Saturday, May 22, 2010

Overcoming Bondage to Sin


There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High. Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; they stumbled and there was none to help. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart. (Psalm 107:10-14)

Our churches are not well versed in explaining why people find themselves in bondage to sin, nor are they well versed in providing mechanisms to enable people to overcome and break free from habitual sin. In most cases it seems that they'd rather shoot the sinner than bind the wounds. They're quick to condemn, reject and ostracize those who break their rules.

So, have you been shot down because of your sin, have you been condemned? If God does not condemn you of your sin, you who are in Christ, then why do so-called Christians condemn you? Actually, why do you condemn yourself?

What is Bondage to Sin?

Being in bondage to sin means this: you are repeatedly involved in a sin such that the involvement presents itself more as a habit, rather than an occasional failure or deviation. Alcoholism is bondage. Repeated involvement in pornography or sex outside of marriage is bondage. The need to always be right, or always needing to be approved of can be a bondage. Refusing to forgive is bondage.

Bondage is the state of being in which we find ourselves under the control of an abstract influence, force or power. If you can imagine an ox in a yoke, then you can begin to understand the abstract nature of being in bondage to sin.

How to Be free

First things first. Until you're ready to admit two things you will remain in bondage. First you must admit that you have a problem; that you're in bondage. Secondly, you must admit that it is your choice to be in bondage, just as it is your choice to be free.

British author Douglas Adams was correct when he said, "when you blame others, you give up your power to change." Until you're ready to take responsibility for who and what you are, and where you are in relationship to your habit, addiction or bondage, you will never be free. It is your right and responsibility to condemn the evil and wrong in your life. But until you are willing to call your addiction a sin, you will remain in bondage. Until you are willing to call your participation in your guilty pleasure a sin, then it will remain in bondage to your guilty pleasure.

Reject the Lie, Believe the Truth

The primary cause of bondage is an improper belief system which enables you to act upon a lie. Some people believe that pornography and strip clubs will make them feel better, so they participate in those things. Others believe the approval of people will make them feel better, so they make themselves dependent upon how others feel towards them and will do whatever is necessary to be liked or approved of (co-dependency). Others think that alcohol or drugs will dull their senses and help them feel better about their circumstances, so they drink or take pills until they're drunk or high.

I could go on and on. But the root of what I'm talking about is an improper belief system. There was a saying when I was in school: you are what you eat. The truth is, you are what you believe. If you believe you're just a sinner saved by grace, then you'll act just like a sinner. If you believe looking a pornography will make you feel better, then you'll look at pornography.

Choose you this day, whom you will serve: yourself, your feelings and your desires fueled through your improper belief systems, or choose to believe God.

What are the root causes of Bondage?

Jesus said, "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)

Now, ask yourself this question: are you free from bondage or addictions? If you are not free, then according to Jesus, do you know and act upon the truth? No, you do not. Some where, some how, you have chosen to believe a lie. And the Bible is clear, as a man thinks in his heart, so is he: you are what you believe. (Proverbs 23:7)

"There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High." (Psalm 107:10)

The scriptures are clear: those in bondage to sin are in bondage because of rebellion against the word and counsel of God.

There is a good reason we are to "pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1) Bondage to sin and addictions are never the result of believing the truth, they are always the result of believing a lie. And once you have believed a thing, you act upon it. Does sanctification result from believing truth, or believing a lie? Jesus prayed for us saying, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17) What then does God use to sanctify His people? Truth or lies?

If believing (and acting upon) truth results in sanctification, what exactly do you think believing a lie results in?

Why do people refuse the grace of salvation? Because they have believed a lie. Why do people refuse to allow others to pray over them for healing? Because they have believed a lie. Why do people reject the notion that the laying on of hands and/or the anointing with oil is not necessary for healing? Because they do not believe the scriptures. I specifically prayed for healing in a person who, eventually, was not healed. Later they told me this: 'in the midst of the pain and suffering I asked the Lord why I was not healed when he laid hands on me and prayed for me, and the Lord responded, "because you did not believe."'

Where Does Freedom Begin?

It will start with faith.

You must understand several things about faith. Faith is defined as trusting and believing.  Therefore, it is the substance and assurance of things not seen, of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1). When you chose to believe God and His word, you will grow in your assurance of that which is hoped for. In the process of maturing your faith, God will take you from hope and assurance into knowledge and experience.

For, what happens when the thing hoped for shows up? You know longer hope for it, because it has arrived. You no longer have assurance that it will come, because it is here. Well placed faith always results in an experience with God and an intimate knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:2-11). That is the Law regarding faith: when faith is provided as a gift from God, it will always result in experience and knowledge of the thing hoped for.

We are released from bondage to sin and addictions when we reject the lies they are based upon, and delivered into freedom when we choose to believe the truth of Gods word, and act upon those truths. Therefore, in regards to your freedom beginning with faith, consider this:

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

The process begins with you going to Christ and yoking yourself to Him, and learning His ways.

It Continues into Warfare

We are exhorted to "put on the full armor of God, so that we will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil", since our "adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." And while the devil is seeking to destroy you, you must remember that your "struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:11, 12; 1 Peter 5:8)

In the processing of rejecting the lies and renewing your mind through the word of God, you will be hammered by your adversary. He knows that as soon as you believe and act upon the truth, he will lose the battle. Confusion may set in - that's a sure sign of an attack from the enemy. You might not know which way to go. When that happens, stay in the word. Memorize the scripture God will give you. And continue to pray for His protection.

God wants you to be free, but He is not going to smack you with a Holy stick as if he were the good witch of the north. There are other people He wants you to touch, to lead out of darkness, and you can't do that unless you understand the process and have participated in the process. We need to learn, first hand, that is it God "who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (2 Corinthians 1:4) And until we walk this path, we can't lead others in this path.

We must believe we are free from the Power of Sin

As Christians, we are made free from the power of sin through the work of Jesus Christ. Consider, however, that unless you believe in the work Christ (that it has the power to set you free) and actively choose to apply it to your life, then you will never receive the benefit of His work.

For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:17-19)

Although I've said this before, it bears repeating: if you believe you're just a sinner saved by grace, then you'll just act like a sinner. There is a vast and wonderful difference between living like a sinner saved by grace and living like a saint. In the first case, you believe you can never do anything right, that you're always going to mess up and thank the Lord, He will always forgive you of just continually being a screw up. In the later case, you believe correctly that you're a saint, that through Him you can and will do things right. But you're not deceived, you know that you will occasionally sin, but that doesn't slow you down. Why? Because "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. ... Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." (Romans 8:1, 33-34) If Jesus does not condemn you (for how can one who lives to make intersession for you also condemn you), then why do you condemn yourself? Why do you allow others to condemn you? Take the yoke of Christ, let Him carry your burden and be free from your bondage.

The Steps to Freedom
Psalm 119:57-64

Psalm 119:57 - The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words.

When you find yourself in bondage to sin, acknowledge two things: you have made something else your portion, your allotment, your nourishment, and secondly, that you have failed in your promise to keep His words.

Make God your portion in life, not things, not relationships, not pleasure. To keep His words means to guard the matters of which they speak. If God says not to covet the things of your neighbor, then to keep His words means to covet or want only the things you have.

All of us at one time or another have promised to keep Gods word: we’ve determined not to sin; we’ve determined to say the right thing; we’ve all said in our heart, "I will do the right thing in this or that circumstance." What you are effectively saying is that ‘you promise to keep Gods’ word’.

When you come to the realization that you have sinned, you are in effect saying, "I did promise to keep your words, but in this one thing I have errored and broken my promise."

Psalm 119:58 - I sought Your favor with all my heart; Be gracious to me according to Your word.

How do you seek God's favor? By confessing your sin to God, and repenting (turning away from) your sin. You must do both. It is possible to confess your sin but not repent of it. It is even possible to somewhat turn away from what you did but never admit that you did it. You must do both.

It is the mercy of God that forgives us, and the Grace of God that changes us and saves us. But the word ‘gracious’ implies, within current context, the totality of God’s mercies and grace. God has promised to be gracious to those that seek his face

My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Psalm 119:59 - I considered my ways And turned my feet to Your testimonies.

Note that after he has confessed his sins and sought the graciousness of God, he then again considered his ways. After careful consideration of his ways, he ‘turned his feet to Gods’ testimonies. This is the action of repentance. You consider what you have done or are doing, and turn away from those things towards the word of God. Did you notice that the pslamist turned towards the testimonies of God? In effect, he turned from the lies causing his bad behavior (his ways) and turned towards the truth of Gods word which will change his heart and his actions.

Psalms 119:60 I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments.

There’s not much to say about that; don’t be slothful; seek God with immediacy and all diligence. Be Steadfast in your dedication to God and learn to Praise and Worship God

Psalm 119:61 - The cords of the wicked have encircled me, But I have not forgotten Your law.

Satan will try to keep you in bondage. Evil will do everything it can to keep you away from the grace and mercy of God. In the midsts of the attacks, do not forget the testimony and the word of God. Seek him, reject evil. Focus on God, not on your circumstances.

Psalm 119:62 At midnight I shall rise to give thanks to You Because of Your righteous ordinances.

Continually give thanks and praises to God. Do not fail to make time to give thanks to God; go out of your way and cause yourself to give God thanksgiving, honor and glory. The psalmist even thanked the Lord when he woke up at night.

Psalm 119:63 - I am a companion of all those who fear You, And of those who keep Your precepts.

Seek out and surround yourself with Godly friendship. Godly friends and counsel are required in our lives. This does not mean that we cannot spend time with our unbelieving friends for the purpose of serving them through the power of the Holy Spirit. But it does mean that our core companionships must be Godly people. There may be people and relationships that you must remove from your life. Seek the Lord and His counsel regarding your friends, and be willing to make the adjustments. Don't put yourself in a position wherein God has to make the changes for you.

Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals. (1 Corinthians 15:33)

Psalm 119:64 (a) The earth is full of Your loving-kindness, O LORD;

You must believe, proclaim and acknowledge the loving-kindness of God. Those who cannot see God’s loving-kindness are deceiving themselves of the most precious truth there is to know about God: how He chooses and desires to relate to us. Your relationship with God goes beyond doctrine and belief - it must go into knowledge of His divine nature. (2 Peter 1:2-4)

Psalm 119:64 (b) Teach me Your statutes.

Learn the word of God and believe His word. You must base the foundation your life in the truth of God, not in your desires, not in your fears, not in your self protection. You must believe God's word. You must ask for and seek Gods wisdom.

It Takes Discipline

Discipline your mind against your sinful actions and thoughts, and discipline it to rest in God. In all cases of recurring sin, the mind has won the battle against the spirit:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ... (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck. When you walk about, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk to you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is light; and reproofs for discipline are the way of life. (Proverbs 6:20-23)

While you are in the process of disciplining your mind and rejecting sin, your spirit is in the process of gaining strength. However, you must remember that discipline can take you only so far: it is the act of living by the Spirit that is the victor over sin and which provides true freedom.

Conclusion

Bondage and addictions have their root in mis-information, in believing a lie. When we confront the lies, reject them and replace them with the truth of God's word, then we begin the process of winning victory over our addictions. It is God's truth that provides the process of sanctification in our lives. When we do not know His truth, then we believe something else. And what we believe defines who we are and how we behave. In order to begin the process of winning the battles over addictions and bondages, we must discover and reject the lies we hold on to. We must choose to begin the process of finding our worth and comfort in God and in Him alone.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From Faith into Knowledge and Experience

There are Christians who believe and teach that faith is the end all of our experience with God, that nothing exists beyond faith.

As a matter of fact, I cannot remember ever being in a church service wherein faith was presented as something that moved a person from point A to point B, rather it's just something to have and to hold for the purpose of "pleasing God."

Furthermore, I don't recall hearing that faith moves into or becomes something else. I have always heard faith being something you possess, a thing that you keep and maintain, but never as something which changes or goes away. Rather it is presented as once you've got this elusive, all needed ethereal faith, then you just need to maintain it: keep the faith, as they say.

In a previous post, I discussed natural faith vs. Biblical or God given faith. I provided an example of natural faith which, contrary to popular belief and custom, is used routinely and relied upon daily. In regards to faith, God has imbued man in the natural with that which he must exercise in Spiritual. In either case the results - though differing - are the same.

The Scientific Method
The scientific method requires that we postulate either an outcome or the reason for an outcome (observation vs. idea), and then set about proving or disproving our postulate. This postulate is known as the hypothesis (defined here and here), and the mechanism of proving or disproving it is known as the scientific method.

For example, man observed water in its various forms in rivers, lakes and oceans as a liquid and a solid. So, he set about to discover for himself exactly how water exists in nature and then, lo and behold, discovered exactly what the scriptures had already told us.

But lets break this down just a bit more. Clearly man had knowledge of water in several states (liquid and solid), and a at least one other variation known as the condensate (i.e., clouds). The question was, how do we get from water to condensate and back to water? That was the invisible, missing link.

So, he said to himself, "Self, I believe that water evaporates from a source, becomes a gas, travels through the air, condenses into a cloud, and then falls back to earth as rain." As a matter of fact, he believed it so firmly that he set about to prove it.

In this process of discovering for himself the nature of water, what exactly happened? Man made an observation, created a hypothesis and proved himself right. Or, we could also say that he accumulated a system of beliefs (based in observations) regarding a subject domain (water), created a hypotheses regarding that subject domain, and implemented a method to discover if his system of beliefs were correct.

When man went from a simple hypotheses into observing his hypotheses proven, he went from trust and belief into knowledge and experience.  Interestingly enough, the scientific method is inextricably tied to man, through and by his observations.  It could be argued (and very well, I might add) that man's scientific proofs, and their underlying theories, are based solely upon man's trust and belief in himself to first properly conjecture, and secondly, to properly observe a given phenomena.  It's why we have a thing called "peer review."  Peer review is the vetting, the process of other people reviewing anothers' findings in order to determine if the other person has postulated and observed correctly.

What is Faith?
In it's simplest definition, faith is trusting and believing.  Therefore, when man observed water and proved it's circulatory path, it is just as valid to say that man went from faith into knowledge and experience as it is to say that man went from hypothesis into proof.

What exactly are we saying? When trust and belief is well placed and well formed, it always results in a knowledge that proves and substantiates the belief. We no longer just believe that water turns into vapor and condensates into clouds, we have empirical evidence resulting in knowledge that it behaves in this manner.

Faith works exactly the same way. Faith is trusting and believing, and faith brings experience and knowledge.

Seeking the Experience: The Spirit of Religiosity says it's a no-no
There are Christians who will tell you that seeking an experience with God, other than the mental ascension which you can acquire through faith based in doctrine (doctrine as derived from the knowledge of reading scripture) is wrong. What are they saying? Head knowledge good. Mustered up belief good. Actually expecting to have your cancer or migraines cured because of what Jesus commanded us in the Gospel according to Mark? Uhm ... no: don't go there.

On one point I must agree: seeking the experience for the sake of partaking in the experience can be wrong.  In example, when one has no desire for relationship with God nor the creation and nurturing of Godly Life.

An Example of Experiential Faith
So then, why did Moses raise his staff and his hand at the Red Sea? Well, because God told him to: 
But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. (Exodus 14:16)
Did Moses believe God? Apparently so. What was the result of that belief? Works, experience and knowledge were the result. What exactly did Moses do? In my view, he thrust out his staff with his right hand in an upward and outward motion parallel with his body. His left hand went forward over the waters, perpendicular first to the left, then to the right in a parting motion.

That is probably not what you had in mind, but it does reflect exactly what God said to do: "... lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it." Have you ever understood before now that God told Moses to "divide" the sea? That's not exactly how it happened in the movie, is it?

So, when did Moses stop believing God would part the Red Sea?

Ah, I can hear the wheels in your thoughts spinning! "Moses never stopped believing God would part the Red Sea!" Are you sure? "Yes", you're probably thinking.   As a matter of fact, not only do I disagree, I assert that you've believed a lie. I maintain that at a given point, Moses stopped believing God would part the sea. Hear me out and keep reading.

Are you a parent? (if not, imagine that you have a 3 year old running about).

When did you stop believing your child would be born?  Seriously: in the midst of the labor, when did you stop believing that your child would be born? Do you still believe your child will be born?

Once the labor was over and your child was in your arms, you stopped believing your child would be born: at about that point, you moved from faith into knowledge and experience. You knew that your child had been born. And as our curtain climbing, crumb-grabbing rug rats continue to evade even our simplest logic of normalcy and move into child hood, teenage years and adult hood, we no longer believe that our child will be born, we continue in the knowledge of the ever changing ramifications of that simple act of our child being born.

I submit to you that once Moses believed God and stepped into the works of his faith, he stopped believing and entered into knowledge of the sea parting from left to right and forward to the other side, just as God said it would.

Semantics you say? Hardly. Are you telling me that you sill believe your child will be born, after the fact?

Did God part the sea? Yes and no. Of course, God provided the power for the works. But He also told Moses to "divide it." So, not only did Moses have to believe God, to take him at His word, Moses had to provide the works in order to prove God, to provide for an experience of the nature of God.

In doing exactly what God told him to do, Moses moved from belief into knowledge, just as you moved from belief of your child being born into the knowledge that your child has been born. So, once Moses moved into the works of proving God, Moses stopped believing the sea would part and moved into the knowledge of seeing that it was parted before him.

Attacks against Experiential Faith
This tidy argument of rejecting an experience with God falls squarely into the plan of Satan: for if he can convince you that experiences with God are wrong and should not be sought, then he has short-circuited your faith journey. And by damaging your faith journey he effectively prohibits your ability to abide in Christ.

Biblical Faith Produces Knowledge
Biblical faith, that which is given by God, always produces an experience based in the faith which came beforehand. It's the law. If faith does not produce knowledge, then it was not Biblical faith. Scripture clearly says this about faith:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1
What happens when the "thing not seen," the "thing hoped for" shows up? You no longer have faith: you have knowledge.

The experience provided by faith produces knowledge of God and the experience is always the effect of the faith given. Faith producing an experience is a cause and effect relationship: God gives us cause, reason and ability to believe Him and then provides a tangible experience of the faith He authored.

Practically speaking, I don't believe God heals, I know that He does (and I have seen the MRIs that prove it). I don't trust that God saves, I know that He does.

God's gift of faith always moves us into an experience resulting in knowledge. And once we have the knowledge He wanted to impart to us, we have a place of abiding and operating because we have knowledge of who God is.

Consider the first few verses of 2 Peter.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, ... For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God said that we would have knowledge of salvation, that Jesus came to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins (Luke 1:77)

The only way to have knowledge of salvation is to execute (perform) the works of faith for that which is given through grace. You can go to church, hear the good news and believe that Jesus is the Christ, but until you act out on your faith, you will never experience salvation. You do not go to heaven for being good, and you don't go to hell for being bad. Goodness and badness are results of belief systems acting out. Life and death, on the other hand, are states of being. You are either alive to God or you are dead to God.

That's why the Atheist cannot comprehend the Christian: the Atheist is operating from a position of disbelief where as the born again Christian is operating from a position of knowledge. Darkness cannot comprehend light because darkness has no substance, no reality.

A Bit About Darkness and Light
Enter a room and turn out the light. What happens? It becomes dark. Have you ever stopped to consider that darkness is not a thing? Light, on the other hand, is a thing: it's a photon. Conversely, darkness is simply the absence of photons. Darkness, in a real sense, does not exist - it is not a tangible thing. Darkness is simply the terminology we use to describe the absence of photons. But we certainly treat darkness it as if it were a tangible object.

The absence of knowledge is like darkness. Knowledge exists, and so does ignorance. But ignorance is not a tangible thing, it can only be defined by that which is absent: knowledge.

However, belief and trust without knowledge is still faith: faith has substance, it is evidence and substance of things hoped for. When God gives faith, He is providing a tangible substance of things yet to be. When God proves Himself, faith is no longer needed for that given thing for knowledge has arrived. It is this knowledge of God that we call abiding, since abiding provides fruit, or knowledge of salvation:
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
You cannot observe a tree bearing fruit without the fruit being on the tree. Observation of the tree bearing fruit is knowledge of the fruit. Knowing in the dead of winter that your apple trees will bear fruit in the summer is well placed faith. That well placed faith will be proven out in knowledge when you pick the fruit in the harvest (assuming frost does not kill the buds and the bees do their jobs).
Therefore, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
The Experience of Salvation
Although you, as a Christian, know that salvation is a gift given by grace through faith, have you ever stopped to think that salvation has a tangible and quantifiable effect? It results in a change that provides not only an immediate experience, but a life long experience as well.

This is why scripture admonishes us to work out our salvation (Philpians. 2:12) and that we will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). If you do not have the experience of salvation or observe the fruit of salvation in another, then you have reason for suspect. The result, the experience of salvation is quantifiable, it is something of which you have intimate knowledge.

An Example of Failure in Faith
On the other hand, Jesus told the disciples to feed the 5000, and they said "with what, 200 denarii?" Jesus set them up to respond and act in faith so that they could have an experience of feeding the multitude and thus move into knowledge of what the proper application of trust and belief can provide. Even though they failed the faith test, Jesus still fed the people, in order to provide knowledge that might grow their faith in the future.

The same thing happens today. When God provides faith that He will do something or does something unexpected, people may sometimes become fearful and reject His presence, just as the Gadarenes did. If God's presence in your life is offensive, then you run the risk of excusing Him to move on to someone or someplace else.

Conclusion
God has provided in the natural an example of how His gifts of faith function. He provides reason to believe, gives the substance and evidence of things not seen through faith and then follows it up with an experience reflecting the faith He provided. Through trusting and believing we learn to abide in Him through the partaking of his Divine nature. Seeking the experience provided by God through faith is natural and expected, but seeking an experience for the sake of the experience only is rejecting the One who wishes to prove Himself to you through faith and knowledge. We all have the capacity to believe and to exercise faith, to take His word and believe it, and as such, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Perseverance: Gaining a Proper Perspective on Trials and Tribulations

Persevering through trials and tribulations is something that we must all do:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4)
But a problem arises when we fall back into the lessons of those who have taught us a lie, through either the error of man's understanding or by listening to evil.

We know, or we should know, that we are to no longer walk as the un-regenerated also walk, who in the futility of their mind, are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart. If you do not approach the trials and tribulations in which you find yourself with a proper attitude and perspective, then Satan will win the battle and gain victory. In defeat, you will have failed to exult in your heritage, and you will become callous and open the door to opportunities to fall further into sin (Ephesians 4:17-18)

It Begins with Knowing Who You Are


It all begins with our attitude and our perspective, both of which are formed by our knowledge of God and our belief and our trust of who we are in Christ.

For example, if you are a born again believer and you are in a church wherein the pastor refers you and other Christians simply as "sinners saved by grace", or you view yourself as "just a sinner saved by grace", then in the former case you need to find a new church, and in the latter case, you need to re-read your Bible and learn who you are in Christ. Christians are not just sinners saved by grace, Christians are Saints. If you believe you're just a sinner saved by grace, then you'll act like a sinner.

Understanding The Law of Being


There is a law called the Law of Being. For example, one is either male or female. There are dogs and there are cats, fish, and birds. Each one has a given state of being. A fish can no more live and act like a bird than a dog can sharpen its claws like a cat.

Satan understands the Law of Being and he uses it against you.

It's All About What You Believe


He knows that whatever you believe, you will become: "for as he thinks within himself, so he is" (Proverbs 23:7) and "whosoever believes in Him {Jesus} shall not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). 

I imagine that the Proverbs reference you were expecting, but the John 3:16 took you off guard. Why? Because you've never made the connection between faith in Jesus, faith in God's word and believing the truth as a mechanism responsible for changing who and what you are.

Whenever possible, Satan will use circumstances and lies to alter your belief system. For if he can change your mind regarding the Word of God, or change your mind regarding who you are in Christ, then he has altered your belief system. And by changing your belief system, your actions, attitudes, and responses to the trials in which you find yourself will be altered to match the desires of evil, instead of the desires of Jesus Christ.

The Word of God says that when we encounter various trials and tribulations, that we should consider it all joy because the testing of our faith will produce endurance (James 1:3). How do you consider a trial of cancer as joy? How do you consider a trial of unemployment as joy? And what about this endurance clause? Does this mean we're just supposed to suck it up and bear the burden of God's sovereignty?

The Proper Perspective


In the face of trials and tribulations, many Christians are quick, and rightly so, to quote Romans 8:28:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Have you ever asked yourself the question, "what are these good things that God has for me?"

You probably have, but maybe you didn't give it much thought. Instead, your mind went back to the circumstances in which you found yourself. You did exactly what you've been taught to do: focus on your problems and take them to God for remediation. You've been taught to lay everything at the foot of the cross because if anyone is in trouble, they are to pray (James 5:13). And the people who have emphasized this truth to you are exactly right. God said it, we believe it, and that settles it.

And yes, I'm fully aware of the counter colloquialism, "God said it, that settles it." It's a nice counter platitude, but it's only half true, for if you do not believe what God says, then you have believed a lie. And when you believe a lie, you practice self-deception. When God says it, you must believe it, otherwise, it's not settled in your heart and mind.

But I'm not talking about taking things to God in prayer or popular colloquialisms.

What I'm addressing is your perspective on your circumstances. What I'm addressing is your beliefs regarding God in your circumstances.

If you approach your circumstances improperly, if you maintain an improper belief system regarding the attitude of God towards you through your circumstances, then you will lose that which is to be gained through your trials and tribulations. Furthermore, if you have an improper self-image of who you are in Christ, then you will possess an improper understanding of how God views you through your trials and tribulations, and you will miss the entirety of the double blessing God has for you through your trial.

The Knowledge of God and the Partaking of The Divine Nature

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.(2 Peter 1:2-4)
Let's put a couple key concepts together and see what God is excited about doing in us through trials:

"... so that by {the promises} you may become partakers of the divine nature ..."
"... knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing ..."
Clearly, there are things we lack, James 1 teaches us that. And clearly there are things which God is working into us, those being the aspects of His Divine nature; 2 Peter teaches us that.

When we focus on the trial, we don't see the work God wants to perform, we don't see the Grace of God working His Divine nature into us. By focusing on the trial, we focus on the negative. By focusing on the negative, we give strength to that which would defeat us.

What God wants to impart into us is the positive.

As a man thinks in his heart ...


If you believe that your trial is God punishing you for your sin, then you have made two errors. The first error is to believe that the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah was an insufficient redemption and an insufficient judgment of sin, that you must somehow bear and pay for your sin through the punishment of trials.

The second error is related to the first: you believe that God is beating your sin nature out of you.

It's Not About Beating Out Your Sin Nature


Trials are not about what God is trying to push out of you. Read that again.

Trials are about God imparting His Divine nature into you.

But we have a problem, and it goes like this: as being redeemed creatures, we still possess memories, patterns, and habits of the old man, Adam. But as being new creatures, we are not bound to those old patterns. The Apostle Paul struggled with the old man, and he summarized it like this:

Romans 7:17-25 (Message Bible)
But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.  
It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
So, trials and tribulations are not about God beating you down to push out your sin nature. For, how can a person who has a new nature, a new life, who is no longer dead be made any more un-dead or any more alive than they currently are?

We have a new nature, we are a new creature.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:4-7)
Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7)
... in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus ... for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household (Ephesians 2:2-6, 18-19)

It's About your Heritage


So, if God is not beating our sin out of us, then what exactly is He doing? Seeing that we tend to function in the old man, though being a new creature, God is at work making us Christ-like through an on-going process called sanctification.
For this is the will of God, your sanctification ... (1 Thessalonians 4:3)
What you need a to do is change how you view the trials which present themselves in your life. In order to help us do that, we must first understand our heritage:

"No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their vindication is from Me," declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:17)
Your heritage is to stand against evil, to stand against condemnation. Your heritage is to condemn false accusation (evil against you) as wrong. Your heritage is to watch the vindication of God on your behalf.
Your enemy stands against you, your enemy accuses you:
And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, ... "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:9-11)
Therefore when you are in the midst of a trial, you must stand against the enemy and reject the lie that there can be no good thing come from the trial. You must reject the notion that God is punishing or chastising you on behalf of His righteousness because of your sin. And in doing these things, you are condemning the enemy and the evil beset against you, and you are acquiring God's perspective of who you are in Christ, and who you are in the trial.

Ask The Key Question


What you need to do in the midst of the trial is ask God this question: "What are the blessings you have for me in this trial?"

Change Your Perspective


Is God your stronghold? Yes. But only if you allow Him to be your stronghold. If you focus on the trial and the evil that is besetting you, then you are not in your stronghold. If you fail to hope in God, then you cannot enter the stronghold of God. What you need to do is change your attitude: instead of focusing on the bad, focus on the good that God has in store for you. Set your mind on things above not on things below. Ask God about His double blessing that He has in store for you.

The Law of the Double Blessing


Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you ... (Zechariah 9:12)
Every time the enemy knocks you back, God has a double blessing in store for you. The first blessing that God has for you in the midst of an attack from the enemy, is to restore back to where you were before the attack. The second blessing that God has for you is to move you forward past the place you were when the attack occurred.

But then, you may ask, why do I have to go through the same trials over and over again? Because God has a lot of blessing left over that you didn't get the first time. God isn't sitting in heaven thinking, "this is fun, let's smack her down some more", but rather He is saying to you, "you didn't get all of the blessings I had for you the last time. I want you to have all of the blessings I have in store for you."

'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)
But if you refuse to see or believe that God can restore you and bless you through the trials you find yourself in, then you have defined for yourself the truth of your existence in that trial.

Read the story of the Demoniac of Gadarenes. Was there another blessing available for the people Gadarenes? Could not Jesus Christ have richly enhanced their spiritual condition, healed their diseases and taught them the Word of God? Of course, He could have. But what happened instead? They had an improper perspective based upon the trial of losing their heard of swine. In focusing on the negative, they missed the positive blessing Christ could have provided.

Conclusion

How you view your trials and tribulations is purely your choice. But when you stand against evil and choose not to yield, then you are embarking upon the process of seeking God and asking Him about how to obtain freedom, and you are knocking on His door.
So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11:9-13)
If you persist in a negative perspective regarding your trial, then you will miss the double blessing God has for you. And eventually, you'll repeat the trial. But if you instead view the trial as a mechanism by which the blessings of God are poured into your life, then you can enter through faith the valley of the shadow of death, and walk out with the experience and the knowledge of who God really is in your life.

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