Paul tells Timothy that if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
This is a concept I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in messages at The Gathering, though it’s a concept I’ve not mastered. I certainly struggle, not so much with the concept or idea of “cleansing oneself”, as much as the practice of it. The concept basically addresses the outworking of sanctification (the process by which the Holy Spirit begins making changes and also empowers us, through discipline, to bring about changes, as well). Whereas salvation/transformation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is a divine partnership, in which I have responsibility. Admittedly, it would be much easier if God just DID IT all, Himself, but that’s not the way He’s chosen. Instead, He has equipped me to do battle within myself and those deep-seeded sins that “so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1).
Because of the work Christ has already done in my life to change my position before the Father to that of Holy and blameless, I have the power to say no to conditional sin that, before, I could not. Before, sin had me chained…I was under it’s power, fulfilling all the things that my flesh dictated to me (Ephesians 2:1-3). Now, the Word tells me I’m no longer a slave to sin and that the only reason I am under any authority of sin is that I, willingly, place myself under it’s control, wrapping myself again with the chains that once held me, choosing the sin from which I’ve been freed. In short, I sin now because I want to, not because I have to (Galatians 5:1). That’s what is troubling. I want to sin. Man, I hate even saying that, because I really don’t and, yet, if sin ever dominates my life, according to Scripture, it’s because I let it.
I think this is why Paul encouraged his young son in the faith to “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12a) It is most certainly a fight, but it’s a fight that involves retreating…running away from an enemy. Sounds crazy when talking about standing firm and fighting, but being an overcomer, in this case, involves running away from enemies we cannot beat if we remain in their presence. Samson was the strongest man in the neighborhood, but the only way he could have beaten the Philistines was by running away from that which tempted his heart…the great temptation of Delilah. He was defeated, not by the brute force of an army, but by remaining under the influence of a single individual who offered him all that he wanted…momentary pleasure.
Wow, that’s it right there. Momentary pleasure. Even though it doesn’t last, it still has the ability to train wreck our spiritual lives. This is why Paul kept encouraging Timothy to run away from it. Don’t try to stay and fight because, eventually, you’ll let your guard down and the fight is over. Clean knock-out. As a matter of fact, right after Paul encourages Timothy to cleanse himself, he tells him how:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[e] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2: 22-26)
In this passage, there is both a “run away from” and a “run towards”. Both words used, “flee” and “pursue”, communicate both an urgency and an exertion of effort. One involved running away from as hard and fast as you can while the other involves chasing after something as to catch it. In other words, we should never be standing still! The question is where should the most emphasis be placed, on fleeing or pursuing? Which one do I focus on more? The great news is that they are in opposite directions, but only sort of. Here’s what I mean: I can flee from unrighteousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily pursuing godly righteousness. It might mean that I’m simply pursuing self-righteousness. I might still be trying to overcome sin under my own power and that will just lead to a pride that is nothing more than unrighteousness in disguise. So, in truth, I’ve never actually run away from anything!
The key, then, to dealing honestly with sin, is to chase after godly righteousness “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” In other words, I will never actually overcome sin in my life using a “Lone Ranger” approach because I’ll just drift towards self-righteousness and never even notice. It’s actually a great weapon of the Enemy, “the Father of Lies”. However, if I am in a community of humble people who are honestly seeking these same things, we can ” gang up” on sin, keeping each other in check, moving towards true godliness together, pointing out that slow drift away from our godly pursuits.
This is why “Gospel friendships” are so important, where we are deliberately speaking into each others lives; where almost every conversation contains some level of Gospel conversation, encouraging and challenging each other and simply “checking up”. It doesn’t happen by accident and takes a great deal of cultivation. If, though, I want to overcome sin in my life, sin that my flesh really wants to give in to because I like the momentary pleasure it offers, I have to pursue such relationships with everything I have, knowing that it’s worth the effort.