life and go on toward perfection while keeping one toe in the pool of temptation. Sorry, Stevie.

Our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.

Romans 6:6-7, NLT

So what sin is your “secret lover?” Sexual immorality? Self-medication? Pride and arrogance? Rage and anger? Bitterness and resentfulness? It’s time to let it go of it and cling to God’s grace with all that we are. Somethings are a constant battle for me, a reminder that I need Jesus and have to “let go” on a regular basis. Christians, let’s stop excusing bad behavior, stop running after the sin that seems unavoidable and start relying on the strength and sufficiency of God’s grace. When we do that we’ll “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) That is a love you won’t want to keep a secret!

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Can’t Have One Without The Other

A Romanian Orthodox woman looks over the hilltop cemetery next to her church.
A Romanian Orthodox woman looks over the hilltop cemetery next to her church.

Sinatra originally made it popular, but Al Bundy made it famous. The song was “Love and Marriage” and it was the intro music for the show Married …with Children. Remember that one? I admit to watching it occasionally, but mostly when I was working at a Fox TV station that aired the show in syndication. Quality, family programming, huh?

One of my favorite lines from that song is “This I tell ya, brother, ya can’t have one without tha… other.” Although our culture today would definitely say Ol’ Blue Eyes was wrong about marriage (that’s another post!), it brings to mind the connected relationships of Lent and Easter. “Ya can’t have one without tha… other.”

On Ash Wednesday I saw a tweet that basically said that all we need is Easter. I remember a friend in high school who said Lent was works-based righteousness and that she wasn’t Catholic. I can see both perspectives, but that is only one piece of the equation. The Resurrection at Easter is the culmination of Jesus’s earthly ministry and His victory over sin and death. But we’re still in a struggle with sin and death, right? That’s what Lent is about.

At Lent I step aside from the routine of my everyday life to take a posture of reflection and repentance so that I can refocus and rededicate myself to my Savior. Without a humble attitude of repentance, I am doing nothing more than gazing at the cross as a passive observer. The cross was a place of shame, injustice, violence, arrogance, etc. Yes. I need Easter, but I need to leave all that junk there at Calvary so that Easter is the celebration that it should be! “Ya can’t have one without the other.” But there’s a bit more…

I’ll admit to my own shortsightedness of making Easter the “be all end all.” I said the sinners prayer. I’m good. But without understanding the man that I was, without seeing my need for repentance, without trusting the Lord to change my heart and transform my mind, my soteriology ends up being a bit flat. It also sells short the rest of one’s life and calling after that moment of justification at the foot of the cross.

Ultimately I think we have to see Easter as a new beginning to the story rather than the climax of God’s plan of reconciliation. Believing in Easter and giving our life to Christ starts the process/journey toward being made righteous/sinless. We can’t immediately stop sinning, but the Holy Spirit can give us the strength to turn our back on sin and selfishness and point our lives toward the center of the target.

And here is where I have also fallen short. Easter is not just about you and I. Easter begs the question, “So what!?!” If you have a reason to celebrate at Easter, what does the rest of your life look like? Like everyone else’s? Uh, it shouldn’t (I say that with as much humility and encouragement as I can!). If nothing has changed since your resurrection moment, it’s like gazing at the empty tomb as a passive observer.

The character Al Bundy form the series Married... with Children.
The character Al Bundy from the TV series “Married… with Children.”

So I hope that maybe my own shortsightedness can help you see more clearly the trajectory that you may be on. Leave your junk at the cross (Lent). Come celebrate what Jesus has done for you and everyone who accepts His gracious gift (Easter). Then get to work in your corner of the world, and live more and more like Jesus (reconciliation) …and less and less like Al Bundy.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! Keep looking above and loving beyond.SignJRGBlack300

For more information that is biblically based, I’d encourage you to explore what the Bible says about stuff like this. Check out Psalm 51, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, Hebrews 12:1-13 and see Luke 22:1 through 24:12 for an account of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection.