There are days when there is a war that is violent inside my head. My sinful nature asserts its desire, the spirit, made alive by God’s Spirit, stands against it. It is an intense battle between the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong.’ For example, I know that faith is the ‘ought to’ but I am drawn to fear instead. Or, I know that I should be gently forgiving but my natural inclination is to hang onto a grudge. In such moments it is easy to think that something is wrong in my walk with God. But, I know that temptation comes to all Christians! The Bible says that “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Galatians 5:17, NIV)
Over the years I have learned that ‘normal’ does not make it acceptable for me to give in! I also have learned that I become more vulnerable to temptation at times of exhaustion, that I am less afflicted when I am in regular fellowship with other Christians, when I am ‘filled’ with the Word. Some make the error of thinking that since everybody is subject to temptation, since it is part of what it means to be ‘human,’ that they need not resist the pull of the ‘flesh.’’ Wrong! The Word says, “we must not live to satisfy our desires. If you do, you will die. But you will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit you say “No” to your desires. Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father.” (Romans 8:12-15, CEV)
So what we need is more will-power, right? Not so fast. Making good choices is certainly important, but the war against temptation can never be won by sheer strength of human will alone! Victory begins with a transformation that Jesus dramatically described as a new birth. “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” (John 3.3) We come under His rule, live in His benevolent care, when our spirit is ‘brought to life’ like a baby taking her first breath, when the Spirit comes on us through faith. Jesus Christ has forgiven our sins and restored our relationship with our Abba (Father). But that is not the end of the matter!
At that moment of rebirth, the struggle is launched. The Scripture calls the Christian life “a race set before us… run with endurance.” (Heb. 12) Alive in the Spirit, we are more attuned to the will of God – both through knowing the Bible and a newly awakened conscience. This means that also begin to realize just how incapable we are of consistently pleasing God. But, we need not despair! Instead, we surrender! Paul cried, “What a wretched man I am, who will deliver me from this body of Death?” He quickly follows that with a victory cry – “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 7:25-8:2, NIV) The revelation is that we win the war only when there is complete reliance on the Spirit’s powerful Presence. We can rationalize a choice to yield to temptation – explaining away the gaps in our love as ‘just natural,’ giving in to our desires because ‘everybody does it.’ Or, we can receive grace, acknowledging the truth about ourselves, and strip away the layers of duplicity. Vulnerable before God and man, we rely solely on God’s Spirit, ‘taking up the shield of faith.’
The confrontations with Self and Sin and Satan are ongoing, but if we rely on God’s grace, we gain the upper hand, living holy lives that reflect His goodness and glory. A victory today does not mean the war is over! Our perfection will come with the fullness of His Kingdom. Until then, we remain subject to the enticing songs of ‘the world, the flesh, and the Devil!’ That is why I believe so strongly in the daily practices of the spiritual disciplines. (see Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster) The disciplines are a ‘means of grace,’ openings through which God’s Spirit flows into me with grace, strength, truth, and love. In that place, and with humble confession of my sins, I can be an overcomer through Christ, my Savior. Where there is a conflict (and there will be conflict!) confess your temptation to God and accept His grace to choose His way – even if it seems to kill you. (It must!) The life that emerges from this daily release of the Spirit’s life will be a thing of beauty in the eyes of God, even if rejected as foolishness by others who think they are living to the full by doing their own thing, serving themselves.
Refuse the condemnation that usually comes with it. Instead live like the child of God that you are. Here is a word from the Word. Live it! “Despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:37, NLT) “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT)
Our Great Savior
Jesus, what a Friend for sinners.
Jesus, Lover of my soul.
Friends may fail me, foes assail me;
He, my Savior, makes me whole.
Jesus, what a Strength in weakness,
Let me hide myself in Him.
Tempted, tried, and sometimes failing;
He, my Strength, my vict’ry wins.
Jesus, I do now receive Him,
More than all in Him I find.
He hath granted me forgiveness,
I am His and He is mine.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Hallelujah, what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving;
He is with me to the end!
John Wilbur Chapman© Words: Public Domain