Portrait of a Struggling Christian
Let’s face it. We don’t like to struggle…. with anything. Period. Given a choice most of us would rather have what we want when we want it without having no work or fight for it. Material possessions without sweating for them. Great relationships minus the conflict and confrontation. Excellent health and physique apart from diet and exercise. Great children without the constant disciple and love. Becoming a computer genius with no leaning curve. And oh yes, instant spiritual maturity.
But life doesn’t work that way does it? Not in the professional life. Not with our relationships. Not in rearing children. Not in the physical or intellectual life. And definitely not the spiritual life. Now that doesn’t mean everything about the spiritual life is hard work for us. Our eternal destiny is settled for us in Christ! No work, or worry or anything on our part can take away or add to what God has done for us in Christ. The only thing it cost us was but simple faith. Your faith in the Gospel is all that was needed to justify yourself in the eyes of God; plus nothing and minus nothing!
The first part of the Book of Romans explains what it means to be justified in the eyes of God without the works of the Law, i.e. being saved without any works of our own.
However, our sanctification is a different story. The word “sanctify” means to separate from, to take away, to remove, to set apart. Where as our justification is a done deal, our sanctification is an ongoing process. As we grow in the faith we are becoming more and more sanctified as Christians. I.e. sin that we used to live in, is slowly but steadily being separated from us. Sin can not be our master again, because we are saved, however we can still be influenced by sin and live defeated lives. So Christian growth doesn’t come without a struggle.
I have said all this to come to this point; we as Christians must deal with our sins in an objective manner or we will lose our mind. I mean it literally, some have lost their minds over trying to reconcile the fact that they are saved and that they still have sins in their lives that must be dealt with. Or we will become like so many others; that have lost the desire to go on and become what God wants them to be in their lives; so they go back to living life like they did as a lost person. They are saved, justified yet they lost heart because this new life requires guts and desire---a struggle. They lack both so they give in and live like a lost person, even though they can possible be truly saved.
I want you to know that every genuine Christian struggles with some type or form of sin in their lives. And what I mean by struggle is, not that they are struggling to be saved, No! Nor or they struggling to become more saved, No! They are struggling because the forces of sin are dug deep within our bodies and bring us to defeat. They pop up when we least expect them and ruin our lives.
Think of your struggling with sin like this. To say the least the war in Iraq has been a struggle hasn’t it? Boy it sure has. More coffins are coming back every day. But what a minute; didn’t we dethrone Saddam? Didn’t we liberate the public? Didn’t we kill Saddam’s sons? Isn’t the US occupying the land of Iraq? If we have done all this, then why are we still struggling for control in Iraq? One reason is because the enemy is so well dug in, to the point that you can not tell friend from foe. And by the way, there will never be peace between Christianity and Islam. True Islamic faith demands the death of all Christians and Jews. The reason why we have what was know as the age of the crusades was because Turkish Muslims invaded Palestine around the 4th century killing all the Jews and Christians until they captured Jerusalem. The crusades happened to rid the holy land of the Muslims. So don’t except peace, when they reject the prince of peace.
Though we have dethroned Saddam and are occupying the Land; we are still struggling for control of it. Now think of this; sin was dethroned in your life when you became saved. You are now the property of God and his banner flies over your soul.
And when we are defeated we are at the risk of losing our objectivity on the situation and do dumb things, say dumb things that we will regret for a life time here as well as in heaven.
Speaking of struggles, Paul had his. Don’t think for a minute that Paul was a superhuman. That he didn’t have sin in his life, he probably did. In fact, it is Paul who writes of his own struggle with sin in Roman 7, and it is no cake walk!
I want us to notice some thoughts here from Paul’s own struggle that will help us in ours.
I. Our struggle with sin is a good sign that we are really saved.
This might not mean much now, but it will make sense in a minute. Can I say from the very start, that Paul knew what it was to be defeated by sin. In fact, he was so grieved by it that he said what we read a moment ago, Rom.7:24 “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Paul called himself a wretched man! The idea here behind the words “body of this death” is very strong. One of the ways the Romans would discourage murder, is that they would take the died body, the one that was murdered and tie him to the murder, limb to limb. And where ever this murder went he would have to carry around this dead, decaying corpus that just ruined whatever he was trying to do. Paul says that’s the way my sin is. He knows what is right, but he does the wrong! It ruins me my best intentions, it ruins my best plans, it ruins everything it touches and leaves me in a state of despair and defeat.
This cry of despair in v24 is not the cry of a lost person, No! This cry is indicative or characterizes the conscience of the saved! The Lost are not burdened by their sin. They drink it in like water, they breath it in like the air, they can’t image life without their sin. No, they don’t cry out for deliverance they are asking for more of it!
Paul says there is something in me that isn’t right. Something is wrong, I want to obey God and do right, but there is a force (Law) that is pulling me away from my desire to do God’s will.
Probably the only consolation that this struggle brings is that only truly saved persons feel the weight and despair that the flesh brings in their lives. There is a serious problem when a Christian can sin and sin and think nothing about it. A true Christian can not sin and be happy in sin like the lost person can. The Holy Spirit won’t let him or her be happy, but depressed and sad.
These persons that can enjoy their sin and have no hesitation at all it seems about it; and say to others well when you are as mature as I am you can have some sin in your life and still enjoy God. Don’t believe them, real spiritual maturity is the opposite; the more mature you are the more sensitive you will be to your own sin! Things will be revealed as sin that you didn’t think were sin before. Notice what some men said as they drew closer to God. Job became closer to God and what did it produce in Job? Job 40:4 “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth”. Isaiah had a similar experience; Isa 6:5 “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Daniel knew what it was like to come into the presence of God; Dan 10:8 Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.
We know what Paul said about himself as he no doubt was walking in the light; Rom 7:24 “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
The fact is; if a Christian can sin and never see themselves as Paul saw himself then they are not saved at all. Chances are that they are backslidden or really lost, resting in some false assurance, some false hope but they will pay for their hypocrisy.
If you feel the struggle of sin and of good in your heart then that is good sign you are saved.
II. Realizing what the flesh looks like. V18
Notice that Paul names the source of his troubles, he called it his flesh. What is the flesh? Is he talking about his physical body, like his arms, his legs? Not necessary.
While we are said to be saved, yet we are still in this body. When we trusted Christ what part of us got saved? Your body didn’t get saved, your spirit was born anew and your soul was saved. Your sin nature is still the same defiled, corrupt; hell deserving sin nature is was before you got saved. And if we are not on our toes, our flesh will take control of our bodies and we live defeated lives.
My soul became saved and my spirit was born anew; but my body, which is where the flesh is dug in at, is still alive and well! Six times in Romans Paul uses the word “members” to mean his physical body is where the flesh is dug in at.
Paul says that there is no good thing in his flesh, not one single thing. What does the flesh look like in our bodies? Well, it is Kinda like when your wheels are out of alignment. You drive down the street and if you let the wheel go it will pull you to one side of the road and ultimately in the ditch. That’s the way the flesh is in your life and in my. If we just let the steering wheel go so to speak; our flesh will naturally pull us out of God’s will and into sin. With no effort of our own, we will be ensnared by the trappings of our flesh.
What does the flesh look like?
Mat 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
Gal 5:19-21 “ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God”.
Col 3:8-9 “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
Eph 5:3-5 “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
I.e. when the flesh is in control of our lives as a Christian these things will be true of us.
III. Notice the bottom line of the whole struggle. V18
Here’s where Paul’s struggle really was. In wasn’t that he didn’t know what was right, he did. It wasn’t that he did want to do what was right, he did. But his problem is exactly where the core of our struggle is also; which is not in the “will” but in the “How”. Do you see that in v18 for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. How can I do what God asks of me? How can I turn my life around? How can go from living in the flesh to living in the Spirit? How can I be the Christian that I know God wants me to be? I can tell you where the answers to these questions won’t be found. They are not in trying to conform to the 10 commandments. The law brings only death and guilt, not life. The answer won’t be found any measure of self determination that you can mustard up. Flesh can not kick out flesh. The answer isn’t giving up either saying, “well it works for others but it didn’t work for me, so this is all a hoax”. No, if you have been relying on these to answer that question of “How” then you have been looking in the wrong places.
The answer to our problem is the Holy Spirit of God! He’s the one that enables us to do what we can’t do in our own power. You may know about the holy Spirit, but have you ever came to the point in your life that you said I can’t do this, I’m letting you holy Spirit have control of my life. Have you? If not, that there’s your problem. You have been trying to life the Christian life in the power of the flesh with the end result of always being frustration and defeat.
We will talk about the Holy Spirit next time as we see Paul realizing this truth also in chapter 8.
Staying objective about our sin will help us come to the answer that we desperately been looking for.
Think about the control of your life like that steering wheel we talked about a few minutes ago. When we are behind the steering wheel we stay straight most of the time but then the flesh rises up his head and we get pulled away into some sin and all seems like one big mess. What you must do is come to the place where you will say, Holy Spirit, you take the steering wheel of my life” “All I do is end up in a mess”. And once you have done that you can start traveling though this life first class! You can actually start enjoying your life like never before.
But the Holy Spirit will not take the steering wheel from you; No, you have to yield control; and that sometimes is a moment by moment yielding.
Are you tried of the flesh getting the best of you? Are you tried of the flesh ruining your life?
Before you can let the Holy Spirit take the wheel you must first come to the end of yourself. For some that is but a quick trip, but for those of us that are stubborn it is a long and drawn out deal because me make it so. When it doesn’t have to be.