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 see 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 a 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 was realizing as I read this verse that true victory is 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 can 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 the 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 a 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, as 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, 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, 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 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.
How can I receive His mercy, realizing drawing near to Him in my sin, if I don’t know Him? It is perplexing at times knowing God’s incredible righteousness and holiness, and yet also knowing that He desires a deep, abiding intimacy with me. Thankfully He knows me and my limitations. My lack of comprehending the fullness of Him does not cause me to stand afar off but 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 confusion. As illustrated in the story of Esther, I know the Lord will always extend His scepter allowing me to approach His throne because of the work of 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 your inadequacy come to mind or how much God has done in your life? 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 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. Yes, obedience is part of process, however, so is resting in God’s love.
Many people come to my office because of “a” besetting sin. They desire 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 solely in 12-step groups, self-help books, or counseling. These are good and valuable resources, but they are not our primary source of strength. Our first choice above all is to seek Jesus wholeheartedly. After years of journaling, and pages of self-analysis, the real source of my change was found in the healing words 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 need that was really present. My real issue and struggle was often something else, something much deeper that God graciously revealed to me.
What used to take a page or more of journaling now can be condensed at times, into a paragraph or two as I remain present to God. As I invite Him into the moment, I know He is faithful and committed to me. Because He knows me best, I can 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 to know Him over the years, the process for change 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 “ourselves.”
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 who I am meant to be. We cannot become in a vacuum or 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 enable us better 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 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 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 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 Jesus, 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 sees 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 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 social media and cell phones, 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, intentionality, 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 of life 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.
Rev. Bob Ragan is the full-time director of Regeneration of Northern Virginia. Bob provides spiritual direction, healing prayer, and coordinates support groups in the DC metro area. He has ministered on five continents and is an invited lecturer for the C.S. Lewis Institute and YWAM (Youth with a Mission). Bob is the published author of Path through the Wilderness and is an ordained deacon in the Anglican Church.