Monday, December 21, 2015

How We Are Defeated But Can Be Victorious (Part 4)


The Lord Jesus modeled for us how to walk with God. He did this by himself learning to walk faithfully in affliction. Thus this saying is true: “As with Christ, so also with those who follow him.”

Note once again in the text (Matthew 4:1-11): It was the Holy Spirit who sent Jesus out into the desert “to be tempted/tried by the devil.” (v.1) Here is what I think is the heart of the reason for God doing this. The experience is not unique to Jesus but rather the Lord went through this because it is common for human beings to be tried/tempted by the devil. Therefore, if it common for us then he must experience it firsthand himself as the incarnate Son of God. In this testing in the wilderness we see the Lord’s perfect faith-relationship with God and steadfastness of faith. We see that his character and moral center are rooted in God alone and thus he can see through the evil one’s temptations for what they are and stand firm.
He has given us a way to stand strong as his disciples. This is to follow him on the road he walked and do the things he actually did himself. This means relating to the Father in the ways that he did so. And the chief characteristic of our Lord’s relationship with God the Father was one of submission, listening and obeying everything he was commanded. His will was to do the will of the Father.
Seeking to do the will of God often brings with it affliction and difficulties which self-seeking people do not have to encounter. For we become the target of the enemy. God himself brings us into times of testing in life to reveal our true character, deep points of pain and resistance which really motivate us; to bring to the surface of our consciousness what is already true about us (what God knows) and we need to see for ourselves about ourselves. For regardless of what we say we believe, it will be in the desert that the profession of faith will be tested.
On the day of my wedding, a companion of one our invited guests approached me and said only one thing, “Now the hard part starts.” I was not happy at the time to hear him say this! However, I have learned since, through being smacked by the hard fist of reality enough times to wake me up, how being married tests one’s faith and exposes one’s true character traits to the light of day. Such is the effect of difficulties and afflictions: Our response to them shows who we really are and gives us opportunities to trust God and grow up spiritually.
Do you see how this works? If we are willing to be honest, we must admit that we have most often made choices to hold onto bitterness, to past emotional wounds, to not forgive others and to prefer psychic strategies to manage our sin and dysfunctions in relationships. Periods of testing which the Lord puts us into are opportunities to face the truth about who we are and cry out for the Lord’s healing. He wants to bring his supernatural power to our point of need but cannot (because he will not override our wills) without permission. And we cannot give permission without knowing something of the depth of our need and opening the door of the heart to the Lord Jesus.
In our weakness (not sinful in itself) and willfulness (the core of sin) we vacillate between submission of heart and resisting through willful exertion of whatever we think is good or better for ourselves but opposed to God’s counsel to us. This is where the battle lines are always drawn in our minds and where the temptation of the enemy is aimed. James gives the Lord’s counsel: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7, NRSV)
Here is one key marker which will show whether you and I are really submitted to God in difficult circumstances. Are we exerting our energy to primarily escape from the trial? If we are following our Lord’s example then we are squarely facing the difficulties with sober judgment and patience which comes from faith. This is only possible because our victory is Christ’s life manifesting itself in our mortal bodies. Maintaining one’s fellowship and open ear and ready hands to act with the Spirit is the way to be victorious. This is how our Lord was in the days of his flesh at every moment. This is how we can live if we turn in love to submit ourselves to our faithful God.

Monday, December 7, 2015

How We Are Defeated But Can Be Victorious (Part 3)


There are threads in these three temptations (Matthew 4:1-11) for they appeal to genuine human needs and aspirations. This is part of what makes them so appealing. All three urge for a person to be self-dependent and self-assertive in order to satisfy one’s own self-love to get what one needs or desires. All three temptations are countered with the necessity of trusting God to meet one’s needs and to faithfully listen with obedience to his word and his way of acting (“righteousness”) in and for his children.  
At one of my former workplaces, I was able to drive company vehicles. But my use of those vehicles is restricted to the specific activities I do in the course of completing my work for the company. I can use vehicles only in the way specified in my job description. This is because the vehicles do not belong to me but the company. THE SAME RULE APPLIES IN THE KINGDOM—THE LORD FOLLOWED IT AND WE MUST TOO.
The Lord overcame the trial and did not yield to the tempter’s deception. He stood strong and kept the faith according to the Word of God. What was his secret? What made this possible? Let us go to another place in the Gospels for a clue. (See John 14:30-31)
The evil one, “the ruler of this world” (v.30), was coming again to confront Jesus. For after being vanquished in the desert Luke notes that he departed from Jesus “until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13, NRSV) Now that the Lord’s suffering was nearing he was coming again. However, according to our Lord, “in me he has nothing.” (v.31, Literal Greek) He had no means to nab or pull him over to do evil because he did not sin in any way. He always did as God his Father commanded him. And this obedience to God his Father was to reveal to all that “I love the Father.” (v.31)
This is what fundamentally makes us different from our Lord; we do sin and we do as we please. Thus we give to the enemy a hold in ourselves; thus we are not able to stand as the Lord did and force the devil to flee. But our Lord is patient and he is there to make us stand as we learn to submit to him and walk in dignity and spiritual authority which he suffered to give his children. He is ready to strengthen us in the midst of our trials, to teach us wisdom to effectively minster in his Name, and to deliver us from all evil.
            As disciples we must understand that to fully function as member of Kingdom we must obey God. For this is the “family business” and Jesus is the King who we answer to. He is exalted the King because in the time when he lived like us on earth he obeyed God the Father and kept the commands of his Father while carrying out the work of the Kingdom. He became our example in the practice of faith because he walked in total dependence as a man upon the Holy Spirit in obedience to God the Father. For he loved the Father.