Thoughts on Sanctification
|"This is my journey through recovery, showing how my Creator is using the the 12-Step Christian recovery model to give me relief from the behaviors that bring me pain." --Sid|
"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 )? I'm not quite there but, I'm getting closer... How about you?
"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him." (Step 3)
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:18 ).
This is the power greater than myself that I choose to believe is restoring me to sanity. This is the God who gives me hope of a better future. This is the God who invites us to come and be with Him. But for some, because of their history, this god is seen as a controlling god. The god of many people's understanding might be symbolized by a cowboy who rides us and controls us with the bit he puts in our mouth. But that's a tactic of the enemy. My God is different than that. "The Lord says, I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control." (Psalms 32:8,9 ). My God is not a god of force. He honors our freedom of choice even more than His own life.
Jesus says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 ).
I have a friend who lives near a wilderness area. He and his wife obtained a permit to harvest some trees in an area where vehicles were not allowed off-road. Somehow they found a human yoke, which is very different from those used for oxen. There was no strapping into this yoke. It was designed for two people who would push against it with their chest. In the middle was a rope that connected to a metal clamp used to drag a log. This required a lot of communication, cooperation and trust between my friend and his wife. If one chose to turn right while the other chose to turn left, they would simply fall out of the yoke. So, one of them had to lead and the other had the choice to either follow intently, or lose their connection, through the yoke, to their spouse. I think it works much the same way with the yoke that Christ asks us to wear. He is always available to us, waiting to yoke us with us. He longs to help us carry our load of responsibilities. All we need to do is to cooperate, listening intently to His "still small voice" (1 Kings 19:12 ). Then, as we choose to follow Him in His yoke, He makes the impossible possible. His yoke truly is easy.
Since I believe that Christ would never lead me in any way I would not choose to be led, if I could see the future as He can, I want to yoke up with Him. Then, as we share the load in that yoke, I know that He is well able to take us through any trouble that might get in our way. And, since He never makes mistakes, I trust Him to take the lead in His yoke. As He promised, I find rest for my soul in His yoke.
"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." (Step 2)
"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psalms 51:5 ). "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Romans 7:24 ). Though sinless, Jesus said that even He "can do nothing of himself" (John 5:19 ), so why do I pretend that I'm OK? Why do I think that, after being saved by Grace, I can now live my life on my own? Why do I think that I can be the master of my own destiny?
For 25 years, I insanely fought my sinful nature in the same way -- expecting different results every time temptation came. But, just has 2+2=4 -- every time I figure it -- so did I continue to get the same results -- failure, guilt, and shame -- every time I tried to solve my problems MY way. I thought I could fight it myself. I thought God would give me more strength of will so that I could have the victory in MY strength. But, I continued to get the same results -- wretched failure.
It was only when I began to accept the impossibility of having enough strength to fight this on my own, honestly admitting my need, that I was ready to accept the power of God in my life to give me victory over those sins that so easily beset me. It was only when I began to accept that I am a wretched creature that a path to healing began to open up to me. I began to find a new way to use my will power -- not so much in fighting, but more in trusting the Highest Power to lead me in the paths of righteousness. To Him, I give all the honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
"We admitted we were powerless over our problems, that our lives had become unmanageable." (Step 1)
Early in recovery there came to me a burning desire to share with others what amazing things the Lord had been doing in my life. My thankfulness to God and to those who showed me the way was overwhelming. But, for fear of what people would think or do, I wasn't able to share, as I would have liked. It was several years before I discovered a Christian 12-Step group. I wasn't interested, at first, because I had heard many negative comments about groups like this. But, when I came to realize that 12-Step taught the very same things that I had been learning (by the grace of Christ), I decided to give it a try. It was there that I found the safe, warm place that I needed so that I could share the wonderful victories that God was working in my life.
No sooner does one come to Christ
than there is born in his heart
a desire to make known to others
what a precious friend he has found in Jesus.
(Steps to Christ, p. 78)
When I think of the last part of Step 12, "we tried ... to practice these principles in all our affairs", the one word that comes to mind is "vigilance". One dictionary definition is, "The quality or state of being watchful and alert to danger or trouble". I have spent much of my time, since the beginning of my recovery in 1994, studying, praying about, and contemplating just what it is that causes me to gain the victory over those sins that so easily beset me. The apostle Paul put it this way, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," (Hebrews 12:1 ).
In a practical way, I've often wondered how can I concisely describe the way this works (when I work it) in my own life. Let me start by saying that I believe that I have been in error on two opposite extremes. The first was when I used vigilance in my personal determination to beat those temptations, expecting God to help me do it my own way. For 25 years, this didn't work for me. The second was when I used vigilance in my devotion to God; well at least I paid Him lip service, expecting that He would remove the temptations from me. But neither of those methods brought lasting victory over my negative behaviors. It is only when I am vigilant in my devotion to God (willing to do things His way), and (at the same time) vigilant in my determination to resist the temptation with all the power that I have (no matter how little that may be), that God gives me the victory.
James said it this way, "He gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, 'God opposes the proud but favors the humble.' So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world." (James 4:6-8 ).
"Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." (Step 12)
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