For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. ~ Ephesians 6:12
If you are anything like me, you may have read a particular passage of Scripture several times in the course of your life; then one day you read it again and it’s as if you are seeing it with new eyes. I recently had such an experience with Ephesians 6:12 where the apostle Paul talks about our struggles in this world, and where he identifies the real enemy we battle. All of our conflicts in this world, whether they are with an individual person or in the realm of religion or politics, have only one root, one source—the devil himself. What took me to a deeper level as I read this verse was realizing that true victory can be found in only one place.
The only true and lasting victory we can ever hope to have over any sin or conflict must be rooted in the Spirit—in knowing God. The Holy Spirit unrelentingly desires for us to know the Father and the Son. It is only through our knowing of the Lord we can find the capacity to be overcomers. According to 2 Peter 1:3 we have everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of God, knowledge established both in the mind and the heart. Lasting victory will not be achieved by a perceived strategy or action that we use to fight temptation or known areas of weakness. I am not saying we shouldn’t contemplate and be prepared for how we will face these battles. But I am convinced beyond all doubt for us to become the men and women we were created to be, we must know God in every aspect of our lives.
Knowing Him in our sin
How do we know God in our sin? Paul states in Romans 8:28 God works for the good of those who love him. Nothing in our lives is exempt from this working, so even in our sin God has the capacity to turn it toward our good. Our established flesh pattern regarding sin is to try and hide it, just as Adam and Eve tried to hide from God after they sinned in the garden. We are so reluctant to invite God into our sin and yet this is the very place He desires to be welcomed. If we in fact knew His true character and nature, we would run to Him rather than away from Him and hide.
Sin is, on one hand, simply a choice against God; on the other hand it has multiple layers of complexity. After processing our shame as a result of our sin, there is great opportunity for us. The Holy Spirit will come at our invitation to transform our experience into something good. Because of our relationship with the Holy Spirit (don’t forget, He’s not a dove but a real person), we know He desires to impart His revelation specifically where it is needed. We can trust Him with our heart. We can rest knowing that He will reveal our sin along with the reasons why we continue to struggle in it. The result is a change in our knowing (true definition of repentance) which will result in a change in our doing.
For many years my own heart has been so aware of the presence of mercy rather than grace. I have frequently stated to others, often receiving looks of confusion, that I want to be less dependent on mercy. I know I will always be dependent on grace which is the receiving of what I don’t deserve. Mercy however, is not receiving of what I do deserve. My heart is so often humbled and drawn closer to God as He makes me aware of the ever present mercy available to the brokenness of my soul. My constant prayer is to be less dependent on mercy, meaning I am requiring less of it because of the decrease of sin in my heart. It has been my awareness of God’s mercy, rather than the law, which consistently draws me back to Him. Tears frequently come to my eyes when His mercy floods my being.
So, how can I receive His mercy, realizing how He is drawing me unto Himself in my sin, if I don’t know Him? In my present, limited capacity to comprehend God, it is perplexing at times to know God in His incredible righteousness and holiness, and yet also as One who desires deep, abiding intimacy. Thankfully He knows me and my limitations. My lack of comprehending the fullness of Him does not cause me to stand afar off but actually motivates me to know Him better. Because I have known Him in times of incredible intimacy, I know I can always approach the Lord in my times of sin or lack of comprehension. As illustrated in the story of Esther, I know the Lord will always extend His scepter allowing me to approach Him because of the work on the Cross of my Beloved.
What is your relational response or reaction to God when you sin? Do you pull yourself away or draw closer? How does God’s mercy impact your daily life? When we understand how great our sin is, then we will understand how great our Savior is and the mercy He imparts.
Knowing Him in our process
Does the word “process” feel like a four-lettered word to you? When you think of “being in process” does that which is still lacking come to mind as opposed to what has been changed? Many tend to look at process in terms of steps and time, with their focus on what needs to be done. However, our process as believers is actually a work of sanctification, walking in and by the Spirit rather than by a set of rules and steps. Much like Paul’s advice in Ephesians’ 6 regarding spiritual warfare, process involves standing your ground (after putting on the armor) rather than jumping immediately into action.
Many people come to my office because of “a” besetting sin. Their desire is to overcome a particular life-dominating behavior. But just like sin, even though it always boils down to a simple choice, there are multiple, complex levels influencing those choices. These besetting behaviors often cannot be addressed on just one level. For example, the sin of masturbation is rooted in many other sins such as lust, envy, idolatry, or jealousy, to name of few. We must come out of our tunnel vision and realize that our process is not overcoming one area of sin, but the presence of sin in many areas.
Jesus is our example of process at its best. Jesus was tempted in every way just we are but did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). The means of temptation He faced weren’t the “specific” behaviors, objects, or substances which draw us (the Internet did not exist 2000 years ago); these three things are not where sin is to be found. The sin lies in what motivates us to turn towards them and away from God. All temptation is rooted in the choice to turn from the Father as our source of affirmation, identity, and security. The choices to act out sexually or relationally find their roots in some form of idolatry (i.e. I choose to be God). Jesus overcame any and all temptation which would have turned His focus inward and away from the Father.
How do we know Him in our process? Go back to Ephesians 6:12—we need to have the spiritual perspective first. Since Jesus is our example, by knowing Him we will know how to embrace our process. Our primary focus for process is not found in 12-step groups, programs, or counseling. These are good and valuable resources but they should not be our primary source of strength. Our first choice above all is to seek Him first and whole heartedly. After years of journaling, and pages of self analysis, the real source of my own change was found in the healing word I received back from the Lord. After journaling about what I thought was my issue, Jesus spoke back to my heart and addressed specifically the real need present there. My own issue and struggle was something else, something much deeper that God graciously revealed to me.
What used to take a page or more of journaling now gets condensed into a paragraph or two as I am able to present to God what I think seems to be the issue at hand. I then invite Him into it and because I know He is faithful and committed to me, and because He knows me best, I am able to trust Him wholeheartedly and receive His revelation. Now I search less for answers and more of Him. Instead of turning deeper within myself, I reflect more about my relationship with Him and who He is. My journals today are more of a love song proclaiming the cleansing and restoration of my soul. The Holy Spirit searches my soul and leads me to Godly sorrow, and brings revelation of my true sonship and relationship with my Beloved. By learning how to know Him over the years, the process for change that I was looking for occurred in ways I could never have predicted.
How do you respond or react to the word “process”? In light of what you’ve just read, how can you approach your process differently?
Knowing Him in our community
Oh to be less self-aware! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go through a day without a single thought of how you look or feel? What would it be like to relate to others having only the eyes of Christ to see them and to be His hands and feet? One of the consequences of walking with life-dominating sin is to have a heightened sense of self-awareness. The temptation is to be in the other person’s mind and wonder what they are thinking and how they perceive us. Perhaps the temptation is attempting to draw another person to see or notice us. In so doing, we are no longer “seeing” others but are trying to perceive ourselves. We are in relationship only with “me.”
As believers, we were created to be in community—in relationship with God and others. Without community our hearts become cut off and will die. But for many, fear and anxiety create barriers to community. Caught in diseased introspection, we view community as a threat rather than a help in our becoming the person God wants us to be. We cannot become in a vacuum or in isolation. Being created in God’s Image, we have been created to know and be known by God and one another. Knowing God in our sin and our process are precursors to better enable us to be in community. When we are truly in community, we become less self-aware and better able to embrace a healthy, non-narcissistic love of self. In community is where we become all we can be!
In my own knowing of God, I lean into Him for my source of security and identity. As I have grown in my knowledge of Him, what the Father thinks of me has taken precedence over what others think about me, real or perceived. If someone places a label on me due to my past, it doesn’t stick because I know how the Father and my Beloved define me. If someone rejects me because of my past, I choose to see it as an opportunity that they are missing! In knowing Jesus and having my identity come from Him, I can better relate to others out of a place of giving rather than expectation.
There was a season where, after Sunday church service, I experienced repeated disappointment as people rushed off. I wanted to be invited to lunch and felt rejection. I began to allow this to become toxic within me and the Lord, as He is faithful to do, intervened by speaking His healing word. He said “Bob, how about you ask others to lunch instead of waiting to be asked? How can you be My Image bearer to another?” The previous perspective focused on introspection about me. My new perspective focused me on thinking how I could be a blessing to others.
The Body of Christ is not perfect. Being in relationship means hurt will be experienced. We are iron sharpening iron and must walk in the state of forgiveness in order to be in community. Jesus was hated and despised by the very ones He came to save. He knew how to walk in a community which could be overwhelmingly hostile to Him. I believe that Jesus also walked with loneliness. In His singleness, He learned how to process His aloneness. Those of us who walk in the state of singleness need to know Him in this place of loneliness. Being married does not alleviate loneliness but singles face a more difficult challenge. Get to know the One who, being the most whole and complete Person to walk this earth, did so in His singleness.
What holds you back from entering into community? Do you know how the Lord see and defines you?
Just knowing Him
Here we get to the bottom line. We must be intentional in our pursuit to know God. There are many ways through which we come to know others in our lives. The common denominator in is the factor of time. The way we spend time together—the things we do and places we go—will vary from person to person. I have a close friend whom I haven’t seen in over three years but we talk on a regular basis. Time spent together is crucial to the development of relationships. It is the same regarding our relationship with God.
Unfortunately, time is a precious commodity which seems to escape like fine sand through our fingers. There is a deluge of competitors for the use our time. In these days of Twitter and Facebook, cell phones and Blackberries, we leave status updates, voice messages and send short texts rather than meet with someone face-to-face. Why is it so difficult to get quality time with God when we have the fastest possible wireless connection with Him? Carving out time to spend with God requires prioritization and discipline.
I believe journaling is an amazing venue to get to know God but it may not work for everyone. When do you feel the closest to God? When do you most sense His Presence? Through what means does God seem to communicate with you? Whatever the way you clearly perceive God and His will for your life, increase that activity. Intentionally pursue Him in the ways you find yourself most aligned with His leading. Make it a priority, perhaps even scheduling it on your Google calendar!
Everything in the life of the believer is sacred. There is nothing secular because we are always carrying the Image of Christ and His fragrance in a world of death. I love Oswald Chamber’s January 1 reading from My Utmost for His Highest: “Shut out every other thought and keep yourself before God in this one thing only— my utmost for His highest. I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and Him alone.” It is truly a spiritual battle we face each day. Get to know the wonderful and amazing Triune God who is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer—you will become and you will overcome.