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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, January 25, 2019
Where does it come from?
I recall the day I first understood it. 

Like every other honest Christian, I was doing my best to be holy, but my best could not exclude me from seasons and even cycles of failure.  I don't think you can be successful in your faith if you aren't honest with yourself and with the Lord about where you're at.  But I don't think being honest with yourself will ever be enough to overcome sinful habits or behaviors.  It's a necessary component, but it cannot stand alone.

I shouldn't have to convince any reader that every sinner is inclined to pursue what he or she wants.  But not everything a sinner wants is something God permits.  Unfortunately, that means every sincere Christian struggles when it comes to some 'want' that isn't permitted by God.  When our religion comes into conflict with some powerful sinful desire, it is often (at least in the infancy of our faith) the sinful desire that wins out.  We may have experience frequent victory over temptation, but no matter how successful we are at overcoming some sinful habit, it is the seeming inevitability of our coming failure that troubles us.  If sin doesn't trouble you, there is something very wrong with your faith.  I think sincere Christians are more likely to mourn over their failures than celebrate their successes when it comes to overcoming temptation.

That's the boat I was in when I found myself alone one morning, half way up the stairs on my landing, fresh from some failure to resist a temptation, and crumbling under the weight of my latest failure.  Each step seemed to me a step closer to the next failure, and the weight of my grief became overwhelming, so that I collapsed onto the stairs in chest heaving sobs of shame and inconsistency. 

Why was I such a failure?  Was I not a *real* Christian?  Why wasn't I able to overcome sin?  Why was I still in bondage to sin, when the bible said that I was no longer in bondage to sin?  Was I deceived about my faith?  Did I only tell myself I was a Christian?  Was my faith a sad, self-deceived facade?

Like most believers in this situation, the first fear I felt was the fear that I was a fake.  A wannabe.  I knew that I had believed the gospel, and that there was no further 'faith' I could pursue.  I knew the gospel, and I believed the gospel.  I wasn't trusting in my own works to save me, I was trusting in God's promise to save everyone who called upon the name of the Lord to be saved.  Jesus came to this world to save sinners, and I knew myself to be fully qualifies.  I knew that I had seen my damnation, and agreed with God that this was what I deserved, and I knew that only through Christ could I be saved, and I knew that I had to come to God personally for salvation, and not trust in any religious participation or ceremony, or any amount of good works to appease God - so I prayed, and spoke to God in the sincerity of my heart, and called upon Him to save me, and though I hated God in my heart, I was honest with him about that, and cried out for a salvation I did not deserve on the basis of His promise to save me, and someone in that prayer my hatred of God and His Christ turned to profound love and gratefulness.  What was once despised in my heart became precious in a moment, and I felt the Holy Spirit come into me like a screen door would feel the water of Niagara falls rushing through it.  In a moment I was cleansed, in a moment I was saved.  I knew it, and I knew the presence of the Lord.

I know the very moment I was saved in the same way a man knows the moment he was struck by a speeding semi-trailer.  My salvation was neither subtle nor mistakable.  It was night and day.  My life two seconds prior was not the same as my life two seconds after.  I knew something had changed radically in my life.  So for me temptations to believe that I had somehow misunderstood the gospel, or only imagined myself to be saved fail because they cannot assail the reality of my conversion.  I was not argued into the kingdom - I came in through an unforgettably violent and life changing conversion and not merely through the intellectual persuasion that accompanied it.

Yet here I was on my stairs, sobbing in despair as sin seemed poised to shipwreck my faith.  I was in agony in my soul, tossed about like the proverbial dingy adrift on the tempestuous sea.  But I was not without the sword of my faith.  Having memorized the sixth chapter of Romans, I knew very well that Christ came to set me free from sin's bondage, but even here, my sword seemed to cut me rather than defend me - where was my freedom?  Why was I still so obviously in bondage to sin?

Then it hit me.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. - Matthew 6:24 [ESV]  
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? - Romans 6:16 [ESV]

What our Lord said about serving money applies to serving anything else that isn't God.  I was serving my own desires, and knew myself to still be a slave to these same desires.  I was supposed to be a slave to righteousness - which is just another way of saying, I was supposed to be Christ's slave, but I wasn't.  I was obedient in many things, but not in all things.  My whole life prior to Christ one one large exercise in being a self-serving sleaze, and becoming a Christian hadn't, and indeed couldn't erase my personality.  I was still the same me, only now I was trying to serve God, and doing my best not to give into 'being me'.

My big revelation began with recalling these truths in the light of bondage.  A slave does not have any rights.  He cannot oppose his master, because he has no right to oppose his master.  No battle of wills - will grant him such a right.  He must obey his master, because that is what being a slave entails.  The salve who does not obey his master, is a useless slave, because he is not acting like a slave, but acting like a free man.

This in and of itself wasn't my big revelation.  Many of you reading are familiar with these verses, but reading them probably didn't suddenly cause you to interject with your own, "Aha!" - I expect if anything, you didn't think much about it, and if you did, it was something akin to a mental version of, "Uh-huh". But I included the verses to outline for you my thought process at the time.

No one can serve two masters

In any moment (and we only have free agency in the moment we are presently experiencing) we're either a slave of our own desires, or we are a slave to Christ's desires.  What we choose determines whether or not we are acting in accord with our faith, or contrary to it.

But here was the thing:  A slave doesn't have the right to make that choice.  Anyone who names the name of Christ -whether they understand it or not- doesn't have the right to "choose" to obey Christ.  All who claim Christ are -continually- obligated to obey Christ. Unfortunately, our assent to the truthfulness of this statement in and of itself has no compelling power to cause any of us to suddenly obey Christ.

The knowledge that we ought to obey doesn't compel us to obey.  When I say that I'm talking about this idea that if such and such happened, we'd suddenly find within us some new urge or power that compels our obedience - making it second nature.  We all would love something like that!  How many times have I wished that God would just change my nature, so that I loved obedience rather than sin!  But this knowledge didn't give me any special power to overcome my temptation, and so I was concerned because even though I was a "good" Christian 99% of the time (okay, closer to 60% of the time) yet when I stumbled, I was as much a sinner as I had ever been.  This kind of failure, especially when it is repeated cyclically, seemed to paint my whole Christian testimony and experience as a kind of moral whitewash that merely cover up the *real* me.  In  that moment, and in moments like it, I begin to question my Christian experience - what is wrong with me?

And rightly so.

My problem was that while I fully accepted my designation as sin's slave (my every failure affirmed it), I had nothing to affirm that Christ had made me His slave. 

I believed the scriptures to be true: I was Christ's slave - but my secret fear that I had somehow missed something important in my faith - was seeping out from under the door of my heart, out into the open.  What was I missing? Clearly I was lacking some critical knowledge that if I could only solve the riddle, I would begin to consistently overcome sin, and be the Christian I so desperately wanted to be.

Then it hit me -  I didn't really believe I was Christ's slave, and the reason I didn't believe it is because I wasn't experiencing perfect victory over every temptation and sin.

Being Christ's slave means that as a Christian, sin no longer has any power over me.  It simply doesn't.  The reason I am not experiencing this reality isn't because sin has me in bondage, it is because I have a habit of living in bondage. 

I've heard it described as a man inserting a bunch of wire into a glass bottle.  As you press more wire into the bottle, the wire bends within the bottle such that if you continue to press more and more wire in, eventually the wire takes the shape of the inside of the bottle.  When you break the bottle, the wire retains the shape of the bottle, not because it is still confined, but because that is the shape of it's previous confinement.

So we who are slaves to Christ are likewise inclined by our former sinful life, to continue to function as though we were in bondage to sin.  We aren't, but because of the way we're bent, we believe we are.

Because we still find ourselves in this same sinful bent, we believe imagine that if we truly are Christ's slave we will suddenly become unbent (to continue to metaphor).  But that doesn't happen.  We are definitely set free, but we expect freedom to be something else.  The truth sets us free - it sets us free to obey God, but it doesn't force us (ie. compel us) to obey.  We want to obey, but we find ourselves in that struggle that Paul describes so perfectly in Romans 7

There Paul describes that internal struggle between the desire to obey God and the desire to obey self.  A sincere believer has an intellectual desire to please God, that doesn't translate into the same kind of carnal compulsion to obey God, as compels us to pursue our own pleasures.  Paul describes this wicked compulsion to sin as continuing to compel us even after we come to faith.  He describes our flesh as producing only the the desire to do evil, and being incapable of producing a desire to do good - such that he is able to show that our desire to do good is not coming from our flesh but from Christ who is in us - our 'new man'.  This is the life of Christ that every Christian becomes a partaker of the moment they are born again. 

So the conflict in Romans 7 is between the life of Christ that is ours in Christ, and the life we inherited from Adam which animates our flesh.  The one desires all that is good and selfless, the other all that is evil and selfish.  We experience this as a kind of schizophrenia.  We don't experience the life of Christ as foreign to us, because it is truly our life in Christ - the life we were joined to when we believed.  But we live in flesh that is not animated by the life of Christ, but rather by that life that God first breathed into Adam.  That life which is passed on through procreation to all of Adam's race.  That life which was cut off from God -the source of all righteousness- in the garden of Eden, when Adam sinned.  A life that is as incapable of righteousness, as it is incapable of reinserting itself back into the garden.  The good that the life of Christ compels the Christian to do, is not reinforced by the flesh in the same way that the desire to sin - which animates our flesh - compels us.

So we find ourselves wanting to do good even as our flesh wants to continue to do evil.  Paul describes this as a principle (a 'Law') that he has determined resides within himself.  His "inner man" (i.e. the life of Christ within him), desires to do good,  and that even as he himself concurs with the desire to do good along with the prompting from his "inner self" (Christ), he finds that he himself, in wanting to obey Christ, is a prisoner in his own flesh (the life of Adam) 'who' only desires to do evil.

He concludes Romans 7 thanking God that he has been set free (he just named himself a prisoner within his own sinful flesh) from the principle that ruled his flesh - ie. that made him a prisoner to sinful desires - that even though his flesh continues to serve sin, he himself is able to serve God through the life of Christ.

This would be confusing if we didn't realize that the chapter divisions aren't there in the original letter.  Paul goes on to explain in Romans 8, that this means there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ, because that same law that enables Paul to desire what Christ desires, sets him free from the law that controls the flesh (the law of sin and death, ie. the life that was inherited from Adam which animates our flesh).  The law of Moses failed because it required an obedience to God that the life of Adam in the flesh could never produce.  But the because through the new birth we become partakers of Christ's life, we are now free to obey Christ, because we experience the righteous desires of Christ as our own desires (since they spring from the same life that sustains us now, and will sustain us when our flesh dies).

The life of Adam which sustains and animates our flesh isn't subject to God, and cannot be made subject to God, but the life of Christ that every Christian is joined to is subject to God, such that we do not please God when we obey the life of Adam in our flesh, and we can now please God when we obey the life of Christ that is in us through our new birth.

But here too, the life of Christ doesn't animate the flesh, it is contrary to the flesh - that is why we will never in this life desire obedience to God in the same way our bodies desire sin.  We have the life of Christ as the seal and guarantee of our salvation  through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  But this life is not the life of the flesh - that is going to die.  Paul reasons with the reader - you are under no obligation to the flesh, to obey it our it's lusts.  You may feel compelled to by way of its desires, but that desire is not obligatory - it is just the desire of a dead man.

Where then does the desire to obey God come from?  It comes from Christ - but it isn't a carnal compulsion, because the life of Christ isn't animating our flesh, it is renewing our minds - not our 'brains' - but the center of our person.  God has a mind, but he doesn't have a brain because he is a spirit.  Whatever Paul means by our minds, he isn't talking about the flesh of our brain, he is talking about who we are, the part of us that makes decisions and that we would identify as being our being.  That part continues even after the flesh dies, so it isn't our brains. 

That is what what Paul wants us to be renewing (c.f. Romans 12), not our brains: our being.  Not allowing our being to be held prisoner by the mindset of our flesh.

On the stairs that morning, I was still imagining that being Christ's slave entitled me to some sort of sin conquering power - a power that would deaden my desire for sin while putting in me a great desire to obey, such that overcoming some sinful temptation would be trivial.  I wouldn't have been able to articulate it this way then, but what I was expecting was for 'Christianity' to change my unredeemed flesh such that I no longer had any desire to sin, and only found in myself a desire to obey God.  On some level I understood that Christianity doesn't (and cannot) change the desires of our sinful flesh.  Even Jesus Himself experienced temptations because His life too, was housed in the likeness of sinful flesh (i.e. in a body that desired sin even as our own bodies desire to sin).  If Christ was tempted in all ways as we are tempted, we must not expect to live our Christian life without sinful temptations. 

I wanted to -in fact I expected to- experience a form of Christianity that the bible not only doesn't describe - but rather plainly denies.  There is no Christianity without temptation, and that temptation comes in part from our own sinful flesh, animating our lives by and through the life we inherited from Adam.  The life of Adam can only empower someone to sin, not over come sin - and it cannot be made to empower us to overcome sin.  So becoming a slave of Christ doesn't mean our flesh becomes our ally in our fight against sin.  It means that our flesh remains the enemy of God, and our enemy too, when we become joined to the life of Christ through faith.

But the salient point here is that when we receive the life of Christ, we receive a life that was lived in perfect obedience service.  Christ served God and His fellow man flawlessly - and it is that life that we receive - the life of a servant.  Paul describes the relationship as bondservice.  We are the slave of Christ.  Not because our flesh is suddenly made good so that our obedience feels as natural as our disobedience has always felt, but because God (in all His persons) -is- a servant.  We see this is Jesus Christ, who though the heavens and the earth are the work of his hands, came to serve as the lowliest of servants upon this earth.  That, by the way, is what true love looks like.  I like the King James translation where it is described as 'Charity' - selfless service of others. 

What I had not understood till that moment on my stairs, and what came to me in a flash, was the certainty that I didn't make Jesus my Lord by obeying Him, He was my Lord because I was joined to His life, a life that animates service and not selfishness.  The problem was, I didn't believe I was a Christ's slave.  I believed that something went wrong, which was why I wasn't behaving as a slave.  I thought that if I truly was a slave, that my submission to God's will would come naturally and (especially) easily.

It may sound odd - but I needed to (and for the first time learned to) trust that Jesus was my Lord, and that I was His slave.  I needed to accept that this was a reality.  I didn't have the right to sin.  I was a slave.  Only a free man can choose whether or not he will do something that is commanded him.  I was not a free man, and it was this truth that I needed to act upon in faith.   Whatever temptation finds me in any given moment, I need to believe what is true of me: I am a slave to Christ, and as a slave I have to right to choose to obey or disobey.  I am a slave, and so I have no choice, the only course open to me is obedience.

A slave has no rights.  I am truly Christ's slave when I begin to trust this truth: I didn't have a right to say, "No!" to His yes, or "Yes!" to His no.  It is by faith that I apprehend the reality - by believing that He is my Lord, that I act. It is a willful act of submission founded upon my belief that I truly am Christ's slave.  The evidence of my faith is my submission.  If you love me, you will obey my commandments.  You could just as easily say: when you love me, you will obey my commandments, the point is the same - in the act of faith, in the act of trusting that I am truly Christ's servant, I act in accord with what I believe, and there is where my obedience comes from - my faith.

Not my 'faith' that Jesus exists.  Not my faith that there is no salvation in any other religion.  Not my faith that my doctrine is correct, or that I am a good person.  Not my faith in attending the right church or conducting myself in a way that doesn't bring shame to the name of Christ.  Rather in my certainty that I am truly Christ's slave.  In the moment of my temptation, the way of escape for me has been this truth: I do not have the right to disobey, for I am truly the slave of my Lord and Savior.  I have no say in this temptation, a slave has no say.

Even as a child obeys his or her parent because he or she is the child of that parent. So the slave obeys his or her master because he or she is a slave of that master, and has accepted the reality of their enslavement. 

One reason I stumbled so often in the early days of my faith, was because in the moment of temptation, I didn't really see myself a slave of Christ, not in practice.  That was an ideal that I hoped to live up to, to grow into.  But I thought it would happen naturally rather than by way of personal volitional.  I knew myself a free agent, and even as the years have passed, and I became more knowledgeable in the scriptures, and though I had I tried many tricks and methods to overcome sin - from memorizing scripture to repeating what was true of me I found no sure escape from temptation until I learned to exercise faith in what was true about my faith: I was a sinner, yet I was a chosen slave of Christ, and as such, I gave up the right to deny Him.  In any moment of temptation where this truth comes to me, I have in that knowledge all I need to overcome any temptation.

That isn't to say that I have learned to live sinlessly.  Some temptations build over time, and are easy to overcome, some come upon you before you are even aware of them, and so you stumble.  But sinful habits - the things that we continue to do but know we must stop if our faith is ever to be deemed genuine - these can (and definitely should) be overcome by faith.  You just need to know that faith isn't a spiritual muscle that grows when you learn to flex it.  It is better understood as trust.  You trust that these things are true, and you act upon the truth which sets you free.
How did God put it to Habakkuk when Habakkuk mourned over how the wicked prospered even as the righteous suffered:
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. - Habakkuk 2:4 [ESV].
To live by faith means you trust that what God says is true.  It is an anchored trust that delivers a man from temptation - the trust that he is Christ's slave, and no longer free to choose sin.

That has been my experience, God as my witness.  I am not a perfect man, but this is my understanding, perhaps it will be of some use to those who struggle with sin.
posted by Daniel @ 11:31 AM  
1 Comments:
  • At 7:47 AM, January 27, 2019, Blogger Daniel said…

    Interestingly enough, the takeaway for many, I hope, will be the explanation of why even though we're saved, sinful desires seem more like the 'real me' than holy ones. It's because our very earthly self is predisposed, and remains predisposed to sin. We are tempted by the things in the world, and powers and principalities - but all these temptations are received by our earthly bodies as something "we" want to do (or don't want to do), in/with our body. We seek our own best experiences, whether they come from getting something we want or avoiding something we don't want. All these temptations come to our "mind" (not the brain, but our being) through the flesh.

    The life of Christ in the believer opposes the life of Adam expressed in the flesh, but not by making the flesh want to obey God, rather by making the mind know what to do with the knowledge of good and evil (pursue good). This desire to do what is good is not something the life of Adam in the flesh produces, it is something Christ produces in us, by virtue of His life in us.

    So we must act on these better provocations, knowing that we -can- obey the will of God in Christ in the same way that the Israelites were promised victory when God gave them the promised land. They had to overcome the condemned and wicked peoples who peopled the land, as an act of God's justice, and as their promised reward for obedience. They trust in God's promise for that victory is the same level of trust we must exercise in obeying the commands of Christ - written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

    (Note: lest anyone should imagine that I am suggesting we "follow our hearts" - I am not suggesting that at all. Our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, as Jeremiah tells us. No, what I mean is that as we become familiar with God as He reveals Himself (His character, and expectations) we come to understand plainly what is expected of us, and being informed through the scriptures, we learn to walk in the light as Christ is in the light. Notwithstanding even biblically illiterate Christians will be provoked to what is right - they just won't have a clear understanding of what constitutes rightness in many areas.

     
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