What’s keeping me from being closer to God? What am I holding tightly, unwilling to release? It might not be a bad thing, in itself; it might even be a good thing. If I knew God wanted me to let go of it, would I resist?
Letting go of sin is a given, but how do I know when God wants me to let go of something that isn’t necessarily sinful?
This isn’t straightforward; there’s an ascetic temptation that isn’t good, a self-denial that isn’t godly, a will-worship that isn’t Spirit-filled. (Co 2:23) God gives us richly all things to enjoy (1Ti 6:17); as a general rule, we should be giving thanks and enjoying every perfect gift in Him. (Ja 1:17)
This is about the voice of God: when He speaks, we’ll know. If we don’t knowGod wants us to give something up, then He doesn’t, at least not yet. But He does call us to inspect our lives, examine ourselves, and be open-handed before Him. (Ps 139:23-24) As we pursue Him (Php 3:12), seeking His face, He’s always faithfulto show us the next step. (Php 3:15)
In taking stock of our life, we may begin to note dead weight: things we’re doing or thinking that aren’t aligned with scripture, false waysthat need to be rooted out; we may find some of our possessions distracting us, consuming precious energy and time; we may discover certain relationships that are consistently sapping our strength, luring us from the Way, creating needless drama in our lives. If duty isn’t calling, if it isn’t healthy, enabling us to serve or providing wholesome balance, if it’s a handicap or liability, bogging us down, weakening us, tripping us up … consider letting go.
God says, lay aside every weight. (He 12:1) It’s a matter of the heart, of attachment. If we’re not mindful of it, if it isn’t in our way, holding us back or slowing us down, then it isn’t a weight.
Travel light, disentangled from needless encumbrance. (2Ti 2:4) Maintain an eternal focus (Php 3:13-14): an earthy, temporal focus is enmity toward God. (Php 3:18-19) Life is a vapor; it isn’t about possessions (Lk 12:15), or ultimately even family (Lk 14:26) or country: we have no home here (He 13:14); our citizenship’s in heaven. (Php 3:20)
Christ commands us to be perfect (Mt_5:48); the Greek is teleios: complete, mature, flawless, morally perfect. This is an impossible standard, clearly, but it’s not surprising: God doesn’t tolerate imperfection, and He shouldn’t. (De 18:13) He requires perfection of us because it’s right for Him to do so (Re 3:2); our lack of ability is irrelevant. (Pr 20:9)
So, how should we respond to this demand for moral perfection? There are dangers here we do well to avoid.
Firstly, we shouldn’t complain about God being unfair: fair is giving us all what we deserve – eternal tormentin the Lake of Fire. We’re all desperately wicked(Je 17:9), unbelievably sinful, even on our best day. (Is 64:6) There’s no requirement for God to lower the righteous standard simply because we’ve chosen to sin and corrupt our will. Borrowing more than we can ever repay, and gambling it all away, doesn’t mean we owe any less. We’re guilty as charged: we need mercy.(Lk 18:13)
Secondly, we shouldn’t try to lower the standard for ourselves (Mt 18:26); aiming for anything less than perfection is willful sin (He 10:26); choosing this as a life pattern is insolent, arrogant, disrespectful to God – inexcusable. (vs 27) Every willful sin is a personal affront to God; He hates all who break His laws on purpose. (Ps 5:5) We must try our best, our very best, to be as perfect as possible (2Pe 1:5-7), as poor as that might be. (Php 3:12)
Thirdly, we must ground ourselves in the unconditional love of God (Ep 3:19): God loves each of us because He made each of us uniquely in His image, with His own hands. (Ps 119:73) Real love isn’t conditioned on behavior (Mt 5:44-45): God loves the righteous and the sinner equivalently, because that’s His holy nature.
We must be grounded in the love of God to retain our sanity before Him while we’re stained in our sin. (He 11:6) Our sin is repulsive to Him; it makes Him indignant(Mi 7:9), and every single one of our sins must be dealt with firmly and justly. Yet even in His anger God Is Good – there isn’t a malicious bone in God’s body, and we must count on this in order to function as we consider the second death. While there’s any doubt about our standing before Him, we remain in dreadful peril.
The only sane response to God’s demand for perfection is to find refuge in Christ through the gospel. The terrorof God moves us to seek Him(2Co 5:11), to pursue salvation from our sin until we know we’re safe in Christ, absolutely sure. (1Jn 5:13) We can not afford to stand before God all on our own, and be judged according to our own works.
We should examine ourselves very carefully to ensure that we’re in the faith; we should be able to prove this. (2Co 13:5) There are things that accompany salvation (He 6:9); without these manifest in our lives we’re deceiving ourselves. (Ja 1:22) Until we’re perfectly sure of our eternal destiny, we strive to enter the kingdom (Lk 13:24), and labor to enter into His rest(He 4:11); diligently making our election sure. (2Pe 1:10)
We work this out, our own salvation from both the penalty and power of sin in our lives, with fear and trembling. (Php 2:12) We don’t rest until we know that Christ Himself is our own personal advocate, dying in our place for us, giving us His perfect righteousness (1Jn 2:1) and working His righteousness in us (Ep 2:10), making us as eternally safe from the wrath of God as He is.
It is only from the safety of eternal rest that we pursue perfection with joy, not to be saved, but because this is right, aligned with our new nature to love and obey God. (Ps 119:4) We don’t presume the liberty to sin because He has redeemed us.
And as we pursue God, we don’t let others define good and evil for us, telling us what perfection looks like – we go back to Torah(Is 8:20) and check every requirement against it (Ac 17:11), searching out truth for ourselves. (Ps 119:99) One of Satan’s tactics is to both add to the Word and take away from it (De 4:2), imposing such unhealthy, burdensome regulations that we either rebel, or we or become hateful, proud and judgmental in keeping them. (Mt 23:4)
Finally, and this is key, we don’t focus overly much on ourselves, on our own behavior and how we’re failing; we stop trying in our own strength to be perfect. We grow in holiness through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit as we behold Jesus Christ. (2Co 3:18) Behold Him and rejoice in Him (Php 4:4); He’s the one who gives us faith(He 12:2), our access to grace, the power to live for God. (Ro 5:2) Christ Himself is our life (Col 3:4), and our sanctification. (1Co 1:30)
We behold Christ primarily through Torah, (Ps 119:18), which shows us where we need cleansing (Ps 119:9), then we ask for help to obey (vs 10), hiding His Word in your heart and meditating on it (Ps 119:97) so we won’t sin against Him. (vs 11)
As we receive with meekness the engrafted Word, beholding the living Christ within it, the lies we believe, which keep us in bondage, are exposed and corrected through God’s gift of repentance. (2Ti 2:25-26) This is how Christ transforms us and delivers us from sin. (Ja 1:21) He Himself is the Word, giving us His life (Ps 119:50) through the scriptures (Jn 6:63), enabling us to live uprightly.
We don’t dwell on our own sin, focusing on it constantly; there’s a specific season for this, in which we’re to afflict ourselves. (Ja 4:9) As a general pattern we meditate on Christ through His word (Php 4:8); He points out things that are amiss, where we’re off the mark, imperfect (He 4:12), as He is pleased to work in us.
As He does reveal our sin to us, our imperfections, flaws and weaknesses, we immediately confess and agree with Him, asking Him to quicken and enable us to obey Him (Ps 119:35), and to reveal specific scriptures to us which shed light on our darkness and lies. (Ps 119:130) We meditate on these texts until they become part of us, prayerfully quoting them whenever we feel tempted. (Mt 4:4) This is how we take the sword, the sword of the Spirit, and fight the good fight of faith (1Ti 6:12), abiding in Him, so we won’t be ashamed before Him when He comes. (1Jn 2:28)
In Christ we’re free, absolutely free; He paid a great price to deliver us, so we should stand fast in that freedom, rejoice in it, and not return to bondage. (Ga 5:1) It’s like He’s given us the key to our own prison door and expects us to use it. But what exactly is freedom, and how do we walk in it?
Those who find A Scandalous Freedom (Steve Brown, 2004) in Christ, define freedom as “exemption or liberation from the control of some other person, or some arbitrary power.” (p.6) To them, freedom in Christ means we may live as we please, with no rules, constraints, expectations or obligations toward God. The claim is that we have God’s permission to do whatever we want; anything else is “a weird sort of freedom.” (p.7) Their claim is that God will love us just as much, be just as fond of us, no matter what we do, and that He will never be angry or disappointed in us. (p.14)
Yet Christ defines freedom differently, as the ability and tendency to keep God’s Law: when we break God’s law we become slaves to sin(Jn 8:34); so freedom is deliverance from the tendency and inclination to sin (Ro 7:24-25a), being given a new nature that aligns with God’s law. (He 8:10) He says, in effect, that freedom is the ability to live according to our design, and that our design is to be in right relationship with God, to love and obey Him; there’s no salvation, deliverance or freedom apart from this. (1Jn 3:7-8)
Freedom isn’t about having no master; it’s about having the right master. We all have a master: we either serve sin or we serve obedience. (Ro 6:16) Outside Christ we’re slaves to sin (vs 17), but Christ sets us free from sin to serve righteousness. (vs 18) Our new nature serves God’s law, but any lies remaining within us will always serve sin. (Ro 7:25b)
Sin always springs from a lie and takes us captive(2Ti 2:25-26); so freedom is walking in truth, for the truth makes us free. (Jn 8:32) Those who find permission in Christ to sin are simply twisting God’s grace into indulgence, missing Christ entirely. (Jud 1:4)
Lies about freedom are often rooted in a misunderstanding of grace, confusing it with leniency, mercy, and forgiveness, and thus reading related scriptures incorrectly. Grace is the divine influence upon the heart, and its reflection in the life. (Strong) Grace is the very power of God enabling us to live free of sin, to be aligned with His law. Grace is divine enablement, not unconditional forgiveness and love. So, thinking grace gives us freedom to sin is an open contradiction: it’s like freedom to be sick in our healing, or filthy in our cleansing. It is this misunderstanding of grace, turning God’s truth into a lie (Ro 1:25), which gives the half-truths of Christian “freedom” their insidious appeal.
It is true that God loves and forgives believers totally and unconditionally; there is no sin that Christ did not atone for, and He will never impute sin to any believer. (Ro 4:8) But this is only half of the truth.
The rest of the truth is that believers don’t sin, or break God’s Law(1Jn 3:4), on purpose, carelessly, negligently or presumptuously, as a manner of life. (1Jn 2:4) God has commanded us to keep His law diligently (Ps 119:4), and believers have a new nature that longs to be perfect(Ps 119:5); we actually are obedient to God (1Pe 1:2), inclined toward righteousness and holiness. (Ep 2:10)
Yet believers do sin (1Jn 1:8), missing the mark of perfection even as we try our best to obey. And when we sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1Jn 2:1) So, once we have salvation we can never lose it: it is eternal. (He 5:9) But thinking this implies freedom to sin willfully and presumptuously is a gross misunderstanding of the gospel. (He 10:26-27)
As believers, we work out our deliverance from sin with fear and trembling (Php 2:13), knowing God Himself is working His grace in us according to His good pleasure. (vs 14) And He that began this good work in us will continue to perform it until the Day of Jesus Christ. (Php 1:6)
Any basic misconception about the nature of God can be detrimental; to the degree that our expectations of God are misaligned with reality, we’re deceived, captive to the devil (2Ti 2:25-26), and prone to bitterness and resentment. (He 12:15)
It is common for the enemy to offer us a fable, a heart-warming story teaching us something false about God. (2Ti 4:4) As an example, consider the following.
As the aircraft is pummeled by turbulence, thrashing violently up and down, back and forth, the poor man is more than distraught, taking drinks one after another, trying to calm himself.
From his first class seat, he notices a little girl back in coach playing with her doll, as calm as can be.
“Stewardess! Another drink, please!” He keeps trying to sedate himself … but it isn’t working. He’s terrified. Yet every time he looks back, the little girl is still playing happily with her doll. Her peacefulness is both an invitation and a rebuke, but he can’t translate, he’s just too upset.
Finally he can’t take it any more. Glaring back at her as the plane plummets again, he sputters: “Little Girl! Why aren’t you worried?”
The little girl pauses, looks up sweetly and says: “Mister, see that cockpit up there? My daddy’s the pilot, and he knows I’m back here. He’s not going to let anything happen to me; he will get us home.” Then she goes back to playing with her doll.
How comforting! What a picture of divine love, of how we should rest in our Father’s care! (1Pe 5:7)
But isn’t something amiss? Isn’t this half-truth?
To be complete, she needs to add something like,
“But … even if he doesn’t get us home, Daddy doesn’t make mistakes. If this is my last day, or if I get hurt, that’s OK. I trust him, no matter what.”
Moral of the story? Believing God will always keep us safe and protect us, that He’ll never let anything terrible happen to us, is unrealistic, deception, a false hope: it’s not what God promises.
When suffering does come, and it will if we belong to Him (Jn 16:33), and we don’t have the whole picture, we become bitter, cynical and resentful, turning from God as if He’s unfaithfulor evil. (Ep 4:18)
But the problem isn’t with God, it’s with our wrong perception of God: the problem is idolatry — the false, nice, safe little gods we’ve made up for ourselves, and that we’re still clinging to. (1Jn 5:21)
Not only does God not promise to keep us safe, what He does promise is quite the opposite, and so much better. He promises to scourge us (He 12:6) and chasten us; it’s for our good and we all need it. He afflicts us faithfully (Ps 119:75) to conform us to the image of His Son. (Ps 119:67) Though it seems awful to us at the time (He 12:11), it’s part of His plan to glorify Himself in us. (Ep 1:12)
What God promises is that He’ll never leave us nor forsake us (He 13:5); He will be suffering with us and in us through anything He allows in our lives. It’s a precious gift if we’re living for Him. (Php 1:29)
God promises that all things work together for good to those who love Him (Ro 8:28); He’s able give us grace to walk worthy of Him in every circumstance of life. (2Co 9:8)
God is faithful to establish us, to keep us from being overcome and destroyed by evil and suffering (2Th 3:3), and to present us faultless before Himself with exceeding joy. (Jud 1:24) We are His workmanship (Ep 2:10), and He will complete the work He has begun in us. (Php 1:6)
Rather than pleasure and convenience, God offers us something vastly superior: Himself. But we can’t receive and enjoy Him without holiness (He 12:14), so He will do the needful, whatever it takes, to produce His likeness in us.
God is good, but He isn’t nice: God’s not safe – He’s a consuming fire. (He 12:29) It’s a fearful thing to fall into His hands (He 10:31), yet there’s no better place to be.
Evil spirits are constantly trying to deceive us by imitating His Spirit, seducing us through thoughts and impressions which appeal to our carnality. (1Ti 4:1) Those who heed such spirits bring much harm to themselves and others (vs 2), so God tells us to try the spirits, to test spiritual influences to see if He has sent them. (1Jn 4:1)
This testing isn’t about whether God is speaking to us or not, but about whether He’s speaking to others. When we hear the voice of God we know Who’s speaking (Jn 10:27); any test would be disrespectful.
But when someone elseclaims to have a “word from the Lord,” we must be very careful. Satan comes as an angel of light (2Co 11:14), and many in his service appear righteous, which is no surprise. (vs 15) False prophets seek to be revered by presuming God is speaking to them, but without solid evidence such claims are empty. What should we look for?
Firstly, is the supposed prophet benefiting temporally from his calling? God’s prophets typically proclaim a very unpopular message and are persecuted for it (Ac 7:52); they aren’t exalting themselves, seeking prestige. (1Co 4:9) If any ulterior motive is apparent, this should be carefully searched out.
Secondly, is there sufficient detail in the prophetic word to verify its accuracy? Clearly, when sufficient detail is present and the claim is false, we have our answer. Yet prophetic words which lack sufficient detail to be verifiable should also be dismissed, or at the very least regarded with grave suspicion. God’s test of a prophet’s legitimacy requires verifying the prophecy happens exactly as predicted. (De 18:22) When a prophet fails this test, God’s law prescribes the death penalty. (vs 20) Getting this wrong is serious: no one should ever be encouraged to take up a prophetic mantle lightly or presumptuously, or let off the hook when they do.
Lastly, is there anything unscriptural or unwise inherent in the claim? Does it align with God’s character and glorify Him? Any revelation that doesn’t square with the plumb line of scripture is darkness. (Is 8:20)
We’re in a spiritual battle; we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual wickedness. (Ep 6:12)Be sober; be vigilant: our adversary is real and dangerous. (1Pe 5:8) We must resist him steadfastly in order to overcome. (9)
When a truly righteous person offers to pray for me, I feel honored, hopeful God will hear them. Appealing to the Supreme Power of the Universe on my behalf … what an unspeakable privilege!
What then do I make of the fact that God Himself prays for me? The Spirit of God Himself appeals to the Holy Father on my behalf, making intercession for me! (Ro 8:26) How can the Holy Ghost pray amiss, or not be heard? He Who knows and loves me better than I know and love myself always prays according to the perfect, unique will of God for me! (Ro 8:27) Wow!
And not only this, but the very Son of God also joins with the Spirit of God to intercede for me to His Father! (Ro 8:34) Two-thirds of the Godhead are already praying for me, perfectly, flawlessly, right now, without ceasing! Can I imagine that they will not be heard? That their prayers will be in vain? About anything? Not a chance!
What else could I possibly need spiritually! Victory is in hand, not because of me, or anything I can do or have done, but because God is doing everything that needs to be done to save me and sanctify me (Jud 1:24); He Himself is living out victory in me. (1Co 15:57)
How can I be depressed? How can I be defeated? How can I be lost? Who can lay any charge against me, when it is God Who justifies me? (Ro 8:33) Who can condemn me when Christ has died for me (Ro 8:34), quickens me (Jn 5:21), gives me eternal life (Jn 17:2) and lives in me? He’s everything I need: my wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. (1Co 1:30) How could I ever glory in myself, or in anyone else but Him? (2Co 10:17)