Friday, June 1, 2012

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Okay, let's talk straight for awhile: the Christian life is tough.  Of course, in this jaded, fallen world, it's the only real life there is: but it's not a bed of roses, and anybody who says it's "easy" being a Christian has probably never tried it.  In fact, in the words of that fine old Bible-believing fundamentalist, V. I. Lenin, the Christian life often seems to be a matter of "one step forward, two steps back."


Of course, when Lenin used that phrase, as the title of one of his most seminal essays, he wasn't talking about Christians or Christianity; he was discussing "the crisis in our Party," the Communist Party, as it stumbled and argued its way towards the October Revolution of 1917.  Lenin, writing in 1904, was frustrated by the factionalism and inefficiency of the "socialist" movement, which would only be cured when he achieved ultimate power in the Party.  But whether we're talking about an almost forgotten political struggle, or looking at our own lives, we can all understand the frustration: because sometimes, as we try to make progress toward a goal, it seems that for every forward step we take, we somehow take two steps back.  For a Christian, this is more than frustrating: it's agonizing, and can almost paralyze us with guilt and discouragement.   
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Why would anyone begin a piece on the Christian life by referring to the greatest Communist revolutionary in history?  Simply because we're not talking here about "nominal" Christians, or pew-sitters who limit their faith to Sunday mornings, or what Tom Paine called "summer soldiers" in the Lord's army.  We're talking about people who have been born again, according to John 3:3-7, and who have received Jesus Christ personally, according to John 1:12.  In other words (not to be too blunt about it) real Christians, not people who think they're "Christians by default," simply because they were born into a Christian family, or attend a Christian church.  Those things are good, but those things don't make a Christian.  What makes a Christian is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ - - - and nothing else.   
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And once we've received Christ, and started the lifelong adventure of living for Him and living with Him, it can get difficult, and frustrating.  Because we want to please Him; we want to serve Him.  And the closer we get to Him, through prayer, studying His word, the Bible, and learning of Him, the more we want Him.  We want to "see Him more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly."  And as we proceed through life, we fail, and sin, and make stupid mistakes, and it's easy to get discouraged.  Sometimes it seems that for every step forward we take, we slide back two steps.  Because we're not perfect yet: and we won't be, this side of Heaven.  And it grieves us when we fail: not just in the sense of guilt, but in the sense of letting Jesus down, when He's done so much for us.  It's a truly miserable feeling.
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And it should be.  Because if a genuine Christian becomes indifferent to his or her own failures and sins, or decides that such things are unavoidable and therefore beyond one's control, a real regression can take place: one simply stops trying, or gives up, or settles for a third-rate relationship with the Saviour.  That, of course, is precisely how the Enemy hopes we'll react.  If he can't damn our souls, he'll be perfectly happy to render us ineffectual and useless as servants of our Saviour and Master. 
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But, by the grace of God, there's a third alternative when we've screwed up, or blown it, or failed in the Christian life.  We don't have to become indifferent and insensitive to such things, and we don't have to give up.  We can get up, brush ourselves off, and put the failures and sins behind us. 
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For a just man falleth seven times, says Proverbs 24:16, and riseth up again.  We're not "righteous" in ourselves, of course, but God has given us the imputed righteousness of Christ Himself, and when the Father looks at us, if we're "in Christ," then His Son Jesus Christ is Who He sees.  (Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new [2 Corinthians 5:17].)  God is displeased when we sin, and His Spirit is grieved (Ephesians 4:30); but He's certainly not surprised.  He knows exactly what to expect from us, even if we're saved: He expects us to fall, to fail, to stumble.  For in many things we offend all, James says (James 3:2): in other words, we all sin in many ways.  We commit many offenses.  God is anything but surprised when this happens.
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We're often surprised: we thought that we had gotten beyond that point (whatever point it was in our case); we thought that we'd whipped that particular problem.  But we need to remember how God, Who is holy and pure and altogether righteous, looks on His children.  He doesn't let us "get away with it;" we still have to reap what we sow, in this life (Galatians 6:7).  Sin is serious business, and we have no right to mess around with it.  But our perfect Father views us with love and longsuffering and mercy .... and if you've sinned recently, whether in thought, word, or deed, you need to get straight with God.  But once you've done that, you need to remember certain things:
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The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14). 
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But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him (Psalm 103:17). 

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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).  
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 And, in a promise that we can't even begin to understand, but can believe on faith: For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more (Hebrews 8:12).  Once we've confessed and repented of a sin, or a bunch of sins, God simply forgets them.  Yes, we still have to reap, down here on the ground (although our salvation is secure); and no, I can't explain how God "forgets" our sins.  But if He doesn't, the Bible is a lie.  I'm betting my life and my soul that every word of it is true.  
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The problem is that we don't forget them very easily.  Sometimes we can't forget them at all.  In his great prayer of confession, David said, I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me (Psalm 51:3).  He just couldn't get it out of his mind. Sometimes our sins, even after being forgiven, haunt us.  And, after about 43 years of the Christian life, I've become convinced that this might be part of the "reaping."  Once forgiven, God doesn't hold our sins against us; but oh, how we hold them against ourselves!  God is often much more merciful to us than we are to ourselves.  But God doesn't want us mourning over our sins, once they've been confessed and forsaken; He wants us to get up, and move on.  Because God's not concerned with yesterday's news; He's the God of the present, and the future. 
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Brethren, says Paul, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
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Repent of the sin, and then forget it.  The prize of the high calling is still out there: go get it!

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2 comments:

  1. That pretty much summarizes my Christian experience, right there!

    I would never want to go back to my life before Christ though. At least we know at the end of this journey, we're headed for perfection and the presence of our Saviour!

    What a mighty God we serve!

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  2. I totally agree, Laura. Despite all the 'garbage' I sometimes go through, I wouldn't trade anything, especially my relationship with the Lord, for an easy and fun filled life.

    I'd rather have Jesus...

    ReplyDelete