When It’s Good to be in a Gang

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.

Holy Rebellion: Making the Determination to Stand

lighthouseI refuse to be defeated.

That statement sounds a bit absurd, if you think about it. I mean, if I’m standing in a boxing ring in front of a 230lb well-tuned fighting machine, I’m not sure that my attitude matters very much. I don’t think he cares what I refuse to do. He’s going to feed my rotting flesh to the dogs. I’m toast. Done. Kaput.

How can anyone simply refuse to be defeated?

The only way anyone can ever refuse to be defeated is if he has overwhelming power, knows how to use it, and uses it.

Having said that, I refuse to be defeated.

That’s just something I live by. I will not be defeated by any of the things that life throws my way. I will not be defeated by trials and difficulties. I will not be defeated by hurt or despair. I’m not being arrogant. I have nothing to be arrogant about. I’m not practicing the power of positive thinking, either, and I’m not delusional or naive. I simply believe. Believing I will not be defeated is something I have to remind myself of when things are going well, because when things get tough, sometimes it’s hard to remember that I don’t have to be defeated. Sometimes, I need people to help me remember that I must not be defeated…I don’t have to be.

James, the brother of Jesus, said this:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Earlier he said that we should embrace all the various kinds of trials because they make us stronger. How can things that defeat you make you stronger? Unless they don’t…defeat you, that is.

If you believe that the Bible is God’s Word, giving us instruction on how to live life, the purpose of it and who gave it, then you have to believe that what we are told to do, we can do. Now, some of you may not believe these things. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can offer you. My hope is that you can come to experience the grace that God has provided, but beyond that, the promises of hope in Scripture simply don’t apply to you. Unfortunately, promises of judgement do.

In Romans 8:28, Paul said, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The simple truth here is that, contrary to popular belief, “It’ll all work out” is a false statement. That’s delusional.

If you don’t love God (Jesus said to love God is to do what He says) and are called according to His purpose (i.e. coming to God on HIS terms and obeying) this promise isn’t for you. You can’t necessarily refuse to be defeated. I say this not out of a sense of superiority or pride in order to rub it in your face, but to encourage you to consider that maybe this hope and certainty can be for you, too, if you trust in Christ and repent of self-idolatry (ie calling your own shots, living according to your own standards and generally rebelling against God) as we all have to.

OK, enough of that for now. I’m not here to preach at you, but to tell you how and why I refuse to be defeated.

See, I have this shoulder problem (just by way of example). I’ve had it for well over a year and it has, at times, been nearly debilitating. It hurts…it always hurts, even though I’ve experienced some relief from time to time. They say that dealing with chronic pain over time can wear you down, leading to all sorts of mental and emotional issues to go along with the physical issues.

I may have to have surgery. Surgery might help. It might not. That doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because regardless of the pain, I have hope and comfort to know that shoulder issues or any other issues DO NOT HAVE TO DEFEAT ME. In places like Philippians 4:13, I’m told that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I’m told in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Then in verse 13, I’m told to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. In Romans 8, I’m reminded that, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In 2 Corinthians 12:9, I’m reminded of what God told Paul when he suffered pain, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Finally, Jesus, Himself, said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So, if Scripture is true (and for years I’ve seen evidence in my life and others that it is), then Christ in me is the hope of glory. This means that in me is a power that is overwhelming, at my disposal that I can use. I DO NOT HAVE TO BE DEFEATED.

I won’t be.

Whatever you are going through, if you are in Christ (having trusted Him to save you and forgive your rebellion), you do not have to be…you MUST NOT BE defeated.

So, take a rebellious stand. Determine that through the power of Christ in you, you will not be overcome by anything this world throws at you. You may grow weak and struggle. You may weep and mourn. You will probably need the support of others. But when all is said and done, you will stand.

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