From Discover Your Destiny
So, you have received Christ as your Saviour.
Now a word of caution. Once the wave of emotion that comes from salvation recedes, many Christians are somewhat surprised to discover that their external environment has remained relatively unchanged. Friends seem to be just as presumptuous, relatives just as surly, and the world just as difficult to live in as before—sometimes a little more so. They are astonished that the testimony of their newfound faith in Christ when given to others seems to be met by a tolerant smile and a shrug of the shoulders. Their environment continues to make the same old demands, and in many ways reality seems to be just as unforgiving as it once was.
A second source of astonishment comes when some old temptation comes back, sometimes in stronger and more vicious form than ever. The new Christian is frightened to see that something within him wants to indulge itself in the same fashion as once was the case. The thoughts of many at this point are tinged by a touch of terror that comes with the unthinkable suspicion that maybe this businesses of being saved was a cruel farce after all.
Not infrequently at this point the mind once again turns traitor, and that with a vengeance. From somewhere comes the perverse insistence that says, “There, I told you so. You surely made a fool of yourself believing that ridiculous doctrine about deliverance from sin when obviously you are the same old wretched person after all.” Myriad doubts rush in to cloud the brain, sometimes seeming that they may smother into oblivion the green and tender life that has sprung from the ashes of our rebellious and sinful yesterdays.
To complicate matters, it is not unusual for the new Christian to think of himself at this time as being very much alone. He capitulates to a sense of isolation and tells himself, “Nothing like this has ever happened to anybody else. I feel so foolish and miserable that I wish I could die!” It is difficult enough to face temptation, but it is immensely more complicated when we conceive of ourselves as facing it alone, solely without help from the outside. The frightening pressures that move into the experience of a new Christian should never be underestimated. Happily, they are not—not by God, not by the Bible, and not by any worthy spiritual counselor.
Why is it that these problems come to us all? In answer to this question, we must remember that the Bible, the source of truth that led us to Christ, now becomes the handbook for our spiritual development. Having answered our problem, the Bible now moves in to answer our problems, revealing to us that it contains remarkable provision for every concern of the Christian life without exception. Christian thinkers generally have agreed that there are three sources for the problems that Christian face. These three sources form a triad of words that are all too familiar for us all:
The world — the flesh — the devil.
Let’s talk about the world.
The “world” in the Bible means the sum total of all of those things and influences which are external to the Christian himself. The world is the human context in which he lives his Christian life. Some groups of Christians have made an artificial distinction between the good things and bad things in the world. These folks argue with some conviction that obviously a rose garden is better than a beer garden, and the wearing of a large diamond a greater evidence of “worldliness” than a small diamond.
It seems clear that the Bible makes no such distinction. The position of Scripture is very clear that everything that is in the world without exception should be contemplated with a deep suspicion because it may deceive and infect the life of the use. John says,
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever (1 John 2:15b-17).
The apostle Paul shares this identical attitude when he says,
While we look not at the things which are seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).
A Christian is thereby warned that ultimate reality does not lie in cars and clothes, in homes and bank accounts and human possessions. The Bible implies that no one properly understands reality unless he is able to see the source behind the thing. Once again we see the persistent assertion of the Scripture that reality is a Person as against being a thing or a collection of things.
The Christian properly understands that there are no such things as “good things” or “bad things.” The Bible declares that “there is nothing unclean of itself” (Romans 14:14). It does insist, however, that all of the things of the world, the beautiful, the ugly, the attractive, the repugnant, all things without exception are subject to the universal principle of corruption. Therefore one of the basic messages of the New Testament is that one should not be taken in by the world. In effect, the New Testament says, “The world will fool you if you don’t watch out.” Like a will-of-the wisp, it beguiles you into pursuing its vanities, all of which but result in the disillusionment of unrequited love.
It seems contradictory, then, that a Christian is yet called upon to live in an untrustworthy and dangerous world. Upon reflection, however, one can easily understand that God calls us all to live in such a world for two important reasons.
We are in training for heaven!
The first reason why we are called upon to remain in this world subsequent to our conversion is because the world is our probation for heaven, a training ground for the responsibilities of our eternal future. The most efficient university in all of God’s creation is a mean, dusty, exciting campus called Earth. This marvelous university is filled with classrooms for all kinds of people.
It properly instructs the youth, the aged, the mother, the son, the rich, the individualist, the poor, the selfish, and a large numbers of others.
Here, at least for the wise and pliable Christian, is a wonderful opportunity to gain maturity by which he may be presented one day before the God of the universe, as a full-grown son rather than a slobbering and selfish child. In that moment of appearance before God he understands that every single experience of life—though most of them were impossible to understand at the moment of their occurrence—contributed toward that maturity for which he is now grateful beyond words.
Make no mistake about it. That training process—or more correctly, a retraining process—is not an easy one. Before we came to Christ
We all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others (Ephesians 2:3).
As a result, every one of us has a complicated set of conditioned reflexes which we now discover are the wrong ones. The computers of our lives were incorrectly programmed. We are, therefore, now submitted by an efficient and loving God to a program of retraining with an eye to that magnificent moment when we shall be presented before Him when He brings many sons into glory.
I saw this illustrated when I learned to fly an airplane. Anyone who has driven a car for years has built up in his arms, his legs, and his brain a set of conditioned reflexes. He automatically does certain things in the face of certain problems of speed and control. When he decides to fly an airplane, he faces the problem of unlearning some of the principles that apply in the two-dimension problem of an automobile but which would be foolish or even fatal in the three-dimension world of aircraft flight.
He has learned, for instance, that when faced by danger in an automobile he should slow down or stop. In an airplane precisely the opposite is true, for to slow down in the face of danger would mean the loss of control, resulting in a spin—and a graveyard spin takes one into the ground at a couple of hundred miles an hour. In flying one often does with his hands what he used to do with his feet when driving. He does with a flick of a finger what used to take strenuous effort on the road.
The entire problem of operating in an extra dimension brings the necessity of learning a new set of lessons. The training is difficult, for some people impossible. Many a student pilot decides to quit because he just can’t stand the frustrating relearning process. Those who go through, however, realize that the gain in this new training is well worth the trouble. They can now move in an extra dimension and travel several times the speed and efficiency that once they used to travel. They can now accomplish in minutes what used to take hours. They soon realize it was worth all it cost.
So it is that this campus called Earth furnishes for all of us the opportunity to train for heaven. This human life is not ultimate reality, rather it is the prelude to reality. This passing world will soon yield to the wideness and wonder of eternity. Stepping into this added dimension will lead every one of us inevitably to say, “It certainly was worth it all.”
We are representatives of Christ.
The second reason why we’re requested by God to stay in this world is so that we may be what the Bible calls “witnesses for Christ.” A relatively small percentage of this world’s peoples are true Christians. Masses have yet to make the most wonderful discovery in life. The method by which God brings the message of His gospel to these is via human means. Flesh and blood men and women are His instruments.
I have not yet seen an angel walk the streets (at least I don’t know for certain that I have seen one) of any city of our world. Why? The answer is because God uses human hands and human hearts to represent His gospel. Therefore Jesus said to His disciples, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Remembering that much of the success of God’s program is at stake in our activity for Christ, we recall then the sobering responsibility that we have to work for Him. The eternal destinies of one or many people may be at stake in whether or not I become articulate for the Saviour. Surely human compassion should be enough to lead us all to do our utmost to bring the knowledge of God to the people in our circle of influence.
Human compassion, however, is reinforced by divine compulsion. These twin motivations are so universal in the lives of real Christians that a vocal testimony for Christ is a solid evidence of real faith within. “The love of Christ constraineth us,” Paul says. Men of God down through the ages have said in one way or another that they could not keep themselves from telling others of the reality of God in their lives.
This world is not only a training ground; it is also an arena. Training and witness are not two separate entities. Witness develops opposing pressure. Pressure makes you a man of God.
The bulldozer that is parked by the side of the road with the motor turned off never has any rocks pressing against it. It doesn’t move any earth either. Hoping to escape the rather difficult learning process in the school of God, some Christians decide to keep their mouth shut, becoming the sole member of a Christian secret society. Such a person only kids himself. We simply cannot escape the loving training program that God inevitably will impress upon our lives. One who thinks he will escape the school of God by “Christian silence” soon learns that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Hebrews 12:6).
One more thing. Many Christians ask, “Why is it always so hard? Why is there so much pain and suffering in the world?” The answer is that God has so sublime a destiny in mind for everyone of us that the training program for that exalted future must of necessity be difficult. One can learn to be a bricklayer by a relatively simple process (and I do not underestimate the difficulties of bricklaying), but the process of becoming an architect is considerably greater. Learning to trim your nails is one thing. Learning advanced surgery on the heart or the brain is another. The difficulties or lack of them are inherent in any training problem are directly created by the goal for which that training is a preparation.
It isn’t long, however, before we make an exciting discovery: proper training soon makes it possible for us to do easily those things which could formerly only be done with great difficulty, if at all. An hour invested in learning the lessons at the beginning may save years of frustration later on. The patient learning of the multiplication table today makes possible the designing of the suspension bridge tomorrow.
So the Bible says, “lift up the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees.” Soon we are going to slip out of this quickly passing world to seize the prize that is eternal. Paul was no fool in saying,
I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
Our problems with the world are complicated by the flesh.
It would be relatively easy to successfully battle with this world if we were firmly in command of the forces with which we fight. The general who is sure of a well-trained and highly disciplined army in every battle has a strong probability of victory before that battle ever starts.
There is a sense in which each one of us is a general of a sort with an army within ourselves. Every one of us is a legion of capabilities: intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and more. In making us in His image, God placed within our beings a myriad of possibilities of good or evil. Man is the child of infinite purpose. There is something fearful and wonderful about the being who is living within that vessel of flesh known as your body. We possess a very complicated machine which is the constant interaction of emotion, intellect, pain, pleasure, wisdom, foolishness, and a thousand other capricious characteristics.
As difficult as we may find it is to stand against the pressures of the world, we soon learn that these problems are minimal when compared to the exacting daily task of resolving the contradictions within ourselves.
But we must do this—or die.
The whole purpose of our Christian development in this world is that we may move from being victimized by our flesh to becoming master over it. In many ways we are like a general who has been given a ragtag, nondescript collection of ruffians which he must fashion into a disciplined and purposeful army. Furthermore, it is imperative that he do this, because the enemy is speedily approaching.
The price of survival is exactly that: discipline and purpose.
He has no time to lose. He must take every means at his disposal and organize, instruct, train, nurture, reprove, exhort, rebuke, inspire, challenge, and develop the latent potential of his men into a significant striking force. His failure to do this would be disastrous.
In a similar fashion, within the life of every Christian is a frightening combination of possibilities which if mastered by discipline and oriented toward purpose could become characterized by infinite capability. The human body is a vehicle. It is a vehicle by which the will can express itself in rebellion or in disciplined accomplishment of the will of God. The God who eventually wants us to rule a section of His universe has ordained that we shall begin by ruling ourselves. The mastery of self is placed in the Bible on a higher plane than ever the rulership over others. “He that ruleth his [own] spirit [is better] than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32). The flesh is not of itself evil, but it is humiliatingly subject to the debilitation of progressive and mounting lust. But the Bible says,
If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify [make to die] the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Romans 8:13).
It may be a source of confidence to remember that we have the help of God in carrying on this process of mastery. The fleshly part of man has all the instincts of an animal. It is subject of the actions and reaction of hunger, sex, survival, pain, and several other vulnerabilities of which the flesh is heir. Even after exercising his faith in Christ, the Christian retains all of the natural passions which he once knew. Perhaps the whole purpose of our Christ life, at least in the sense in which we are here to develop for heaven, is to starve to death the animalistic passions of our persistent humanity, while at the same time feeding and developing the inner man, the spiritual man. The Bible warns us that “the flesh lusteth against the spirit” and then continues by instructing every Christian that he must move the concentration of his mind from the old things that are purely of the flesh to the new things that are of the Spirit.
For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace (Romans 8:6).
The Christian life, then, is a process of striving to increase the breadth and capability of the spiritual man while working always to suppress the insistent desires of our animalistic natures. The apostle Paul likens this to the running of a race.
So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is tempered in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we are incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air; But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:24a-27).
Life is daily battle against two persistent enemies: the world that presses in upon us and the flesh that responds so unwillingly to the dictates of the new man that lives within. As if this were not enough, the battle the Christian faces is further complicated by the fact that there is a fierce and malignant personal being who uses the world and the flesh to attempt to thwart the design of God in the life of the redeemed person.
His name is Satan. He is the devil.
This wicked, crafty, and tireless being, with patient persistence, hounds the path of the Christian. This ultimate enemy of the child of God never gives up in his attempt to subvert the soul and prevent the full purpose of God being worked out in the life of a person. Long after he has believed in Christ and has lived as a “solid Christian” for years, the Christian discovers that his old enemy, though mortally wounded by Christ on the cross, is still dangerous. Peter wisely advises every Christian,
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world (1 Peter 5:8-9).
When the devil was cast out of heaven, he took up his abode in this world. Having failed in the first stage of his rebellion against God, he continues that malignant insurrection as the prince of the power of the air. Like a tattered, jungle-bred, false Messiah he has failed to take the main city; so he has established his counterfeit claim to deity in this world. Jesus Christ called him the god of this world” (a little contemptuously, I believe), and here he works with his demons running to do his bidding like Keystone Cops.
He has imposed his satrapy on one planet in God’s universe. So we find him here on Earth exercising his malevolent but brief influence in our world. From his shattered throne he lifts a gangrenous claw of invitation saying, “Come unto me.” He knows that his time is short, so he publishes his invitation in a thousand lurid and lustful forms.
The Christian sees him for what he is, but is no less the object of his deceitful and beguiling call. And the devil’s work among Christians has not been entirely without success. A large section of the external church already has signed a nonaggression pact with him. Many individual Christians have been neutralized in their testimony for Christ because they were reluctant to resist the devil with all their might.
Perhaps we should remember at this point that the devil is in fact performing a service for God. Sound strange? He is furnishing that fuel for the blast furnace of affliction through which we pass in this world. This furnace of affliction provides the process to purify and fashion the raw material of our lives into a bright, stainless instrument, literally “a weapon,” in the hands of God (Romans 6:13).
It is the activity of the devil which motivates us to be strong in the Lord. He foolishly provides the weights to lift by which our spiritual muscles are developed. He hopes that we will be crushed by that weight, but this need never be for “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful; who. . .will with the temptation also make a way to escape that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The devil outwits himself every day that he lives, for he provides the alternative choice that makes morality voluntary and therefore moral indeed.
But what shall we do about the devil? It would be foolish to underestimate his power. The sin which he promotes is malignant and it’s results are death. There are several suggestions which we happily discover in the Bible, our increasingly valuable source book and guide for every Christian activity and problem.
1. Remember that he is a defeated foe. Jesus Christ on the cross derisively wounded the devil. The Scripture says,
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver them who through fear of death were all of their lifetime subject to bondage (Hebrews 2:14-15).
John tells us:
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
His throne is held together by the shabbiest of patchwork, and his message is made to sound plausable only by larger and larger lies. He surely sees that he is fighting a battle that he cannot win. But herein is the danger. As the ground caves beneath his feet, he grasps with venomous hands anyone foolish enough to step with his wasting circle of influence.
2. “Neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). Never allow the devil to get any sort of a foothold in your life. Remember that his clever old serpent always gains his advantage in a moral fault. The unkept promise, the unpaid bill, the unfaithful act, the uncorrected hypocrisy, the unappeased offense, and the unconfessed sin—all of these become infected cracks in the wall of our personalities that soon fester with the maggots of hell itself. As certainly as we would not allow an open wound to go unsterilized, so surely must we not allow the impurity of a moral fault to continue in our lives. Happily, God has made wonderful provision for this, promising to every Christian that
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
3. Resist the devil (James 4:7). With this suggestion we move from the passive into the active. The devil is to be the object of offensive action on the part of every Christian. To resist the devil means to expose him, to denounce him, to warn others of his activities. To the mature Christian who is strong in the Lord, this may mean literally an invasion of his territory.
Too long Christians have been pressed to the defensive without realizing that we have power in Christ to invade the arenas of sin in our world. Indeed our Lord promised us that even the gates of hell would not be able to prevail against the resolute spiritual offensive of a pure and purposeful church. The strong young Christian soldier of the early church saw exactly this take place. The apostle John commends them: “I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2:13).
So the triad of enemies who oppose us may all be soundly defeated by the thinking and dedicated Christian. The individual who properly understands his strength in Christ should never be defeated. He will stand without exception in the midst of every storm of life. He can be living proof that Jesus Christ in every case turn defeat into victory, sorrow into joy, making even the weakest people who trust in Him more than conquerors through Him that loves them. Paul was able to say,
Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place (2 Corinthians 2:14).
God in His wisdom has given ample provision to solve every lingering problem. No enemy without or within should ever be able to conquer you.
Discover Your Destiny