Then I Understood

When people who claim to believe in God consistently disobey Him, hurting us and those we love, this can be extremely frustrating, even debilitating, too painful to bear. (Ps 73:16) As we ourselves try our best to follow God, we naturally expect others in the Faith to do the same. But it isn’t so, at least it doesn’t appear to be.

Perhaps my biggest mistake in life so far, which I think I’ve been making most of my life, is expecting Christians to do the right thing as a manner of life, getting frustrated, bewildered and upset when they won’t, and trying to change them. For years, the appearance of habitual, willful sin in others who claimed to be believers has destabilized me, tempting me to bitterness and resentment.

If you find yourself struggling here, let me ask, would your pain diminish greatly if you knew the people hurting you and those you love are either [1] unbelievers, haters of God and His elect, living lives of willful sin, or [2] trying their best to obey God in their circumstances, such that if you could see what they do you’d be content that they’re doing pretty well, all things considered?

Regardless of appearances, this is, in fact reality: every child of God consistently tries their best to follow YHWH — and no one else does. (1Jn 3:10) Understanding this changes everything, at least for me. (Ps 73:17)

Yet even knowing this, it seems to take repeated experience over time to work it down into my soul as experiential reality (Ro 5:3): YHWH’s restraint is the only reason anyone’s remotely good (2Th 2:7), and He has a reason, a perfectly coordinated plan, in absolutely everything He allows. (Ep 1:11)

Yes, God is good and His plan is amazing; we saints are going to rejoice in it one Day, but as He’s working it out we’re often in pain (1Pe 1:6), and it can be overwhelming.  (Ro 8:23) He routinely allows very difficult situations in our lives, and exhorts us to count it all joy. (Ja 1:2)

I think the reason we should rejoice in trouble like this is because a primary objective of God’s plan is to glorify Himself by transforming His elect into His likeness (Ja 1:3), such that we rejoice in Him, living lives of purity and joy in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation (Php 2:15)esteeming others better than ourselves. God wants us to struggle through these difficulties with Him, with this singular objective in mind, as He works out his will in and through us. His plan works to achieve His end, conforming us more and more into His image, and it’s evidently the best way to do so.

Unbelievers are just unwitting pawns in this design (Ep 2:2); the enemy positions them in our lives as apparent Christians (2Co 11:14) such that we can’t generally tell one from another. (Mt 13:28-29) The lost often don’t have any clue why they appear to be outwardly good, or why life seems to work for them without God, but they’re content that it does, and this destroys them. (Pr 1:32)

The more fully I accept and internalize this perspective, accepting the reality of sin, even in those who claim faith in Christ, without becoming frustrated and alarmed, the less painful life will be. What remains is to cleave to JEHOVAH, walk worthy of Him, grow in love, sorrowing for the lost as they miss out on YHWH and His transforming work, acknowledging that I’d very likely be doing worse were I in their shoes, and praying for YHWH to be merciful to them.

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6 thoughts on “Then I Understood”

  1. Best I can tell, most people aren’t believers, maybe 1 in a 1000 (Ec 7:28); the ratio might be slightly higher in the organized, visible churches, but I think it is not by much. People all around me appear to be merely going along with what they’ve been taught, and with what makes them feel good. Spirituality seems to be a pragmatic thing for most that makes life more bearable for them, but seeking YHWH Himself doesn’t appear to be a reality in them … from what I can tell.

    Now, I’m NOT saying that any particular person is or isn’t a believer. As C.S. Lewis said so well, there will be surprises in Heaven: who’s there, and who isn’t. We don’t know the hearts and it isn’t ours to judge. Sometimes it only appears to us that others are doing wrong, but perhaps their motives are somewhat reasonable in context; they might be confused, wounded or see something we don’t, and they really may be doing the best they can in their situation, as a child of God. We can’t generally know for sure, and – thankfully – we don’t need to: this isn’t a problem we’re meant to solve.

    For me, bottom line is that we shouldn’t be shocked, surprised and/or frustrated when people don’t do the right thing, and deliberately choose the wrong, and do so consistently; it’s human nature apart from YHWH. (Jn 2:24-25)

  2. I’ve been challenged to justify my last comment, since it may encourage people to judge the salvation of other individuals. The fact that I believe so few are saved is one thing, putting this concept in print for others to consider is another thing. Why do it?

    One reason is to remind us all that walking in the minority, or even alone in our spiritual understanding is not necessarily a bad thing. Paul himself experienced this. (2Ti 4:16) The fact that so few others agree with me (or you) on a given point is a cause for sober reflection and concern, but not, in itself, reason to abandon our view. Opposing arguments should be sought and examined the more carefully here, but not at the expense of one’s own integrity of belief.

  3. To clarify what I hold to be true here: everyone sins (1Jn 1:8), no one but Jesus Christ is perfect, so I am not saying that every believer must live a sinless life. That would be absurd; there would be no believers at all.

    What I am holding to be true is what I see God saying about the nature of every true believer in Jesus Christ: we don’t break God’s laws willfully and persistently as a manner of life. “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.” (1Jn 3:6) We love Christ (“If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha.” 1Co 16:22) and we love others. (“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” 1Jn 3:14)

    Though it may be tempting to reject this idea and lower the bar, hoping certain people we care for are going to heaven even if they’re obviously not trying their best to follow after God, God warns us against this: “Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (1Jn 3:7-8)

    Again, though we don’t know for sure who’s elect and who isn’t, we should treat people who are acting like unbelievers as if they are unbelievers, praying for them and encouraging them to turn to Christ as we have opportunity.

  4. My daughter Mia, pointed out to me that being destabilized by the the potential reality of Christians who sin freely is perhaps further opportunity to grow.

    Suppose there are Christians who are sinning deliberately as a manner of life, both against myself and others that I love. What of it? Other than the fact that this appears to plainly contradict Scripture itself, why should this concern me so?

    Isn’t God always just, and isn’t He always in control, and hasn’t He promised that all things work together for good to them that love Him? Yes, Yes, Yes. So why should a true believer sinning against me destabilize my own spiritual equilibrium?

    I agree that it should not.

  5. Tim,

    A few points which may or may not relate. HOW did Messiah avoid bitterness? In your sharing of [some] of what you [wrestle] with in your Christian Walk — It is certainly a microcosm of what JESUS dealt with — and there is NO part darkness in him. 2. Trees Grow. It is Clearly seen that Trees Grow. This per Romans means we are all in a place of growth. It is Clearly seen that we are being conformed to the image of His Son. One of your earlier blogs alluded to that. One of Paul’s conclusions — that is part of the Word of G-d, meaning, the conclusion is From G-d:

    Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in [his] brother’s way.

    Part of what I take in my less than kindergarten understanding of the above verse — is that I, [stephen] am NOT [THE Judge] 🙂 As I seek to even be allowed to be a small small small child in NOT judging others — I am told Judge not lest ye be judged, for WITH the judgment [you – Tim – stephen] judge it SHALL be measured to you again.

    If I am even permitted to be a small part of a SEED when I cross someone’s path — Good. I rejoice. Who knows what may be watered.

    And if I judge, let me judge myself. What is that scripture? Have I attained unto it? Does my light shine? Am I just words only? Alas, I have to say, I see myself falling short — and if someone else falls short — WHY would I want them to pay a price I myself KNOW I can not pay.

    There are many verses for the above — but I like this one.

    And these signs shall follow them that BELIEVE; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they SHALL lay hands on the sick, and they SHALL recover.

    A tentative pondering of that verse leads [me] to understand that unless I have [compassion] such as the Lord and Master was [moved by] — I will continue to fall short of believing. Without compassion, sometimes — I [stephen] am no more than talking dung 🙂

    I’m too old here, getting verbose. Hope the above adds to the discussion, if not, delete it.

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