I am not much of a gusher, except on rare occasions when I experience a residual slightly manic phase that coincides with a burst of enthusiasm, and maybe nervousness. Then I can gag myself with gushy mushiness. Thankfully those conditions rarely converge.
I just want to say thanks to those of you who never fail to reach out to me whenever I express even the slightest hint of being discouraged.
Can we talk? Lets be real here today. I started off this year totally stoked about my personal plans for study in the Word. [Insert forehead slap meme here.]
(For those of you in West Virginia) Meme: a humorous image, video, piece of text, etc., that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.
I’m a little moody these days, can you tell?
Anyway, I started out with my spankin’ new full set of J. Vernon McGee commentaries and my treasur trove of Oliver Greene volumes on the New Testament, and was ready for the Lord to blow me away with new growth and insight.
Does anyone know what month it is?
Yeah.Already July. Have you ever noticed that when you get ideas of something you want to see happen in your Christian growth, you can pretty much count on not seeing it come to fruition in the way you had visualized? No? Maybe it’s just me?
I finished Genesis, yeah, I did, last month! I’m halfway through Romans. But Romans 7 gives me a seizure. I don’t mean, like epilepsy, I mean my brain “seizes up” when I get to that whole “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.”
I am not making light of the scriptures, here. The tug-of-war between sinful flesh and the new man, is a conflict I am well acquainted with. Seeing it documented in a tongue-twister like that, gives me a cramp of Charlie-horse proportions. Words are my superpower, yet that passage is like kryptonite. Short circuit! Wooouup-wooooup-Abort! Abort! Danger, Will Robinson!
If I am already bipolar, it’s hardly comforting when you get the sneaking suspicion that Paul was as well! Hello, thorn in the flesh?
So I get it, though, really, the flesh is there, full of sin, God in His Sovereignty can call things that are not as though they (already) were. He is outside of time, and we are delivered but over here on this side of the clock face, we still have this problem.
Several years ago I read “The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee. This is not an endorsement. I am neither stating that his works are sound, nor stating that they are not, and that is because after God used the first one to such profound effect in my life, I was excoriated by the assertions from a friend that Nee was apostate. Or went apostate in the end. Or some such.
I should clarify that it wasn’t the book itself, anyway, but something in his treatment specifically of Hebrews 11:1 and Galatians 2:20, and Romans 6:11, that combined with a deep need and determination on my part to figure out what I have been doing wrong in this attempt to live the victorious Christian life, (and by that I do NOT mean the kind Joel Osteen promotes), that God responded to (because He has promised that when we seek Him, we will find Him when we seek with our whole heart), God did open up my understanding to a new degree as to how that is meant to work, but the devil hates it when that happens and he chooses to do his dirty work of discouragement most often through the very people, even fellow-believers, whom we most trust and least expect to wound or discourage us. No one else speaking words that served to put a damper on my joy in that moment of breakthrough, could have tarnished my new hope as effectively as the one whose reaction did so.
I was starting to understand that I had somehow fallen prey to the misconception that God saves us, then it is up to us to behave “righteously”. That Christianity is a sort of ” God saves us, then we are expected to take it from there” concept.
Nee compared walking in the spirit to walking through a gate. And maybe that is where the analogy falls apart. Because he says you choose to walk through a gate, and you walk through it once, on your journey. But I never could see where this living and walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh, was a once and you’re done proposition. I do hold to the fact the Holy Spirit enters when we are saved, but walking a spirit-led walk seems more like something you have to choose and develop as a habit. At least early on, you have to remember to choose it. Then you forgot you chose it, and have to renew your resolve. Isn’t that what Romans 7 establishes in all it’s tongue-tangling contortion?
So now I’m in Romans 8, the answer to the dilemma that Romans 7 introduces. But the key I didn’t entirely get back in the day when I read “The Normal Christian Life” and am still grappling with, is where that line is. God begins a good work in us, and tells us that He is faithful to complete it. God saves us, and it is God also, who sanctifies us. God delivered us (past tense) and calls those things which are not, as though they were. From where He sits, he reckons us “not-guilty” and we have to reckon ourselves to be free from the bondage of sin and temptation. Yet we also know we will never be sinless until we finally shuck these old skins and get “changed in a twinkling of an eye”.
The law can’t save, it only condemns, but Jesus became sin for us, and in Him sin died, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
So, is walking after the Spirit, something we must choose again and again? They that are in the flesh cannot please God (8:8). Our flesh is reckoned dead by God, but how do WE reckon it dead down here and still subject to time? But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his (verse 9). Romans 8 deals with our “position”, not our disposition.
What’s the Diff?
Disposition refers to ones tendencies, inclinations, or propensities. The unregenerated have zero inclinations toward God. NONE. From the time the Holy Spirit shines a light into our darkened minds, convicts us of our depravity and need for redemption, and (only if) we are saved, then we have new desires placed in our heart by Him. Roman’s 8 deals with our position in Christ, wherein we have been removed from death into life, from guilt into pardon, from condemnation to full acceptance and sonship. Where do we turn in scripture to figure out how to get the new disposition?
What part of scripture tells us how to facilitate change in that inner disposition, is what I want to get hold of. I understand that it is a “done deal” in Heaven. I just want to know is there also an aspect wherein we can choose to grow faster than we are, seek to advance in our understanding and be a more yielded and pliable lump of clay.
We can decide upon wanting that, but that doesn’t bring it to pass. In me is to will, but to do, I find not? Oh wreched (wo)man that I am! I mean, go one more chapter over, and you get:
“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (9:16).
Willingness isn’t a factor? Effort isn’t a factor? We are meant to strive, we are meant to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. What is the relationship, then, between our desire to truly be a man or woman after God’s own heart, and what He ultimately does with us in this life?
Is it possible that everything that He makes of us over here in this life is entirely up to Him, but that what effort we do invest, what works we pursue, how great our desire to please Him, is only a factor that has its fruition in the next phase of this here thing? After the rapture, in the Millennium and the eternal Ages of Ages that come next?
I am not saying I have this all figured out. But I really am starting to think that if there is any sigh the Christian needs it is this one:
The things of God are foolishness without the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is critical in our growth in understanding and wisdom and maturity in the faith. And one of the biggest obstacles of growth in understanding is, in my opinion, our own fleshly intellect. There are people who have spent years “studying” the Bible on their own. When you have some discernment, you can spot those people pretty quickly. You may not even be able to quote chapter and verse where they went off the rails, but you will know that they did.
Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles. So in this church age, this Gentile age, Paul’s teachings are bound to be pretty critical for us to study. Romans is somewhat akin to being to the Christian, what the Constitution is to Americans. Rights, responsibilities, freedoms, and preservation of the intended order.
Mature faith is like the faith of a child, but child-ish and self-centered. Hebrews 5 an 6 also cover maturity in the Christian faith. And of course we have the fruit of the Spirit to go by as indicators. There really does come a point in your walk, I believe, if you have failed to leave behind the milk (foundational elements of Christian doctrine) and to truly desire and seek out the meat and the more advanced or “elevated” principles of Scripture, (and scriptural, separated, holy living) that you will begin to lose ground and run the risk of falling prey to apostasy, which is pretty much the issue for most American Christians, and the popularity of Beth Moore, Joel Osteen, Joyce Myer, Creflo Dollar, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and many others like them, certainly would seem to bear this out.
When you truly have the Holy Spirit, you will recognize when something isn’t right. It’s just like the conscience, in its relation to sin, when you know something isn’t quite right, but you don’t reject it, you dim the light and invite a greater darkness, within your understanding. Even neglecting the Word for a few days, has this effect, to a proportional degree to how long you remain negligent.
We are warned in Hebrews not to “return again to dead works”. That is not to say that all “works” are dead, just that some are, and we need not waste our time with them, whether it be practicing hollow rituals and traditions, or outright sin, which is also a “work”, just not a good one. (as in “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet).
One work we know pays off in this life, that is “studying to show thyself approved, a workman that need not be ashamed”. So studying is not an attainment of maturity in and of itself, but rather it is evidence of progress toward maturity.
Hebrews tells us to aim for perfection, essentially. Not that we are going to get there, but what you aim at has a profound effect on what you hit. If your goal is to lose fifty pounds and you lose fifty that’s great, but if you only lose forty, that’s still better than if you had set your goal at thirty. And right here, I am definitely preaching to the choir because I have this self-defeating tendency to think in all-or-nothing terms. So if I set out to lose fifty pounds, and only make it to losing thirty, I will beat myself up so bad that my own distress will be counter-productive to the goal. It’s sad but true! I joke that since my Dad was a “that’ll do” kind of guy and my Mom is a “if you don’t do it to the very best of your ability, you may as not do it at all” kind of lady, I have the unfortunate fate of perpetually swinging a wide arc between one or the other. Of course, my Mom’s way seems most virtuous, until you consider the fact that she has often had an unrealistic concept of what is actually within her power and ability. But then, I have always marveled at the things she taught herself to do. And whenever I said so, her response has always been, “well, no one ever told me I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t know I didn’t know how, I just did it. And indeed, she did!
She has lived that principle in everything she ever did in her life, and you could count on the fact that if someone assigned the same task or challenge to her and my Dad, well, we all know whose project would have been studied and executed with more thought and effort, look better, and hold up. When they accepted their respective strengths, though, they accomplished a lot, brains and brawn!
Ok, well, I’ve rambled long enough. What insight do you have into the question of what our own part is in growth as a Christian? Do you think a lot of us spend (waste) an inordinate amount of time figuring that out? How has God worked in your own life?
I just finished reading the book “No Fences” by Nita Horn, wife of Tom Horn. It is an encouraging memoir! Doesn’t sell that false notion that Christianity is all about ease and a smooth road, but affirms that God does have a plan for each of us, if we are patient enough to trust however long it takes to get us where He wants us to be.