Philippians 1:21-23 (ESV) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Since bringing home our new lab puppy, Scout – she bonded quickly to our Chihuahua, Izzy. From the moment, they get up until it is time to go to bed there is nothing but nonstop activity. Scout is very large yet quite passive while Izzy is tiny but ferocious. When they both take hold of a toy and pull, it is clear by Izzy’s hold and posture that she fully intends to win the game of tug-o-war clearly unimpressed by Scout’s size and power. Currently, Scout is five times the size of her fur sister. But Izzy has heart and tenacity – she does not ever back down. When she engages in tugging, she believes she can win. With one mindless jerk of Scout’s powerful head, the game is over. Izzy’s response – like any good sport – she attacks Scout with all the growling and snarling she can muster while our oversized fur baby just enjoys her conquest and rolls over on her back.
While both of the participants in the tug-o-war are impacted by the pulling and tugging, can you imagine the condition of the object of their grasp? With our dogs, it may be a rope or small squeaky toy but in the game of life too often it feels like it is us. Or maybe I am the only one who has days when despite my very best effort to hold tight to my faith, steady my heart, do the right thing and keep pressing on – I feel stretched and pulled in two opposite directions? I have put forth my best effort. Tried to keep the right attitude. Even forgiven along the way as hard as that may be sometimes, yet still feel as though I have come up short. A discarded heap of hopelessness who strived with all her might yet her flesh failed and her heart is weary. Come on. I cannot be the only one.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
To live IS Christ. To die is gain. The death process begins at birth. From the moment of taking in our first breath, a human being is one step closer to their death if you think about it. God has ordered the life span of each person according to His Will and His Way. It is not always possible to understand the number assigned to each living creature, but God knows. If only it were easy to live for Christ every moment of every day and serve Him faithfully apart from all sin and transgression as one might desire. It is not easy. It is not even possible. So why keep trying?
I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
The struggle is real. For me to live is Christ but to die is gain. The more I grow to understand this – the more I understand terms like endurance. The stretching, molding and shaping of my heart and mind to hold fast to the confession of my faith and let other things go. It would be easy if I did not battle an unseen adversary every single day. No, it is not the enemy. Satan has no power or control in my life because I have given it to Jesus Christ. I am a Child of God. No the waging war with in us is our flesh. On those days when the pressure and problems of life leave us stretched and stressed lifeless forms crawling into His Presence exhausted and done, it is not always because the oppressor has been the foe that is faced but our flesh. We do not battle people. We must hold tight to the Word of God and respond to the Will of God even when our stubbornness and pride dig in. The good fight of faith is waging in our heart and mind not the world in which we live. I believe that it is important to identify the problem to find the solution. What if the problem is me?
Romans 7:21-25 (Message)
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
No believer – saved and sanctified can ever say with any credibility that “the devil made me do it”. Satan cannot come near the Light that lives within us. God has given us His Spirit. The object of greatest oppression is flesh. Our own will who seeks to survive despite our desire to be crucified with Christ and live. I have been crucified with Christ by choice. I have chosen to give up sin and accept salvation. Now what? Fight. Fight for faith. Work toward obedience. Do my very best to hold on to what is good and avoid that which is not. To endure. To love. To forgive. To hope. Christ lives in me and is working His Way out of me into every part of my existence. The life I live now in the flesh is by faith in the Living God who is in me. The overwhelming factor that is my success is His Grace. (Galatians 2:20) Despite my full intent and heartfelt commitment, my flesh fails time and time again. This is the reason His Grace is my power. It is the very essence of power that lives in me overriding my inability to allow the fulfillment of Christ to be mine.
Can I just publicly thank the apostle Paul for his transparent honesty in Romans 7! If only every believer would allow others to see the reality of their plight, not by glorifying sin or immortalizing failure, but rather allowing others to witness the process. Our soul cries out for the Living God but our flesh fights to survive. It is a natural born tendency that is not exempt when it comes to dying to this life to obtain forever with the Lord. When I am overwhelmed and feel stretched like a dog toy that has been tugged and pulled on all day, I realize that maybe just maybe it isn’t the enemy pulling on me. In fact, the Lord has shown me clearly that it is not. I live in the Hand of God. The enemy cannot touch me. No, on those days, I have held hope with one hand not two and taken hold of something with my flesh that I need to let go of. This process is so intimate and personal. The good fight of faith is not in an arena but in the quiet recesses of our heart as His Word works its way through and hopeful confidence lays claim to it.
“Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.” His Grace is sufficient for me. It is enough for those days when my flesh rises up and wages war to take over my heart and mind. I will not overcome this rivalry until Jesus takes me home and removes it from me forever. In the meantime, it is important that I work in close partnership with the Spirit of God so it is two against one.
Hebrews 5:7-10 (ESV) In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 4:14-15 (ESV) Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Jesus lived in the flesh. Yes, He was God during that time, too but chose to be subject to flesh and blood just like the ones who He loved and chose to die for. He experienced every bit of warring of the flesh just as anybody else does on any given day. He overcame sin. He endured every test and trial all the way to the Cross. He died a sinless man. Who better to help us then the One who knows and understands our flesh and feelings? Jesus overcame the world. He did it by overcoming flesh. One sin would have nailed Jesus to the Cross. His Death was would have been required if only a single sin existed. The necessity of grace is not proportioned to the quantity of sin but rather to overcome death produced by a single sin. Wrap your brain around that one and the playing field of life becomes quite level. There is no pride in obedience just surrender to God because there is no prize or promise outside of the Grace and Love of Jesus Christ. If there is no hierarchy of sin, that means that God has no favorites. There you have it the full potential of our life is in the Grace of God given through Jesus Christ…alone. I can do nothing to earn it, obtain it or pay it back. I can only accept it.
Philippians 2:14-16 (ESV) Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
What if we have been interpreting these verses all wrong? We are to do all things without grumbling or disputing…good luck with that right? To remain sinless (without blemish) in this crooked and twisted generation…it is not possible. Do you work with other people? Commute home in five o’clock traffic. Let’s be real – do you own any teenagers? Life happens. Sin slips out. Our flesh rises up. What then? The Light that shines within us comes out through our brokenness. When our hard heart cracks open and our one-track mind gives way to the new life and new way of thinking that is not religious but relational. The Law of God did not save us just shows us how bad we messed up. It proves the sufficiency of His Grace when knowing all my faults and failures in a single day – I still fight to hold on to faith and cling to confident hope. “Holding fast to the Word of Life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run or labor in vain.” The confident hope that I have is not in my own ability to live a sinless, good life but it is in the Grace of God given to me based on His Love and Faithfulness. The Word of Life says that nothing can ever separate me from the Love of God and in fact it is His Love that makes me more than a conqueror. (Romans 8:37) Pride says otherwise but grace always proves it wrong.
I Thessalonians 5:23-24 (ESV) Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
Before this passage in I Thessalonians 5 comes a list of instructions. Things like love each other, help one another, and be an encourager. It also tells us to rejoice, pray and be thankful. It clearly outlines qualities and characteristics that are the Will of God for our life. (I Thessalonians 5:18) But the important part follows closely behind, the specific thing that I must cling to throughout each day as I try to run with purpose. The goal that I long for and strive for is this – that my whole spirit, soul and body will be kept blameless. His Grace is enough, I must cling to it every day. He is the one who is Faithful. Jesus will surely do it if I will just hold on the hope that He has given me.
Hebrews 6:17-19 (ESV) So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain…
My steadfastness will not ever be in me. I will continue to strive to live apart from anything that displeases the Lord but I know that it is only by His Grace that I find the power to overcome every shortcoming, fault and failure. Sin separated me from God and only His Righteousness will allow me to live in His Presence again. He does not lie or change His Mind so the Word of Life is the anchor of my soul and substance of my faith that keeps me from giving up and letting go when I feel the pressures of life, stress or restlessness. My flesh is always at war with the Spirit in me. It is a fight to the death. The Spirit of God overcame death and administers life to all who live in partnership with Him. It doesn’t mean there is not struggling or no suffering in this life but He give us the power and strength to hold on and endure to the end. I don’t know what might work as soul soothing for you but when I feel weary in well doing or pointless in my pursuit of Christ, I find that worship is my release. To lift my hands, open them wide, and show love and adoration on Jesus. Burdens fall off as He picks me up and holds me. When was the last time you stepped into the Presence of the Living God? There is nothing there but life. The struggle ends where surrender begins. The hopelessness gives way to hope in the Light of His Love. Grace works best in weakness. His Power is manifested in our life when we can’t but believe He will. There is a reward for those who choose to keep His Word, walk by faith, hold on to hope and endure until the end through every trial, hardship and struggle believing God is good, God loves me, and God will never let me down.
As Scout and Izzy wrestle at my feet, I am blissfully aware that Jesus isn’t finished with me yet. Izzy will learn one day to pick and choose her battles but I hope that she never loses her heart. Scout in her sweet nature will one day learn the same or give up every toy and treat to Izzy. I believe that this is life in our house with our pets. I believe this is the life lived in Christ as well. Picking and choosing battles, knowing when to take heart and surrendering to Christ always. It is only a tug-o-war if both sides pull. The game ends when one or the other let’s go. Lord, I give you my heart, mind, body and spirit all over again today. I let go of everything except the Word of Life. May hope keep me anchored. Have your way in me, amen! I surrender all!
Revelation 3:10-12 (ESV) Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.