An old struggle; a new determination Early on in our new life as Christians, many of us develop a sincere desire to grow spiritually. And, we are truly conscious of numerous ingrained sin habits which we want to eliminate. Our faith-pilgrimage has brought us to the point where we realize that our spiritual progress has leveled off due to sins that have plagued us for years. Perhaps we have a sharp tongue that appears to have a life of its own. Or perhaps we tend to exaggerate when we share our war stories. Or perhaps we struggle with lust. Whatever our problem, we now want to be free of the bondage that we know limits our growth in godliness. Now! We are determined to develop a life of obedience. We are committed to living on a higher plane. That being our resolve, we start diligently trying do live a life of obedience. Then our struggle begins.
The Problem of TRYING
Whether you are new in the faith, or a seasoned believer, trying to grow in godliness – i.e. trying to become obedient to the teachings of the Word is a struggle with which we all have wrestled at one time or another.
This article deals with the widespread failure to achieve significant success in this endeavor. Witnessing an ever-increasing transformation in the daily pragmatics of godliness, or holiness, is rare in the lives of most believers today.
Listen to some familiar inner dialogue that we’ve all had. It is Monday morning and, as you roll out of bed, you say to yourself,
" Today is going to be different. Today my actions, my thought life, my every personal encounter is going to be pleasing to the Lord! "
You prayerfully begin the day in earnest pursuit of a life of complete obedience. You read the Word, you commit your day to the Lord, and you acknowledge your desire to please Him. You finish your time of quiet, feeling great and the first part of your day is terrific. BUT!! Within minutes following your wonderful time with the Lord, you start down the slippery slope!!!!
You hardly even make it through your first half hour in the work-a-day world before the problem of obedience arises again. Despite your meaningful quiet time and your unswerving resolve, you fail. It could be your tongue that leads you astray; it could be your thought life; whatever, it makes no difference. That wee, small voice within whispers, "you’ve failed again".
When we hear that inner voice, we are frustrated because we have been at these junctures so many times before. The repeat nature of these experiences and the consistent sense of failure leads us to eventually conclude that we simply don’t have the necessary spiritual "stuff" to succeed. Finally we give up, and the sin struggle, once again, wins the battle.
In this article we have called this The Problem of Trying
This experience of continued failure is totally devastating because we know how many times in scripture Jesus commands us to be obedient. Our conclusion? Obviously, something must be wrong … wrong with us. We are simply not spiritual enough.
Indeed, there is a problem, but the problem is not at all obvious. Because this experience is so wide-spread, we reach the wrong conclusions as to the real cause behind it.
Before we discuss the solution to our problem …..
If this has been your experience, please know that you are in good company. BUT know this too: True and lasting growth in godliness can be a reality for all of us; and there is an answer to the many questions that arise from our sense of failure.
To uncover the answer, we need to go back and examine a huge fallacy in thinking which is at the very root of many of our faith-practice problems. We need to re-examine what constitutes a true biblical faith-life practice. LetÂ’s look at five relevant questions.
|Question 1||Is it not true that the Lord desires our obedience to His teachings in the Word ?|
|Answer||Yes, that is true !! The problem is not with our understanding of what He desires. The problem is with the "how to’s" of fulfilling His desires. In a word, our problem is with the TRYING! But we need to continue our examination.|
|Question 2||Is OBEDIENCE the Lord’s highest priority that believers need to make their number one concern?|
|Answer||No indeed, it is not! PLEASE NOTE!! IT IS RIGHT HERE IN OUR BELIEF SYSTEM THAT THE PROBLEM LIES.|
|Question 3||If it is not obedience, what, then, is the Lord’s highest priority?|
|Answer||Our Heavenly Father has designed a supernatural way for us to connect with the Godhead. His highest priority is for us to learn how to live in an intimate faith – relationship with Jesus. John’s word "fellowship" is another way of describing that faith-relationship. The scriptures are crystal clear on this point; there is no higher priority. RELATIONSHIP is what God, the Father, and Jesus, His Son desire.|
|Question 4||Why is this intimate fellowship with Him of such importance?|
|Answer||We were created – or better said, re-created – to live in an intimate,DEPENDENT, spiritual-relationship with Jesus as our Friend. As believers, we have been made to derive our very life from His indwelling Presence. Jesus stated it succinctly in John 15:5, "…without me you can do nothing"|
|Question 5||How then do we live?|
|Answer||Most of us know well that Matthew 6:33 and John 15:5 teach that we are called to seek, first and foremost, a life of abiding relationship. We are to seek His Kingdom. As we begin to seek FIRST Him and His abiding Presence, we learn and are empowered, through the experiences of every day life, to abandon the Self-life and live in a continuum of dependence on Him.
As we learn to trust, our passion for the Lord increases and we are thrust into the enjoyment of the love relationship for which we were made. Furthermore, this delightful experience motivates us to seek Him ever more diligently as we continue our pilgrimage of renewal. And slowly, we die to Self.
Now the problem of obedience finds its proper place and dependence replaces our trying. It is trusting, not trying, that makes His Presence real.
The Solution: Trusting in His Love
God is love! We all know this profound, magnificent truth, yet we live with a serious disconnect between what we know and the way we live. Let us rehearse, once again, what the scripture teaches about God, us as believers, and our life here on earth.
Before the foundation of the world, our Heavenly Father chose us to become members of His eternal family. It was His love that moved Him, initially, to choose us. In like manner, it is His love that continues to sustain us as we grow spiritually.
Our Father sent His Son to become our Savior and our Lord, BUT He also sent Him to become our Friend. In fact, it is our FatherÂ’s intent that Jesus become our very life. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." It is GodÂ’s eternal plan that we yield our lives to Jesus and allow Him to live through us. He is to be our very life; and intimacy with Him is to be our experience.
Continual learning is a must
As we learn how to abide in Jesus, He envelops us in His love; and it is HIS LIFE IN US that begins to transform us. This learning is what Paul refers to when he speaks about us being transformed by the RENEWING OF OUR MINDS. Indeed! Life in Jesus is a whole new way of life which is counter to our culture at almost every juncture. It is part of the Eternal Plan that life be a never ending learning experience.
As we diligently pursue a life of spiritual intimacy, we find new purpose and enjoyment through this completely new experience. And then one day after we began this radically new life we discover that we have made an exciting paradigm shift.
Slowly, a supreme truth becomes apparent. Little by little, we realize that our intimacy with Jesus, as a Friend, is becoming what we really always desired. Now, obedience is not so much a matter of trying, but rather one of trusting.
Intimacy and practical godliness: BIG stuff!!
But … this life of trusting with regards to the everyday practicals of life begins to shed new light on the business of obedience. Very soon we discover that the intimacy of our new life is in direct proportion to the righteousness of our walk.
If our fellowship with Jesus weakens, we discover that His light dims and our struggle with sin appears once again. But there is a difference. Now, at long last, we have a glimmer of understanding of the true relationship between cause and effect. IT IS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS THAT GOVERNS OUR OBEDIENCE – NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
Indeed! Obedience is clearly a problem, but it is a secondary problem. In the past, our priorities have been wrong. Now, from experience, we know that our trying only brings defeat.
Ye ole Self: the real enemy!
ItÂ’s all there when we put the pieces together. When we resort to our old ways of trying to lick the sin problem (especially the sins we call small), we fail. When we seek, first, an honest, dependant relationship with Jesus, we grow in Godliness and begin to conquer our problems with sin. Our previous approach to obedience – that of trying, is actually a problem with Self.
When we listen to Self, we fail; as we learn to listen to His quiet nudging, we discover that He empowers us and we cast ourselves upon Him and His sufficiency. The difference in these two approaches is monumental. Simply stated, we find that we have exchanged the trying of Self with a trusting in Him.
When we follow the voice of Self, we trust only in ourselves and when we succeed, even momentarily, we exalt Self, not the Lord. (It is so easy to allow Self to become an idol.) When we seek to abide in Christ, the supernatural work of His Spirit matures us and we watch as sinÂ’s grip is slowly loosened.
Jesus' encouragement is powerfully effective
Developing a life of spiritual intimacy brings encouraging returns: when the problem of sin rears its ugly head, the Spirit comes to our aid and empowers us to flee. More precisely, we discover that Jesus is wooing us and even empowering us to trust Him.
It is when we sense that we are truly turning away from a sin that has plagued us for years that we realize how different the end result of our previous struggle is becoming. With a rightful feeling of genuine victory, we find it natural (more accurately said, "supernatural"), to praise and offer thanksgiving to the Victor.
The manner in which the difficulty of being obedient is tackled is now the opposite from what it was when we tried and tried and tried by our own strength.
Jesus said it all !!
Because He obviously understood our neediness and His sufficiency, Jesus directed us to: "Seek first the Kingdom of God …." BUT remember that He had said earlier –
"You refuse to come to me that you might have life",
"I have come so that you might have life abundantly,
"I am the way, and the truth, and the LIFE", and lastly He said,
"I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing."
Furthermore, He made it very clear that the life He came to bring is one of dependent faith – the very essence of what weÂ’re discussing.
It is only our intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, through His Presence in us, that yields a life of obedience. In truth, there is little we can do to increase our godliness by trying. It is only our dependence upon Him that will grow us spiritually. The answer to all of our problems ? Relationship! An intimate Relationship! A life-long, growing, intimate Relationship!
When we learn to love Him and abide in Him as He taught in Matthew 22:37-38, and John 15:5, we discover that our lives are being transformed without our trying. The obedience we desire is the fruit of our lives, and it is produced supernaturally as we learn to live a life of continual repentance and dependance.
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment".
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
A Big part of our misunderstanding!
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments". It is our misunderstanding of what He was teaching here that leads to our thinking that obedience is simply a matter of trying.
If the message of this verse is to be consistent with all that Jesus said in the context of John 13-16, we will understand that as we abide in JesusÂ’ Love and love Him in return, that the result will be obedience.
It is critically important that we not miss the cause and effect that Jesus describes in this much loved passage. As we bask in His Love and love Him in return, the fruit of that relationship will be obedience. But we hasten to say that this relationship will only progress if we seek Him in the manner the Word instructs.
It is tremendously encouraging to realize that the apostle Paul wrote an entire epistle to warn about the problem that this article addresses. Read once again his words in Galatians 3:3. This verse says it all.
"Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now TRYING to attain your goal by human effort?"
In other articles on this web site, we pursue how to start the journey of spiritual intimacy that is the true root of all genuine, consistent, spiritual growth.