Today we will begin a series focusing on some of the battles we face and how to use what we have learned to be victorious in these battles. Why would I use the term battles? Simple, the Bible often describes our lives in this way. I often hear people ask the question "why does it seem so difficult to live the Christian life successfully? It is such a battle." If you are a Christian and have a real desire to live a Godly life, you know it's a battle. The question is why? Why does the Christian life have to be such a battle? If you are hoping to hear that at some point it the battle stops raging, well, sorry. I can't help you there. I know that I have often hoped that as well. The truth is that we will be in the battle until the Lord comes or takes us home. But, let not your heart be troubled. We can win!
OK, how do we win the battles? First, you must understand the opponent. Who is the opponent, what strategies and techniques does the opponent use? This is why coaches spend so much time "scouting" their opponents. When I was coaching football, I could predict what the other team would do based on their tendencies from the past games. Then I would develop the strategies to counter what they would most likely do in a given situation. So then, who is our opponent in our walk with Christ? I know what you're thinking. That's easy, the opponent is Satan. Well, that is true, but there is more than one opponent in this battle. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12 that our struggle is against principalities and powers, not flesh and blood. This is a reference to Satan and the demonic realm and we will get to this, but I want us to look at another important verse. 1st John 2:16 says, " For everything in the world — the cravings of sinful
man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does — comes not from the Father but from the world."
If you look at the highlighted words, you will see that one of our biggest opponents is….. (Drum roll please) US! It is self. Look at what the verse tells us about self. We have sinful cravings, we lust, and we are prideful. Ouch, that hurts. But wait a minute, didn't I read something about having a new nature after I received Jesus as my Savior? Yes you did and you do. The problem is that you still have your old sin nature as well. Sound confusing? Hopefully we can clear it up.
The Bible teaches that because of the fall of Adam, we are all born with a sin nature. That nature is bent on fulfilling our personal desires or cravings. From the time we are born, we are most concerned with what we want. A baby doesn't cry because it is concerned with mommy's problems. It cries because it wants to be fed! Are we really much different as adults? James says in Ch 4, the desires that battle within you even cause fights and quarrels, because you want something and don't get it. He is writing to Christians when he says this! We all fight this battle. In America, we are obsessed with self. Advertisers know this and feed that obsession to sell products with phrases like, "you deserve this" or "you have earned the right to have this".
For many years in education, we promoted this obsession with self by the positive self esteem philosophy. We spent most of our efforts trying to build self esteem in our students. It carried into many other areas as well. We even have a magazine called "SELF". Many well intentioned people believed that this was the answer to all social problems. If we could just make everyone feel good about themselves, it would eliminate bad behavior. The evidence shows, however, that this did not work. In fact, the more we told kids how great they were, no matter what they did, the more their achievement levels went down. Recently, I read an article that surveyed employers. The employers were amazed at how younger workers wanted to be praised constantly, even when they were doing routine tasks. I have noticed the same thing with many of my students. They seem to want constant praise for how good they are doing for basic, required tasks. Now don't get me wrong. There is a lot to be said for being positive with people, especially kids. The Bible says that we should encourage one another to good works. However, thinking that our real problem is that we just need to love ourselves more in order to promote good behavior, is a fallacy. The Bible assumes that we love ourselves already. Otherwise, why would the Scriptures tell us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves?
I really believe that this constant obsession with self is, ironically, very self destructive. I have counseled and prayed with many a person who is suffering through depression and I can't think of one who was not continually thinking about themselves. For that person, it seems that every situation ends up somehow contributing to their woeful situation. They just can't seem to get their focus off of their feelings. I can guarantee you that if you spend all your time thinking about how everything affects you, how things in your life are just not what you wanted, how it never seems to change, how people don't understand or care about you, you will get depressed. If we are honest with our self, we know our shortcomings really don't have to do other people or situations. The real issue is that we cannot improve our flesh. In our own power, we cannot live up to the expectations we place on our self. We are still sinful people.
So, what is the answer to this dilemma? Let me preface this by saying that if you are in true depression, you should consult a doctor. Sometimes chemical imbalances in the brain cause you to think and feel certain ways that you wouldn't otherwise. Certainly that needs to be addressed properly. What we are talking about here, are situations where that is not the case. First, you must recognize that even though you are saved, you still have a sin nature that wants to be gratified. Galatians 5:17 says "For 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." Ok then, what should we do? Read verse 16 in the same chapter, "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." "That's it? Live by the Spirit, that's all you can give me?" Well, yes. That is the only answer I can give you because that is only way to defeat the sin nature. Put the sinful nature to death and live by the Spirit!
It is a simple answer but not so easy to do. Living by the Spirit means continual surrender of our will to the will of Christ. Giving up control of our life is a difficult thing to do, especially; it seems, for most men. Hey, be honest, we can't even give up control of our TV remote! You must be willing to give up that control or the Spirit will not lead you. God does not intrude on your free will. The awesome thing though, is that when we do live by the Spirit, our focus begins to change. We want to serve others rather than focusing on our self. When we do that it brings joy into our life. It seems to me that the more we serve others, the more joy we have. I think that's what Jesus was telling us when he said that, to be His disciple we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him. He wasn't just saying "don't do this or don't do that". He was saying to live for others, just the way He did. Paul tells us that we should die to our old nature (look it up), meaning the nature that just wants to live for self. We can only do that by surrendering daily to God and asking to be led by His Holy Spirit. He promises that He will answer that prayer with an emphatic yes!
- Read Galatians 5:16-26 several times this week
- Every morning for one week, ask God to help you surrender your will to His and be led by the Holy Spirit that day
- Look for an opportunity to serve one person each day this week
May God Bless you as you seek His face this week,