Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Today nobody will stop with faith; they all go further
~Fear and Trembling Kierkegaard
I wonder where they are going?  I have been reflecting on all the straining and striving that we are prone to do.  BTW I think all of us are guilty at some level.  Contentment is a strange word.  Satisfaction with the way things are seems to be an unacceptable state.  How can I possibly be satisfied when so much is wrong around me?  Much is to be made of acceptance as well.  However acceptance is a mood away from complacency and that certainly does not seem to be acceptable either. 

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.
Philippians 4:11-12 (HCSB)
Paul reports learning the "secret of being content" in his letter to the Philippians.  I have posted many times on contentment.  My goal here is not to repeat what I have said in previous posts.  In thinking about faith, particularly Christian Faith I see discontent as being the thing that keeps us striving and straining.  "Today nobody will stop with faith; they all go further" seems typical mainstream Christianity.

This leads me to question what is it that we are going for?  What is the pay off or gain?  What can we gain by pressing on further?  What gold, silver, treasure is so wonderful that we continue beyond what God has already given us?

Stated a different way, "What can possibly be greater than being a 'Child of God'?" 

I am so foolish maybe you are as well.  It seems that I cannot rest in being who God has made me to be, I always have to do more.  For whom? For how long?  To what end?
Think of it this way:  I have had people tell me that the Christian walk is hard, difficult, and filled with trial.  Let me say that the hardness and difficulty of this walk is directly related to the degree you are trying to do more than what God has called you to.  Jesus said:
“Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (HCSB)
So then my rest is taking on the yoke of Christ and learning from Him.  I think we can safely conclude that unrest is refusing the yoke and refusing to learn.  We may not want to hear that, but I cannot see any other conclusion.
What can we say then?  Striving and straining is rooted in the unrest of disobedience and lack of faith.
But They... but she... but the devil... but my circumstances..., but my condition..., but my genetics... and so on. 
Nothing has changed from the beginning.
Then the man replied, “The woman You gave to be with me she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.” So the LORD God asked the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “It was the serpent. He deceived me, and I ate.
Genesis 3:12-13 (HCSB)
Shirking responsibility for your lack of obedience and lack of faith never cures the striving and straining. In many ways it can magnify striving and straining.  So what then?
I must become obedient to death, and have unwavering faith!
Hmm, it sounds like more striving and straining if you ask me.  Turning striving and straining into some great religious work is still striving and straining.  Let me suggest to you that all striving and straining is a work of the flesh  At least in the sense that we strive and strain out of discontent for the way things are.  Striving for righteousness can be a work of the flesh.  Do I strive to bring my will into obedience to the Holy Spirit's prompting and control or am I striving to be a better person?  If you strive by the Spirit of God then there is a calm assurance and peace.  If you strive by the flesh you will eventually reach despair realizing that you are a wretched man.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?
Romans 7:24 (HCSB)
We are trapped by the fact that no striving to go beyond faith nor striving to work out salvation (in our own strength) is going to be sufficient to bring about a state of peace and contentment.  It is like a deep abiding awareness of the utter desperation of our circumstances.  It is a coming to the end of ourselves in a sense.  

Don't worry if you are at that conclusion at this very moment.  It is a good thing.  Once we come to an awareness that our striving and straining in the flesh is a wretched pursuit then we are prepared to give up on that life and seek a new life.  We are closer to the Spirit filled life that we might realize.  When we are confident of ourselves and our ability to strive and strain then we will forever be battling to do what we want, but never realizing it (see Romans 7:15-23).

In order for repentance to occur there is a need to be aware there is something to be repented of.  Repentance with out awareness is like a leaf twisting in the wind.  There is turning to be sure but the turning is directionless and purposeless.  The awareness of the wretchedness of our situation is just the sort of awareness that leads to true repentance. 
Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance. For you were grieved as God willed, so that you didn’t experience any loss from us. For godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation, but worldly grief produces death.
2 Corinthians 7:9-10 (HCSB)
When you become aware that striving to be good and straining to avoid bad is a desperate attempt to be justified in and by yourself; and that in the end you will be unsuccessful in this pursuit you have reached a point of Godly sorrow.  Feeling bad for doing something wrong is useless unless you also conclude "and I am helpless to do anything about it."  Don't get me wrong you can try to overcome, compensate, and/or undo your personal shortcomings, but this will only last for a season.  At some point you will find yourself face to face with the awareness of the wretchedness of this type of life.  
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin.
Romans 7:24-25 (HCSB)
After awareness of the utter hopelessness of self prescribed salvation then comes an awareness that God has provided a way.  Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people, and we must be saved by it.”
Acts 4:12 (HCSB)
This awareness must be received or rejected.  By the way not receiving is in essence rejection.
Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus,
Romans 8:1 (HCSB)
This receiving then should proceed to an awareness that you have been set free from condemnation.  Let me just say that the quickest way back to works religion and the wretched life is to miss this point.  You are free from condemnation when you have received the way God has provided to escape the wretched life.  Jesus Christ is that way.  So often Christians miss this very simple truth of freedom.   Christians accept that someday they will be rescued from this wretched life to spend eternity in heaven, but in the mean time we must strive and strain to be free from condemnation.  And there they live for years and decades fully aware of their wretchedness, but never giving birth to freedom.
The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed,
Luke 4:18 (HCSB)
Jesus spoke these words.  It seems rather sad to me that Christians will accept a life of wretchedness with such a great proclamation from our Savior.  He has come to set us free.  That I would have come to a saving knowledge that secures my eternal destiny, but then live out the rest of my years in wretchedness does not seem like "good news."   Yet many live their lives in such a manner.  Honestly I did as well for many years until I recognized the truth, "I am free of condemnation in Christ Jesus." 
A word of warning at this point.  Some might say since I am free of condemnation I can continue to sin for it does not matter "in Christ."  This would be a faulty conclusion.
What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Romans 6:15-16 (HCSB)
To return to a life of sin is to take on the slavery that sin.  It is a worse life in that the motivation to escape the wretchedness of such a life is wiped out.  It is a false security that I am OK though I continue to rebel against the very thing I believe is saving me.  It is twisted logic that would come to such a conclusion.  I must say that to stay in this mindset is really evidence of a depraved and not a redeemed soul.

There is one more thing to maintain the freedom that has bought and paid for by our Lord Jesus Christ.  Full repentance involves more than seeing the wrong of your ways; more than receiving the grace offered in Christ; it moves to a setting a new course for this life.  That course is not set by yourself, but by God.  He works in you by His Holy Spirit to set this new way in your heart, mind, and life.  Your part is very simple and that is to set your mind on the new way.  To submit your will to His.  When you have made that change then striving and straining ceases and the Spirit filled life starts.

Some might say to submit your will to His is a hard thing.  Let me say that it is only hard when you don't want to do it.  It is hard because some distorted root in the flesh tells your mind that living the wretched life is somehow better than allowing God to bring His promises into reality in your life.  Submitting your will to God's is the easiest thing for a person who desires and intends to do it.  Submitting your will to God is impossible as long as anything in this life holds your affection to a greater degree than your desire or intent to follow God.  And the only cure at this point is awareness of the wretchedness of such a state and then willingness to repent of it.  Once it is repented of then it becomes once again easy to submit to God.
So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:12-13 (HCSB)
This repentance is made complete when we turn from a focus of filling our selfish desires, turn from self-righteous "I am going to do better" attitude, and set our minds on the Spirit of God.  The act of setting your mind on the Spirit and conforming your will to God's will is synonymous (See Romans 8:4-8).
For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 8:6 (HCSB)
Life and Peace, what more can we long for.  To what greater heights can we aspire to go.   No dear friends if we have life and peace it is enough.  It is time to stop striving and straining and trust in the precious gift of life and peace that God has offered. 

In summary then there is a wretched life of striving and straining to be good, do good, avoid bad that leaves you discontented and despairing.  If we come to an awareness of this discouraging life then we can say, "I can't fix this, but I have faith that God can through Jesus Christ."  This awareness leads to a blessed truth that we have been set free from condemnation.  From this place we can dwell in a place of life and peace as we set our minds in the Spirit of God.

May we ever dwell in the blessings of God and never think to take up the wretched life.  But even if we do may we realize the fullness of God's grace and mercy contains a plan of redemption for us to escape condemnation and enter His rest when we are willing to part ways with the desires of the sinful flesh.

May God richly bless you!