Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Tension Between Spirit and Sin: The Struggle of Every Christian

I didn't come to Jesus for Jesus.  I came to Jesus, I flew to Jesus, cried out to Jesus, because I believed he could save me.  My motives weren't perfect or pure or righteous. I came because I was desperate, broken, and lost.  We come to Christ in brokenness, with the most shallow motives. Thankfully that's all it takes, honestly coming to Christ in desperate need.  

And I want to live a pure and holy life.  Oh how I want that, each day, I desperately want that.  I want to live a pure and holy life.  I want my thoughts to be pure.  But they aren't.  I want my body to be pure.  But it isn't.  And I want my entire heart's longing to be to do my God's will, to obediently follow his plan for my life.  But that hasn't been my experience either.  At least not to the extent that I desire.  I want it all, now.  

It's good to desire to live a holy life. It's a passion we've lost touch with in modern times.  We're rich in faith, but broke in obedience. We wanna do what we wanna do.  We want to go see the violent serial killer movie.  We want to gossip. We want to complain and coarsely joke. We want to flirt a bit with that coworker, with that friend on Facebook, and our girlfriend or boyfriend, our husband and wife won't even notice.  It's not a huge deal, right?  Just some innocent flirting. But we're called to a different lifestyle than all that.  And it turns out that what begins as "no big deal" soon can become a disaster of life changing proportions. 

It's important to remember the order.  We have been cleansed, changed, made clean, and had our sins abolished and removed completely by one factor: Jesus Christ, and His life, death, and resurrection.  That's all.  Paid in full, by Jesus.  Saved in full by Jesus.  We're new people because of Jesus. I add nothing to that equation but my own sin, brokenness and need.  My part one could say is repentance, but even that requires the presence of God, in Spirit and in truth.  He guides it all. It's all Him in salvation, in saving me, all Him and none of me.  It's a gift you see: A beautiful, precious gift. 

Secondary to that is that we seek to live holy lives, because of what Christ has already done for us.  If we labor because we believe that we will be justified before God because of our good deeds or because of our growth in holiness, we've become pharisees, hypocrites, trying to barter our way into heaven. It's nonsense.  And garbage.  Christ has paid it all.  And our love for God and our amazement at what he's done for us is what spurs us to live a holy and pure lifestyle each day. We're amazed afterward that Jesus has saved us, which motivates us to live in daily growth and relationship with our heavenly Father. 

Beautiful isn't it?  Yes. So we want to live a holy life because he's saved us.  So we want to set aside sin.  We puzzle through sins in our lives and fight against them one by one as the Spirit leads us. Sins, well, they are an interesting thing.  How so you ask? Well, some sins are more acceptable than others.  We all know that it's sinful to use drugs, or drink to get drunk, or smoke cigarettes, or commit adultery against your spouse, or engage in homosexual activity, or  lying, or cheating, or stealing, or any of the other more focused on sins.  We should fight against those sins, and fight hard.  

But what about the less known sins?  What about gossiping?  Maybe we notice when others do it but when we do it, do we except ourselves?  "Well, I'm just venting."  That sort of thing?  Or do we complain and murmur against those in authority over us?  Do we whisper against them?  That's not what God has for us.  That's not honoring to him.  Thankfully, he gives us the power and encouragement to do better.  And we'll love more, and feel better when we do.  It may be tough at first, but once we establish that new lifestyle, and fight for it, we'll see that in time it'll become second nature. 

Another often ignored sin is pride.  It's a prominent American sin, as they say, the celebrity pastor, with the super white teeth, I swear sometimes theres a 'ting' noise in my head when they smile.  And it's all about them.  It's all about pride, how many people I've saved, how many people we've served, how many millions of dollars raised, how many statistics stacked up to show needs met.  And pretty soon, slowly but surely, it's all about the person and God is secondary.  

Or it can be simply pride in work, pride in that job title, pride in what we do each day, or pride in our abilities, or how well we say it.  Think about that.  If everything is going well in life, and it rarely is I admit, but often when things are going so well, for so long, and people are singing our praises, pride that most dangerous of sins is beginning to seep in and take hold.  Oh Lord save us from pride.  Humble us, and crush our pride in your cleansing fire.  

Workaholism is another rather interesting sinful lifestyle.  It's well approved of in American culture.  In fact I've seen people get in little contests over it.  "I put in 13 hours yesterday."  "Oh yeah that's nothing I put in 15 hours the other day."  

Another way of putting it: martyrdom.  Sometimes we can play the martyr.  This is prominent in the Salvation Army my denomination during Christmas.  We assume that we're so important, that we always have to be there, and to just constantly die for the cause out there, putting in long, long hours because God can't do it without us.  What foolishness is that!  Don't get me wrong, there are times when we must serve for long hours, and work hard, but if it's constant, and it's always happening, there is a problem.  We're probably neglecting our wife or husband, our family, our friends, and even the people we serve.  It's madness. But hey, the world can't turn without us right?  

Be aware of the culturally approved of sins.  And fight against them, just as you'd fight against the more obvious sins like pornography, lust, greed, envy, coveting, and the like.  Fight against the hidden sins, as well as the obvious ones.  We should, become of what Christ has done for us.  He wants us to live pure lives.  So let's do it.  

I was reading a book by Charles Spurgeon, and he was indicating the need to love God for God.  And I think that's probably quite true.  But I don't think we necessarily end up in the family that way.  We come because we're lost, we're desperate, we know we need something different, and we come because Christ is the truth.  And it's actually real and true.  I think over time as Christ changes us our motives also change.  More and more we love God for God.  We love to receive love from God and we love to give love back to God.  It's a relational thing that we grow more and more into as God changes us into the likeness of Christ.

What Charles Spurgeon said later that I often come back to is the more we love God and the more we grow like Christ, the more we lament our own sinfulness.  Thats me everyday.  I lament how I fall short.  I lament how God has done so much to change my life and give me a new life and remove all my sins and give me Jesus, and my response is to lust in my mind?  My response is to be selfish and self-interested?  My response is to be crabby and rude to my friends?  We all do these things.  And we all wrestle with the "between state" we're in right now.

We're between worlds, we're between heaven and earth.  We're saved by grace through faith in Christ, yet we still struggle between the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit.  We're citizens of heaven, yet we still live in the broken Earth realm. We are clean, perfect in Christ, yet we sludge through the muck and grime of this life with all it's tantalizing allurements and minefields of stumbling blocks.  

So we find in ourselves so many tensions, tensions between holiness and sinfulness, love and apathy, Christ-like service and cold-hearted self interest, speaking truth and telling lies, feeling the presence of God and feeling utterly alone, preaching an amazing Spirit filled message then cursing out your neighbor on the way home, giving a beautiful gift of grace then judging someone and condemning them to hell.  It's crazy. It's challenging. But we don't have to pretend we're perfect.  It's OK to admit this stuff.  It helps others who struggle when we do.  

Yet we yearn inwardly for something more, we yearn inwardly to be truly as Christ is.  And that's just the gift we'll receive after we die.  The thing which we yearn for, to be truly 100% like Christ, will ultimately be fulfilled completely in the next life when we are gathered to God, to live in His presence forever in the eternal city.  We yearn for that state of eternity, for that expression of true holiness outwardly and inwardly.  And it's a beautiful hope for us.  

We lament our sinfulness because we're growing toward Jesus.  We're being conformed to the image of Christ.  We lament that we can't lament more.  We struggle that we don't struggle.  We want more of God.  We lament that we don't want more of God. We want to want more of God.  That's the tension we face in this life.  We're between worlds, we're becoming more like Christ, yet we still struggle with the sin nature.  We're of heaven, yet on Earth.  We've had our victory over the enemy through Christ Jesus, yet we continue to fight and struggle each day.  Don't be afraid when you face the tension here, the battle here, the struggles here, it's exactly how it's set up and it's what your suppose to be feeling.  Keep pushing forward and know that every Christian is fighting the same battle everyday.  

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