Wednesday, August 27, 2014

There's Just Some Things They Never Told Me About This Job!


Why is it so few Christians ever fully walk in the freedom promised by Christ? Why do so many of us continue to be bound by sin, no matter how hard we try to live a life free “of the law of sin and death?” Why do we settle for less than the fullness of all that our salvation offers this side of Heaven? Do we really believe that “we have been given exceeding great and precious promises” by which we might be “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust?” (2Pet.1:4) Do we truly embrace the idea that “as He is so are we in this world?”

I saw a poster years ago that spoke to me on a variety of levels at the time. Over the past thirty years of my Christian walk, it has taken on even deeper meaning. A tall, rail-thin, bedraggled and bowlegged cowboy, sporting a week’s worth of beard, covered from head to tail in dust is slumped against a wooden corral. His well-worn lariat hangs limp at his side. Behind him a herd of rowdy cattle shuffle unsettled. The caption read: There Are Just Some Things They Never Told Me About This Job!

I think that insightful comment is applicable to many situations Believers encounter in the context of our earthly walk in the Faith. The premise, of course, is that if we’d known what we were signing up for we might have had second thoughts. For many of us there is no “might” about it. Had we known all the trials and tribulations we were going to encounter as a result of accepting Christ as our Savior, we likely would have continued on in sin. In many cases, it would have been a heck of a lot easier. We wouldn’t have to “turn our cheek” when slapped, love our neighbor as ourselves (no matter how unlovable they are), forgive our brothers seventy times seventy, and so on. Before you decide that the wheels have come off my theological bus let me assure you of one thing. There may be moments of extreme duress in every Believer’s life when they wonder what they really signed up for, but few of us sincerely believe we would be better off going back to living without Christ, me included. 

But there is no question that anyone who purposes to seek the face of God on a daily basis and not just His hand, anyone who desires intimacy with Jesus through Holy Spirit, anyone who aspires to run the race in such a way that they “press on for the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” will face tremendous tribulation. (I’m reminded of the title of the book and movie, I Never Promised You A Rose Garden.)

Nevertheless, once we set out on this very narrow path, seeking the fullness of everything promised to us by Jesus, we find that even though there are moments of deep travail, there are also mountain-top experiences where we encounter His Majesty and Glory in unprecedented ways. This is what spurs us on when our souls languish in the “valley of death.” These mountain-top experiences are often referred to as “epiphanies” --mystical moments when Heaven invades Earth.

I would like to offer up one of my own dramatic “epiphanies” for your consideration. One that came very early on in my walk, the result of an extended time of fasting, prayer, and extensive study in the Word.  

Do you believe that the totality of Scripture teaches that it is possible, this side of Heaven, to walk free from sin, even as Jesus walked sin free?

Religion calls that concept heresy.

Before you echo that spirit in a knee-jerk reaction, hear me out.

Everything Jesus did when He walked the Earth He did as a man. Scripture is very clear that He gave up His exalted status as God and became a man so that, among other things, He might be an example to us of what is possible through Him. (Phil.2:5-15; Col.1:18-22) This does not mean Jesus gave up His divinity, rather it simply means that everything He accomplished as a man He did in spite of His divinity.

How do we know this?

The author of Hebrews is explicit: “Though he was a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; and being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all that obey him.” (Heb.4:7-10) (Italics mine.) The word perfect here in the Greek means coming into full maturity, full age, complete. It has nothing to do with deity, or divinity. If Jesus had resisted sin because He was God, then we would have no hope of following in His footsteps by the indwelling power of Holy Spirit. The Old Testament offers a variation on His holy name: Immanuel. God with us. God in us. When He is alive in us, and we purpose to allow him to increase that we might decrease, we have the potential to walk every day as He did.

1Corinthians10:13-14 assures us that “God is faithful, who will not suffer [us] (Believers) to be tempted above that [we] are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape that [we] may be able to bear it. (Italics mine.) This is an extraordinary statement made by the Apostle Paul, but one which is consistent with all that Jesus taught.

What would our churches, the world, look like if we were taught and lived the truthful teachings of Jesus, instead of doctrines of men? 

The consistent and repetitive image of how sin operates in a faithful Believer’s life, from the Psalms through the rest of the Bible, is the picture of “falling into sin” because of the snares of the evil one, traps set by beguiling individuals, or slipping into sin because of rebellion, or ignorance of the power of the Blood of Jesus.

Many argue that even though we accept Christ, we still have a sin “nature.” I'm not in that camp. A house divided cannot stand. When we accept Christ, “old things pass away and everything becomes new.” We no longer have a propensity to sin. In Christ, we are capable of saying “No” to sin in every circumstance. Do we do that? No. Do I know anyone who does? No. Do I do that? No.

But, because of the resurrection of Jesus, and the indwelling of Holy Spirit, it is possible.

What am I saying?

Scripture is explicit that we are bought with a price, that our life is not our own, and that we must take up our own personal cross and die daily to the demands of our unregenerate soul if we want to live as Jesus lived. The Apostle Peter is equally explicit that “the perfection (the completion or full maturity) of our salvation is the saving of our soul.” (1Pet.1:9) There’s that word perfection again. It’s the same Greek word—teleios. Full maturity. Completeness in Christ.

Salvation isn't an event, it's a process. One that, if we are determined to allow Christ’s sanctification to have full effect, is fraught with daily challenges. Challenges that we have the power and authority, through the indwelling of Holy Spirit to overcome. We are admonished in 2Cor.10:5 to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” (Italics mine.)

Who would we want to serve a God who tells us in His Word that it is possible to walk free from sin on a daily basis if that was a false promise? The problem is not with Scripture, nor is it with us. The problem is that we have been taken captive by a religious spirit that has been around since the Garden of Eden. This religious spirit tells us that our God may be powerful enough to save us from eternal damnation, but He is not able to deliver us on a daily basis from entering into sin.

That is a lie that keeps most Believers in bondage and prevents them from even attempting to live the kind of resurrected life Christ promises. Not a life free of trial and tribulation, but one free from the compulsion to sin. Not a life free of mistakes, but a life free from the religious belief that this side of Heaven it is impossible to walk free from sin. A life that is capable of experiencing the fullness of all that Christ promised and died for on that old rugged cross.

Surely this is a lofty goal worthy of working toward, even if we don’t attain it. However, it is attainable only if we fully submit our soul to Christ on a daily basis, as Paul admonished, and allow Him to become not only the Shepherd of our soul, but the Bishop as well. (1Pet. 2:25)

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Michael. being of a Wesleyan persuasion, I preach this perspective but find it very difficult to explain at times. One of the reasons I love speaking from and reading Romans 6-8. You do a nice job of getting the idea across.