The Struggle is Real
When we give our lives to Jesus Christ, our eternal destinies are altered. There is a radical reordering of priorities, a new life purpose, and we have the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. But with these new and good things we can also expect obstacles both great and small. Satan will not slip away from us just because we have come to Christ. On the contrary, his attacks will be all the more fierce. He seeks to hinder our growth and deceive us, doing all that is in his power to try to persuade us to turn away from Christ. Spiritual warfare is described in Ephesians, and deliverance is not by a thump on the head.
Read Mark 7:14-23. Jesus confirms that all evil is not merely a physical problem, but a spiritual issue. If I am not rooted in Christ and His Word, I am not equipped to battle life’s challenges. Change takes place through engagement in the spiritual battle with hope.
- 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Sometimes in the Christian life we think coming to Christ is going to be easy. Change in the life of the believer is not something we should run from or push back against. Yet, we cannot expect authentic change to come easy. This is the joyful life, and for the most part, we don’t think about it as a battle. The english Congregationalist, Jeremiah Burroughs described Satan as one who likes to “present the bait and hide the hook,” using different lures according to each one’s desires. Yet, as sin increases, grace increases (Romans 5:20-21). Only one thing is strong enough to overpower a stormy life: the anchor of what God promises to do in and through Jesus Christ.
In his book Power Encounters, David Powlison penned,
Downplaying or demythologizing spiritual warfare usually creates a pernicious domino effect. Prayer and worship become hollow forms. God’s power and aid are little needed and little expected. Sin become psychopathology or social maladjustment. The Bible becomes a remote object, not the voice of the living God. Evangelism becomes vaguely embarrassing; death to self is distasteful fanatical. Normal life becomes, well, normal: work and unemployment, marriage and divorce, sickness and health, the economy and politics, traffic jams and weather, war and peace. As biblical Christians, however, we deny that this secularized rationalism makes up the Christian faith. Normal everyday life is charged with importance. We know that there is warfare to be waged, and we do not deny the existence and work of our foe.
The Christian life is one of struggle and conflict against sin. We’re often shocked when things get hard and sometimes we forget we are in a war. Again, Powlison also writes:
Gentle, loving, teaching of the truth—especially the truth of the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our deliverance from sin and wrath and death and Satan—is the process in which God himself grants repentance and a knowledge of the truth, which results in an escape from the captivity of the devil. The devil cannot abide truth and light. He is by nature a liar and deceiver. He thrives in darkness. Therefore, if by God’s grace we can bring the full force of truth to shine in the believer’s darkness, the devil will not survive the light. Good, solid Bible teaching is a crucial part of deliverance from the darkening power of the devil.
- John 15:5
- 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
- James 1
You will be weak therefore, powerless and comfortless in your Christian life, if you do not vigorously mortify (kill) sin. John Owen, the 17th century Puritan theologian, had some powerful things to say on putting sin to death in believers.
The vigor and power and comfort of our spiritual life depend on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh… You must mortify, you must make it your daily work, you must be constantly at it while you live. Cease not a day from this work. Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.
I find his poignant words clear. We have got to fight sin by the power of the Spirit and when you’re here to fight, you must be battle ready – God gives us armor and promises a final day when peace will reign forever. Remember, just because you can’t see what God is doing in your struggle does not mean He is doing nothing. It means His plan is higher than yours and has a greater outcome.
- Ephesians 6:10-20
Faith under trial produces perseverance (Rom. 5:3), while perseverance in turn produces maturity.” – Sinclair Ferguson
God reminds us of his missional promises as He continues to rescue unlikely and unworthy people. He supremely displays grace, coming to meet us as we are, even though God is complete and perfect within himself. Authentic repentance is a repentance that trusts in Christ. Saving faith is a repentant faith (turning from sin to Christ). Following our repentance and profession of faith, our sin should cause us to grieve, asking for forgiveness from God and others as we strive to follow our Savior daily. In his Christian Theology, Millard Erickson writes “As repentance is the negative aspect of conversions, turning from one’s sin, so faith is the positive aspect laying hold upon the promises and the work of Christ…(pisteuo) to believe what someone says, to accept a statement (particularly of a religious nature) as true…personal trust as distinct from mere credence or belief.” Repentance leads to strengthening one’s faith. (Examples of true repentance are David in Psalm 51 and the 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 model.)
Faith is the one attitude of the heart that is the exact opposite of depending on ourselves. – Wayne Grudem
Sinclair Ferguson hits the nail on the head when he says, “Satan knows he cannot destroy our salvation, so he attacks our enjoyment of it. He confuses our thinking: we mix up peace with God, which is a settled permanent relationship with him, with our feelings of peace. But knowing that God has made peace with us through the cross (Eph. 2:14-16) gives us a place of grace on which we can stand (Rom. 5:2).” No matter how deep in the power of sin we have sunk, God’s grace is deeper (Romans 5:19). God is not dependent on our feelings or emotions. Choosing to trust God in the midst of our troubles is a demonstration of our faith, regardless of if our feelings immediately follow (1 Samuel 21:12). Trust is never passive; trust is an intentional act of the soul.
- Psalm 16:8; 23:4
When we are born again, we become dead to sin and alive in Christ. Specific New Testament exhortations are grounded in the gospel. Of course, this implies that only Christians are able to truly change according to the will of God. God uses the Holy Spirit to change us. His Spirit provides the power, the conviction, and the direction for life change.
The Spirit acts like an internal alarm system when we begin to take wrong steps, and encourages like an applauding crowd when we take the right steps toward becoming like Jesus. Many times we read or hear a text from the Bible and realize a habit of heart that we have been cultivating is unhelpful or forbidden. Or perhaps we identify a pattern of life described in scripture as rebellious, for the first time seeing the depth of offense against a holy God. We suddenly see our sin as transgression and we are undone. An ongoing process, there’s always going to be a pattern of repentance and belief, and reestablishing belief over and over and over again. Read Matthew 6:5-15. Our model of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer confirms our need to confess often.
- Romans 5:15
- Ephesians 1-4:1, 19-24, 32; 5:2
- Philippians 1:27
- Colossians 1-3:17
- Hebrews 11:6
The Holy Spirit is essential in the change process (Romans 1-8). Therefore, the prerequisite of renewal is regeneration (God bringing the dead sinner to life in Christ). Prior to regeneration, the mind of the lost person is corrupt and doesn’t choose what is good. In regeneration, the mind has a capacity for renewed, divine thoughts. Renewal of the mind/heart takes specific areas and starts working through thoughts, affections, volition, leading to godly reactions. Looking at the original circumstance and response, we can gain understanding and right awareness of the Lord and what He has done for us. Seeking to please Christ, we engage in right praying, thinking, and practice in order to offer praise, confession, thanks, and petitions as we dwell in Jesus.
- Luke 10:27
- Romans 1:16, 28
- 1 Corinthians 2:11-12
- 2 Corinthians 4:4; 5:9; 10:5-6
- Ephesians 4:17-18, 23; 5:17-18
- Philippians 4:4-9
Change takes place by a radical treatment of pervasive sin in response to the gospel. It’s easy to get stuck on a long list of past mistakes. Don’t give way to regret, believing past sins are unforgivable. Instead, begin to implement new structures, understanding that God won’t turn his back on you. John Newton, writer of the longtime hymn Amazing Grace, writes, “If we do not see how serious sin is we will never see how wonderful the work of Christ is. In order to sense that grace is ‘amazing’ we must see that it saves a ‘wretch like me.”
We would do well to look closely at Ephesians 1-4 when we find ourselves in need of biblical change. Identifying weaknesses and strengths improves the quality in how those growth and discipleship needs might be met. We can give God thanks for overcoming any struggles at all.
- Proverbs 28:13
- Matthew 5
- Romans 13:14
We spend too much time concealing our neediness. We need to stop hiding. Being needy is our basic condition. There’s no shame in it – it’s just the way it is.” – Ed Welch, Side by Side
Ed Welch continues, “Yet, weakness – or neediness is a valuable asset in God’s community. Jesus introduced a new era in which weakness is the new strength. Anything that reminds us that we are dependent on God and other people is a good thing. Otherwise, we trick ourselves into thinking that we are self-sufficient, and arrogance is sure to follow. We need help, and God has give us his spirit and each other to provide it.” On this side of heaven, the continual struggle with our behavior is an ongoing struggle with sin, but not with who we are. That first imperative in Romans 8 is to consider your identity in Christ, remembering who you are. We have been chosen, justified, and accepted.
We are free!
Even Christians need encouragement while pursuing the hard work of growth and change. They need truth interjected into their wrestling that will motivate and strengthen. In our new identity, the gospel motivates us with the presence of Christ and his promises in the Word. We live out of identity we have ascribed to and our responses pour out from that identity. We need to be reminded of who we are time and again. Allowing our problems to define us is no way for us to live in the victories of Christ. Paul Tripp aptly writes, “Our deepest problem is that we seek to find our identity outside the story of redemption.” It’s only when we view our story within God’s grander story of redemption that we begin to see our lives clearly.
- 2 Peter 1:3-9
Maturity is about perspective, identity, and purpose. Biblical maturity means that we look at life from the distinct perspective of a biblical worldview. We become concerned with God’s glory, man’s sinfulness, our fallen world, the reality of opposition, the grace of the gospel, and eternity’s certainty. Change takes place by our new position and identity in Christ being understood and applied daily. Christ has set us free, and we see sin’s lack of captivity illustrated in past tense in 2 Corinthians 5:17. In Isaiah 55:1-2, we are assured that Christ offers something better – He restores and satisfies the soul. The Bible constantly reminds us that in sinful behaviors we are playing with something dangerous. He is offering better. Change takes place by making inside and outside change more personal. As a Christian, you were not made to live in disappointment, disillusionment, and defeat; God has given you the tools to live a life defined not by your trials and suffering but by your victories.
- Proverbs 15:13; 18:14
- Romans 2:14-16; 3:23-26; 5:1; 15:3-4
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
- 2 Corinthians 5:17
- Ephesians 1:4-6
- 1 Peter 2:10
- 1 John 4:19
When asking God’s will for our lives, maturity looks outward at God’s scriptures rather than inward for some kind of revelation from the world. If we are not intentional to fix our gaze on Christ, the difficulties with life change can knock the wind out of our sails. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “As Christians we need constantly to remind ourselves that God’s word teaches us to see through our ears, but what we hear in God’s word – not through our eyes and what we see.” The struggle is real. And it requires we examine our attitudes and actions. In confidence, we reflect not on us but upon His faithfulness in the past as a reminder of what He will do in the future. Jesus Christ, the perfecter of our faith, intercedes for us at the very right hand of the Father (Hebrews 12:2).
Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me, for my soul takes refuge in You, and in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by. I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me. He will send from heaven and save me. He reproaches him who tramples upon me. God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth (Psalm 57:1-3).
Because Jesus is Lord in his person and his work, we can have full assurance of hope until the end. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security? In Part Three, we will study the indicatives and imperatives necessary for authentic biblical change to occur.
- How have you lived, or do you live as a slave of the devil?
- John 8:44
- Acts 26:18
- Ephesians 2:2-3
- 2 Timothy 2:26
- James 3:14-16
- Satan is famous for dragging up the past in his efforts to hinder how we live today and alter our perspective on the future. Many times, we find ourselves wishing we had an opportunity to live our lives over, flowing a different course. What does the Bible say in dealing with the past?
- What past experiences continue to trouble you today?
- For each experience listed above, describe particular aspects and how it affects you today. Consider:
- Do you have unreal expectations of others or yourself?
- Do or have you struggled with regret, being tempted to say, “If only…”?
- Do you tend to struggle with comparison or envy?
- What are the most difficult challenges you are facing at this time?
- Much like us, biblical characters dealt with life issues. Read the verses below and consider David’s past, what he deserved for his sin, what he did in response, and what was God’s response.
- 2 Samuel 2:5-7; 11:2-5; 12:14
- Psalm 51
- What are the actions/attitudes of Christ to your past actions and how should these form your actions/attitudes toward someone who has sinned against you?
- Psalm 103:3
- 1 John 1:9
- Isaiah 43:25; 44:22; 57:18-19
- Hosea 14:4
- Isaiah 43:25
- Ephesians 4:32
- Matthew 5:44; 6:14
- Luke 17:4
- Ephesians 4:32
- Consider your list of past experience in relation to Philippians 4;19; 2 Corinthians 9:8.
- Have you confessed sins attached to the experiences? Have you worked through sins committed by others against you? Explain.
- Pray that God might use your past experiences in positive ways toward your biblical growth journey. List some ways your negative past can become a present positive.
- After reading below, how do you define and weigh success or failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?
- 1 Corinthians 10:24-27
- Proverbs 3:5
- Judges 21:25
- Consider in the scriptures below: Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?
- Philippians 1:6, 2:13, 3:3-11, 4:13
- Psalm 49:13
- Jeremiah 17:1- 14
- What truth do you see in the Bible: Who must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?
- Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 29:25
- John 12:43
- 1 Corinthians 4:3-5
- 2 Corinthians 10:18
- Do you seek God’s pleasure or the approval of men? The mirror of Scripture exposes truth.
Reflect on your trust in God and the Bible.
- My goals for fully trusting the Bible are…
- As a result of my confidence in the God of the Scriptures, I hope…
- My prayer for living and believing is…
Sources for this series can be found here. https://debbieswindell.com/2020/07/22/upcoming-series-biblical-growth-and-change/