I Will Cooperate... -- Step 3
"Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)
Many of us have had exceedingly great difficulty entering into the absolute surrender needed to fully follow Jesus. For many, this has to do with a misunderstanding about God that has led us to mistrust Him.
Absolute surrender makes us extremely vulnerable to the one to which we surrender. And, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in the past, to people and to other gods, has brought devastating consequences. Because of this, we may be very hesitant to surrender to the God of the Bible
. We may ask ourselves, is it really safe to do that? Or, will He let me down and abuse me like the others have?
For myself, like many others, it has been helpful to make a disconnect between God and those people who have wrongly represented God's character by their abusiveness. I have come to understand that my God is so full of love that, even if I were the only sinner in the world, He would still have sent His "only begotten Son"
down to this sinful world to live as a man and die for my sins. I know that I can trust my God. I am totally convinced that He will never lead me in any way that I would not choose to be lead myself, if I could see the future, as He sees it.
You may be thinking that you are not strong enough to enter into absolute surrender. But God has promised us that no matter how weak we are (2 Cor 12:9
), and no matter how strong the temptation is, that He will provide a way of escape (1Cor 10:13
), as we cooperate with Him, choosing to do His will in that moment of decision.
After I realized my own powerlessness over my addictions and came to believe that God, a power greater than myself, could restore my sanity, I began to learn about--and to practice--the principles of surrender. Each time a temptation would come, I would totally surrender myself to God, realizing my helplessness and His all-powerfulness, praying--like Paul when he was stuck down with the glory of Jesus - 'Lord, what would you have me to do?' I can testify to you today that, every time I have cooperated with Divine agencies in this way, God has turned my powerlessness into victory! Without fail, He has delivered and continues to deliver me from temptation. This is how (I believe) God is creating within me a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26
). Each time I surrender in this way, my faith is strengthened, my heart towards God is softened and more and more those things that I once loved, I am learning to hate. And, the principles of God's kingdom are becoming more and more desirable. I praise God for recovery!
"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." (Jude 1:24,25)
Once we've learned to admit
our powerlessness (John 5:19,30
) and assent
to God's all-powerfulness (Zephaniah 3:16-17
), then we need to take action
. But the action I took kept me bound in my addictions for 25 years.
I would continually try to do my best to try harder to resist the devil(James 4:7
). I was in charge, trying to do hand-to-hand battle with the devil and I was the loser. Trying harder is a dialog between us and satan. How foolish is that?!
It wasn't until I began to surrender myself to God, in each moment of temptation, that I began to experience real victory. What's the difference? Rather than dialoging with satan, when I surrender my will to God, the dialog is between me and God. As a result, God has a dialog with satan. When that happens, satan loses and I win. But I only win because I admit my powerlessness(Step1), assent to God's all-powerfulness(Step2) and take the action of submitting my will to God's(Step3). Then, God fights the battle for me -- and wins!
Deliverance does not come in my strength, but rather in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9
). That's faith
. That's why it was said of the people of faith in Hebrews 11 that, "out of weakness [they] were made strong [and] waxed valiant in fight" (Hebrews 11:34
Jesus understands my weaknesses, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb 4:15-16)
. All I ever have to ask, in times of temptation, is "Lord, what would you have me to do?
). Whenever I do this -- with a surrendered spirit -- He gives me the victory. The victory is the Lord's, but it only happens with my cooperation. I can do nothing without Him (John 15:5
), but "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13)
One of my favorite authors has made numerous statements supporting this step of surrender. Here are just a couple. "When the Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, it transforms the life. Sinful thoughts are put away, evil deeds are renounced; love, humility, and peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife. Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the light of heaven... The blessing comes when by faith the soul surrenders itself to God."
). "As the will of man co-operates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings."
And so, I must frequently ask the question, "Who's in charge?" Is it me, or am I choosing God as, not only my Savior, but my Lord as well? This is my prayer: "Thine, O Jehovah, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Jehovah, and thou art exalted as head above all." (1 Chronicles 29:11)
-- Especially me.
"God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world." -- C. S. Lewis
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice - the kind He will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship Him.
Having accepted my own powerlessness (John 5:19,30
) and began to accept Jesus as my only hope of living a victorious life (John 15:5
), I learned that by giving my will to God I could have victories over all of my temptations.
Once I began practicing these first three steps, God began leading me through all the other steps, before I even knew what they were. If the thought of having to do 12 steps in order to deal with your pain frightens you, don't worry. It's these first three (I Can't..., God Can..., I Choose to let Him...) that really make the difference between a life of failure and a life filled with victory! Come, and experience the power!
Remember that "God has said, I will never fail you. I will never abandon you."
As near as I can tell, there are only two great powers in this world -- The power of Goodness and the power of evil. Depending upon our learning history we may call these powers by different names. But I suspect that, deep down, nearly all recognize these two opposing forces at work in their lives.
Rather than focusing on the naming of these powers, Step 3 is all about which of these great powers we choose to ally ourselves with, to serve, and to obey. Will we continue to serve the god of self-centeredness who has led us into our destructive patterns of dysfunction? Or, will we choose to serve the God of goodness, mercy, and love -- who longs to deliver us from those behaviors that bring us so much pain -- the God that we declared in Step 2.
This is the God that will never leave us, nor forsake us, but rather will be with us and help us till the end... This is the God who would never lead us down paths that we would not choose for ourselves, if we could see the end from the beginning -- as He can.
And so, I invite you this day to choose you, whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the God of goodness, love, and deliverance -- the God of my understanding (Joshua 24:15
"Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
Failure in understanding about turning my will over to God is what kept me in my addictions for 25 years. And, as I have associated with many people who want a better life, it has been my observation that it is nearly always failure to embrace this principle that keeps them from progressing in their recovery process. Based on my experience, I have a theory as to why this is. I believe that, when we practice this principle, the powers of evil lose their grip on us, and they will do everything in their evil power to keep us in bondage.
Another reason why this principle is so hard to embrace is that it is painful to surrender ourselves -- even to the loving Higher-Power that CAN restore us to sanity. We would still rather follow our own paths -- doing the same stupid things we've always done, expecting different results. But when I think about it logically, that kind of thinking is just insane, even though my tendency is to go there. The apostle Paul describes the experience we need to have like this: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
It is only when I die to doing things my way, at the cross, and surrender my "weak, wavering human will to the omnipotent, unwavering will of God" (Ministry of Healing page 176), that I am able to have the victory over the sin that so easily besets me. This is the key factor that started me into my recovery process and this is the key factor that keeps me in recovery today. When I choose to do it my way, I fail. But, when I choose to surrender my will to God in the moment of temptation, He gives me the victory! PRAISE GOD!
"As the will of man co-operates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings."
(Christ's Object Lessons, page 333)
Not only is the God of my understanding my Savior, Friend, and Guide, but He is also my loving King. He accepts me just the way I am, no matter how low I've sunk into my dependencies. But He does even more! He provides the will and the means to restore me to sanity, as I turn my will over to His, in total surrender to His guidance.
"For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him."
As I began to understand this principle and to practice it, God began delivering me from my dependencies. Each time that I surrender to Him (admitting to myself and God my powerlessness) as temptation comes to me, He gives me the victory! He never fails me. What an Awesome GOD!
You too can have this kind of freedom! "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." (Eph 3:20-21)
In a practical sense, what does it mean to give it all up to God? Well, God has made (and continues to make) some positive changes in my life. And, I'm pretty sure that He's been able to do that partially because of my participation in this process. Of course, I can't take credit for that, because without help from Him, I wouldn't be able to make positive choices. Right now, I'm thinking of two ways in which I strive (by God's grace and power) to give my will and life to God. The first is directly initiated by God. The second is when I seek help from Him.
It has been said that Christ is always sending messages to those who will listen to the "still, small voice". These impressions come throughout the day for many different reasons. It could happen as I'm driving, to alert me of danger. It could happen when I am tempted to wrong thoughts, words, or actions. It could happen at anytime, and for any reason. When I listen for His impressions on my heart, then choose to obey, I'm giving up my agenda for God's. In so doing, He gives me strength to follow through on that decision. He cares about me. He wants to help me make good decisions.
There are other times when I don't know what God's will is, like when I have hard decisions to make. It maybe in my work, when I can't seem to figure something out. Or, it may be in my personal life. In times like this, I find myself in prayer asking for wisdom, claiming His promises, like this one: "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind."
). But the question I most often ask God is "Lord, what would you have me to do?"
). The answer often doesn't seem to come right away, but I still trust in God, that He always has my best interest in mind. For He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5
) even until the end of the world! (Matthew 28:20
"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)
This invitation from Jesus becomes extremely meaningful to us whenever we recognize our own powerlessness to do any good thing (Step 1) and begin to believe in His loving all-powerfulness to deliver us from our dependencies and restore use to sanity (Step 2).
In Revelation 3:20, Christ demonstrates His love for us. Even though we are sinners, Christ not only died to pay the penalty for our sins (Romans 5:8
), but He continually "knocks" at the "door" of our heart -- seeking to fill us with His loving Spirit. He longs to work in us to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13
), but He can't do that without our cooperation. So, He gently "knocks", using His "still small" voice (1 Kings 19:12
) to speak to our conscience.
He doesn't barge in and clean house, just because we gave Him permission to do that sometime in the past. No, it is a continual process. It is always our choice. Will we trust Him enough to obey -- leaving the consequences to Him? Or, will we choose to do our own thing when He prompts us to follow Him?
When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.
Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
but our toil he doth richly repay;
not a grief or a loss,
not a frown or a cross,
but is blest if we trust and obey.
But we never can prove
the delights of his love
until all on the altar we lay;
for the favor he shows,
for the joy he bestows,
are for them who will trust and obey.
Then in fellowship sweet
we will sit at his feet,
or we'll walk by his side in the way;
what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey.
Trust and obey
for there's no other way
to be happy in Jesus
but to trust and obey
(John H. Sammis, 1846-1919)
Not only does God freely forgive us (justification), but He also wants to sanctify us - to change us from the inside out, to become more and more like Jesus. It doesn't happen all at once, like justification. This is a continual process that we engage in for the rest of our lives and it is the MOST rewarding process I've ever been involved in. And, as long as we are involved in this process, our destiny is assured. We can be certain that our home is in heaven.
But why, you may ask, do we need to go any further than to be forgiven? If God wipes our record clean by the blood of Jesus, why would we need to be sanctified? ... Well, while it is true that God gives us a new, clean slate to start over again with, He doesn't take away our freedom to choose whom we will serve. And, he doesn't normally change our learning history, which makes up our character. In other words, it is unlikely that He will miraculously take away our bad behaviors. He deals with our past without our participation, but He can't deal with our future without our cooperation. If He did that, He would violate our freedom of choice, and my God would never do that to us.
Let me illustrate, with my own life story... During most of my 25 years of "acting out" in my addictions, I realized that I was powerless over my problems, and I knew that my life was out-of-control. That's the first step to healing, and that was good. I also came to believe that God could restore me to sanity - the second step.
And, I had enough understanding of justification that I repeatedly confessed my sins. And, by faith, I believed that God forgave me, and washed me clean in the blood of Jesus. I was justified - over and over again. But those were the only positive steps I took. Oh, I fought the temptations. I fought them with all the will power I could muster up. But I was still a practicing addict. And honestly, my addiction got worse and worse. In fact, I am quite sure that, if I hadn't got into recovery in 1994, I would likely be incarcerated today. That's just how bad it was becoming. And that, my friends, is why I needed more than just justification. I needed recovery. I needed sanctification. BTW, in my vocabulary, the words "recovery" and "sanctification" are synonymous. That's why you will never hear me say (this side of Heaven) that I am recovered, because this is the progressive work of a lifetime, it doesn't happen all at once.
You see, not only do we need forgiveness, we need character development; we need transformation! That's where the process of sanctification comes in. So, what exactly is sanctification, and what must we do to cooperate with God so that He can accomplish this in our lives?
For me, it began when I made a decision to turn my will and life over to the care of God, as I understood Him. This involves three major components:
- PRAYER: Constant (as near as possible) communion with God through prayer is vital to having victory over those sins that so easily beset me. For me, this needs to start as soon as I roll out of bed in the morning.
- BIBLE STUDY: My mind is more clear and most able to focus on Biblical topics first thing in the morning. I never used to be a morning person, but as soon as I asked God to wake me up in the morning, that all changed -- for the better!
- SURRENDER: When temptation comes, and my thoughts begin to turn towards sin, it is then and there that I must turn my heart and will to God and cry out to Him like Peter when he was sinking: "Lord, save me lest I perish!" (Matthew 14:27-31). Or surrender to Him like blind Bart when he said: "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!" (Mark 10:46-52). Or like Saul the persecutor, when he was struck down by the glory of Jesus. He said, "Lord, what would you have me to do?" (Acts 9:1-6). Absolute surrender to the will of God is the only way I have found to have consistent victory over any of my weaknesses.
As I choose to do as He directs in my life, He makes the impossible possible! This is how I must cooperate with God so that He can work in me to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13
). This is the process of sanctification. This is the process of recovery.
"Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mark 9:23)
God had delivered Mike from most of his chemical addictions, but his addiction to nicotine was stronger than ever. It was especially hard in the small town in which he lived. Safeway was the only grocery store and because of the way the store was arranged, he had to walk right by the cigarettes in order to get to the groceries.
He had tried the "5-day plan", patches and every other method of quitting that he had heard of. He quit smoking many times, only to pick them up again at a weak moment. Mike was about to give up when, as he was reading in his Bible, a story caught his attention. It was the story of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52
As Jesus was leaving Jericho one day, with the typical large crowd of noisy people surrounding Him, blind Bart happened to be sitting beside that same road begging. When he asked a passer-by what all the commotion was about, he was told that it was Jesus of Nazareth.
That was all Bart needed to know. You see, Bart had heard of the love of Jesus, and knew he could trust Him. He believed that Jesus could bring healing to him. So, he immediately began to cry out, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!" Many told him to be quiet, but he cried out all the more, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!" Finally Jesus heard Bart's pleas for help, came to him, and healed his vision.
This was exactly what Mike needed to know. Hope began to well up in his heart. Since Jesus healed Bart of his blindness, then surely He would heal Mike of his nicotine addiction. It was then that he purposed in his heart, that whenever he was tempted, he would cry out, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!" Seriously, he really did do this -- verbally, out loud! He told me, "People look at you funny when you do that in Safeway... but you don't smoke cigarettes. No, you don't smoke cigarettes."
After Mike began to trust in God enough to surrender himself to Jesus in his weakness, he never smoked another cigarette -- for the rest of his life.
It may not be nicotine, but we all have negative behaviors that easily beset us. Friends, it matters not what your weakness is. Jesus is willing, able, and longing to deliver you too. You can trust Him. Even if you turn away from Him, He will never leave you, nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5
"And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way." (Mark 10:52)
"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
No one is so low and so vile that he can't come to Jesus! Even though all our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6
), He declares us to be righteous when we humbly come, confessing our sins. Then, He makes ample provision for us to live in righteousness. As we strive to overcome our natural and cultivated tendencies to sin, Christ's "holy angels"(Matthew25:31; Mark8:38; Luke9:26; Revelation14:10
) are right by our side to protect us from satan's fiery darts (Ephesians 6:16
) and the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth and righteousness. When I strive against the "roaring lion" and my own selfishness, God promises that He will not allow any temptation to come to me without providing victory for me (1 Corinthians 10:13
). And, if God be for me, then who can stand against me?! (Romans 8:31
). Satan has no power over me when I am fully surrendered to the God of love. This breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14
) is God's appointed protection for my spiritual life.
"The truly righteous, who sincerely love and fear God, wear the robe of Christ's righteousness in prosperity and adversity alike. Self-denial, self-sacrifice, benevolence, kindness, love, patience, fortitude, and Christian trust are the daily fruits borne by those who are truly connected with God. Their acts may not be published to the world, but they themselves are daily wrestling with evil, and gaining precious victories over tempta-tion and wrong... Each one will have a close struggle to overcome sin in his heart. This is at times a very painful and discouraging work; because, as we see the deformities in our character, we keep looking at them, when we should look to Jesus and put on the robe of His righteousness. Everyone who enters the pearly gates of the city of God will enter there as a conqueror, and his greatest conquest will have been the conquest of self." (God's Amazing Grace, p 31)
For me, turning my will and my life over to the care of God consistently is pivotal. Without this constant trust in God and surrender to His will, it is impossible for me to continue my recovery process. It is impossible for me to be engaged in the sanctification process. Oh, I may go through the motions..., but if I'm not surrendered to God, I'll make a mess of it all.
When I am surrendered to God in all my known choices, it is God who works in me to will and to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13
) and that is infinitely better than I could do on my own.
When bad things happen (and they surely will), I must remember that God uses these faith-trying experiences to teach me patience -- to strengthen my character (James 1:2-4
), as I constantly trust and obey my Loving Heavenly Father's leading. Painful though it can be, I know that I need all the character development that I can get. It is hard to "count it all joy... (vs 2)" and to "glory in the tribulations" (Romans 5:3
) in the heat of the trial. But as I trust in God and obey His leading, I do have joy that, through it all, God is right there with me, helping me, protecting me, working in me to do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13
) -- changing me to be more like Jesus. What could be better than that?
Speaking to Jesus, "Peter insisted. 'Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!'"
). But, early the next morning, "Peter denied [knowing Jesus] in front of everyone. 'I don't know what you're talking about,' he said.... Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. 'I don't even know the man,' he said... Peter swore, 'A curse on me if I'm lying - I don't know the man!'..."
I find it very interesting that the Greek word translated "deny", which Matthew used to describe Peter's denial of Christ, is the same word that Jesus used, when He said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny
himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Matthew 16:24
) (Mark 8:34
) (Luke 9:23
Rather than a smooth elevator ride to Heaven, Christianity involves a battle -- against self -- a denial of the clamors of my flesh, in surrender to my omnipotent, loving Heavenly Father. Jesus gives us more-than-ample examples of this process in His own life.
Consider Jesus in Gethsemane when He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death... And he... fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt... He went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done."
). He didn't have to go through with this plan, but He chose to deny Himself and accept the will of His Father.
When He was taken captive by the angry mob, He had the power to set Himself free and destroy them all. But He denied His divine power, only using it to heal an ear of His enemy.
When He was sentenced to be purged with the Roman Scourge, He could have said, "Enough! No more!", and set Himself free, but instead He denied Himself and was beaten, near to death.
When He was nailed to that old rugged cross, He could have called ten-thousand angels destroy the world and set Him free, but instead He denied Himself, trusting in His father to make all things right, and good, in the end.
Yes, denial of self can be painful and very hard, but it's also true that, "The heavenly intelligences will work with the human agent... Christ says, I am at your right hand to help you. As the will of man co-operates with the will of God, it becomes omnipotent. Whatever is to be done at His command may be accomplished in His strength. All His biddings are enablings" (Christ's Object Lessons 332-333).
Step 3 is all about what one author calls, "the divine principle of co-operation, without which no true success can be attained" (PK 486-487
). I mark the start of my recovery at the time that I began to understand and practice this principle.
The great deceiver would have us either do it our way, relying on our own strength. Or, he would have us think that God will do all for us, without our cooperation. I see these as the deceiver's two deep ditches on either side of the straight and narrow road of sanctification ("the progressive work of a lifetime
"), leading to a life of peace, joy, fulfillment, and love -- but not without trials and temptations :-)
Here are some supporting Bible texts:
- "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me." (John 5:30)
- "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5)
- "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13)
- "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:" (1 Thes 4:3)
Maybe another way to phrase this would be, "Divine behavior modification therapy". Whatever we call it, I can't live a worthwhile life without it!
The Bible teaches that all things work together for good for those who follow God (Romans 8:28
). It also says that we should glory in tribulations (Romans 5:3
). So, how does that work when a loved one is murdered? How does a person, who was molested daily as a child for years, glory in that kind of tribulation? When a person is raped, how does that work together for good? Is God sadistic, or what?
It appears to me that there is a lot of anger towards God in a lot of people, for seemingly good reasons. In Christians, this anger is often hidden -- stuffed down deep inside. It's just not cool to be angry with God, when you're a Christian. But whenever we stuff things that are troubling us, rather than dealing with them, it's like cancer. Those hidden malignant cells grow and grow until we are no longer able to function normally. Eventually, it becomes excruciatingly painful.
We don't want to deal with it, because it's painful to talk about it. But the pain of not dealing with it will eventually overwhelm us. So, why not talk about it? Why not be honest about our relationship with God? My God is big enough to handle being yelled at. When we talk things out with each other, and pray for one another, we come out of isolation. The enemy hates it when that happens because that's when he begins to lose his fiendish grip on us (James 5:16
So, what about a God who lets bad things happen? Why is that? Why doesn't He just zap those murderers, rapists, and pedophiles? Those people are soooo sinful!! What about a God who lets sin happen? Why doesn't He just zap all those sinners? Why doesn't He give them all (Romans 3:23
) (including you and me) what they deserve -- death -- right now?! (Romans 6:23
Why did Jesus humble Himself to become flesh and bones in this sinful world -- forever giving up some of His Divine attributes? Why did He risk His eternal life and die to pay the penalty for my sins, instead of giving me the eternal death that I deserve? Why did He allow sin to raise its ugly head in the first place? And, why, when the great controversy is ended, will sin NEVER EVER raise its ugly head again?
May I suggest that the answer to all of these questions can be summed up in one word? IMHO, the reason is "LOVE". God loves us so much that He values our freedom of choice more than He values the life of His "beloved Son".
It is freedom of choice that that allows the rapist, murder, and pedophile to do all their dastardly deeds. It is freedom of choice that has brought all pain and suffering into this world. But, when tribulations come, and God's will is restricted by the evil will of humans and fallen angels, we can be assured that God is suffering right along with us (Matthew 25:40
). We can be assured that God will do everything He can to bring us through that tribulation. We can be assured that, if we allow Him, He will deliver us from those sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews 12:1
). Let us never forget that it is freedom of choice that can bring us out of this world and into Heavenly places. That, my friend, is why I choose to surrender my will and very life to a God who lets bad things happen. My God not only loves, but His character is what defines love. That's my God!!
Jesus "personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. 25 Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls." (1 Peter 2:24-25)
As a sinner, I stray away from the Good Shepherd, seeking to do my own thing in my own way. But because He is the Good Shepherd He never stops pursuing me, continually seeking to lead me back to His fold of safety.
Without Him I am powerless and can never find my way back (John 15:5
). But, because He pursues me, I am able to choose to follow Him. It's that "choosing" that's the hardest part because when temptation comes, it tries to lure me away from the safety of the fold. That "fold" is the place where I trust and obey. It's the place where I choose to follow Him, not knowing what the outcome will be. It's the place where I "die" to my own ideas of how to deal with problems and live with my life hid in Christ -- the Shepherd and Guardian of my life.
The beauty of the "fold" is in its safety and power, because as I choose to do the good that I am unable to do, the Good Shepherd wraps His loving arms around me and gives me strength (Philippians 4:13
). "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3)
The apostle Paul said, "... I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31
) and, "My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20
Death to self is counter-intuitive in the me-centered world we live in today. Death to self is counter-intuitive to me because I want to be the center of my world. However, I am finding that I am unable to see into the future in order to make the best decisions for today. In fact, I can do nothing without Jesus. Why would I think that? Look at the words of Jesus: "The Son can do nothing of Himself... I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:19,30
) and "... without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5
). So, who am I to think I can do what Jesus said He can't do?
Look at what Isaiah said, "The Lord will always lead you. He will meet the needs of your soul in the dry times and give strength to your body. You will be like a garden that has enough water, like a well of water that never dries up" (Isaiah 58:11
A wise person once said, "God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him." (Ministry of Healing 479). and, "... this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory." (Colossians 1:37
As I consider this evidence and my own anecdotal experiences of God's leading in the past, I can't help but choose to continually invite Jesus to be in charge of my life. I choose death to self that I may experience the secret of death: Christ in me, the hope of glory for the future, peace in the present, with acceptance and forgiveness for my past failure.
What about you?
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
It's relatively easy to say that I choose to turn my will and life over to the care of God. But, in a practical sense, what does that really mean? My tendency is to want to control people, situations, things, and myself. The paradox is that, the more I try to be in control, the more out-of-control I feel. I become anxious and irritable. I lose the peace of God and I lose control over more and more of my life.
Conversely, when I let go of the control that I desire, turning it over to God, trusting that He really does have my best interest at heart, things begin to change -- for the better. I become less anxious for the future, less worried, and less irritable (Philippians 4:6
). I feel less inclined to try to control people and situations. Through all of this, I actually gain more control over my own life, by cooperating with God -- choosing to be led by Him. Then, the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7
I wonder if maybe this is the experience that the apostle Paul was referring to when he said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
"Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."
(1 Peter 5:6,7
"If only my children would do what I tell them, I wouldn't yell at them." "If only my wife would be reasonable, I wouldn't be so grumpy." "If only women would dress modestly, I wouldn't have these impure thoughts." "If only I was stronger, I could deal with all these temptations." "If only God would take these temptations away, I could be good."
Does this sound familiar? Is it true that what we really need is deliverance from the problems of this life? If so, then why did James say, "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." (James 1:2-4)
. Listen to what Paul says about the "if onlys": "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." (1 Corinthians 10:13)
. If these words of Scripture are true, then maybe we need to look for a different cause of our behaviors that bring us (and others) pain...
Could it be that it is more important how we handle temptation, than what we are being tempted by? Could it also be true that temptations could actually be a tool to strengthen our moral character, if they are handled appropriately? And, is it true that God really does prevent us from being tempted beyond what we are able to deal with, when we surrender our will to Him? Based on Scripture, and my own personal experience, I believe the answers to all these questions to be true.
Without a Higher Power to help us, we have no chance of fully dealing with our issues. But, as we learn to cooperate with the loving God of creation, we can become the kind of persons that He created us to be. I totally agree with Paul, when he said, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13)
. In the moment of temptation, when I realize my powerlessness, accept His all-powerfulness, and surrender to Him, asking, Lord what would you have me to do (Acts 9:6
), He really does deliver me from evil, in the presence of my "enemies" (Psalms 23:1-6
). And, I believe, He strengthens my character, in that process.
So, what about counting it all joy when we're tempted (James 1:2-4
)? Have you tried it? :-)