Fighting Well

Sunday 7 August

James 1: 14 – 18 (ESV)

I’m excited to jump into this passage from James tonight.  Take a moment and pray.  Ask God, “Lord, please teach me tonight.”  

I had the opportunity to attend a training exercise with the navy SEALs. I went thinking I would watch this from an observation deck. But as they started, the leader motioned me to follow.  When they charged into the building, we charged after them. And as soon as we entered two things struck me:

The first was the chaos (the smoke, the noise…)

The second was the beauty of their strategy – they were purposeful but patient. Within seconds, these guys had neutralised all the bad guys and rescued the hostages.

That is the Christian life. You do not have to journey very long before you realise the pursuit of intimacy with God leads to conflict. When you try to read your Bible, distractions come along. Others live in Romans 7 – what I want to do, I don’t do and I do what I don’t want to do.  Spirituality occurs within the context of adversity.

“I thought it would be easier.”  Yet we come to the realisation that real life is difficult.  Then we come to an event like this and hear amazing testimonies.  For some of us, if we are honest, there is a constant hum of low grade guilt in the back of our lives. The wet blanket of persistent failure is smothering the passion and intimacy of our walk with the Lord.

Many of us have struggled with the last few years. The comparison of our lives with others. The polarisation of politics. Others are saying, “I know spirituality is hard. I understand the difficulty but I need a strategy. I want to look more like the navy SEALS. I don’t want to run around in sandals saying, ‘It’s smoky in here.’”

I remember going to summer camp as a kid.  On the last night of camp, every one us got saved.  The speaker would get us fired up and we were all crying.  Then  we would make these promises of what we would do for God.  “I’m never going to sin again.”  “I’m going to tell everyone about Jesus.” Then two weeks later, we had all broken every promise.

Many of us, settle into an uneasy peace with our depravity.

We are discouraged because our strategies didn’t work. This is not about trying harder. The pursuit of intimacy with God happens in adversity. If life is a struggle, then how do we struggle well? Last night we learnt about Jesus’ arrival to destroy the works of the evil one.  His arrival was a rescue operation.  What Jesus accomplished for us on the cross has invited us into an on-going mission.

The world is an enemy occupied territory.   Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed. We might say, landed in disguise. And he is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”  

CS Lewis

When the Philistines encroached on the land of Israel, Goliath appeared and the people were powerless. Then David slung that stone and the giant was defeated.  In front of the onslaught of sin, we were powerless. Yet the son of David came forward and triumphed over the forces of evil on the cross.

Now we can drive the Philistines of fear and lust and pride out of our own life.

Christ set you free not FROM the fight but FOR the fight.

He has called you to take part in His great campaign of sabotage against the powers of evil. Have you been set free from the penalty of sin? Yes.  Is there still a fight going on? Yes. Before you were a victim. Now you are a victor.

Spiritual life is one movement in two parts.

It is a movement away from ways of thinking and living that isolate us and take us away from relationship with God … and moving towards ways of thinking that promote that intimacy.

This is called sanctification.  It is a movement away and towards.  Moving away is called “Mortification”… there are certain ways of living and thinking that don’t belong in my life any more. I’m not going to revel in what my king came to destroy.  It’s the idea of “weeding” out those things in our life that are destructive.

This other direction is vivification…  what things am bringing to life? “Planting” the seeds of good things.

What I’m not saying is that God is over here waiting for us to get our act together.  Jesus said if you put your trust in me I will never leave you. But we can still be with God and feel far away. The fight is the battle for an unrestrained intimacy with God.

This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We have an enemy who hates us.  When I went into 6th grade I was going to ride on the bus with my older brother who was so cool and I was cool by proxy.  Then one kid looked at me and said, “Are you Paul Stuart’s brother?”  I said, “Yes.”  Then he said, “I hate your brother so I hate you.”  He was a bully. When you are associated with Christ, you are more of a target.  The way Satan gets at God is to try and take us away from our Saviour.

What is his strategy?  What does he know?  He knows that you have a mind. He knows that you have affections. An inclination away and towards certain things.  And he knows you have a will. His goal is to get you to sin, that you will take a wilful step away from intimacy with God. Why would you do that? Why would you participate in that suicidal abandonment of joy? He has to solicit thoughts to your mind to stir the affections so that when we enact the will, we go someplace that we were never meant to be.

The Bible calls this temptation.  Each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. When lust is conceived, it gives birth to sin.  Each one is tempted by his own desires.  You need to know how the enemy gets to you so you know how to respond.

Jesus said, watch and pray so you don’t enter into temptation

Eliminate the trigger – don’t go there anymore.   
If that leads you there… don’t go. Young men struggle with pornography and I hate it. It steals so much. I love watching guys who get free from it.  You are only as sick as your secrets.  Where do you struggle with it? You are at your weakest most vulnerable moment alone in bed at night and you have a phone connected to the world wide web. So get the screens out of your bedroom.  It is not worth sinning over.  

Confess your sins one to another.  
Bring things into the light.  Perceived holiness is when your life is a mess behind closed doors but people think you have it all together. I want a life of integrity.  It feels very fragile when you confess to somebody.   But when we do, we pray for each other.  I discovered a world of freedom I did not think was possible because a friend supported me.  

Look down the stream – where will this lead me? 
Is that the life I want? If I indulge these feelings, what will happen?  Before you jump in with these desires, realise that it will give birth to a baby that is called death.  Sin always looks attractive in the dark. We have to turn the lights on.

Ministry is hard and exhausting.

If you do not pick a positive oasis, the enemy will suggest a destructive one.  

Don’t wade downstream. 
It is easier to fight temptation when it is small.  Get it while it is small.

Look upstream.
Why do I go to these things? What makes this so attractive?  Every temptation begins with deception.  Every good and perfect gift comes from above. The lie that launches a million sins is the belief that your God is not a good Dad who loves you.  When you don’t know the love of God, you will drink from broken streams.

When Satan came to Eve, he didn’t start with the fruit. He starts by questioning her relationship with God, sowing doubt.  Before he can make sin look attractive, he has to make God look ugly.  Fight the battle there. The greatest defence is a good offence.  Dislodge the desire with something greater.

I didn’t like the song, “Oh how he loves me.”  It was because I didn’t really believe it. Then we had a child and I realised that  “I love you” sounds way too small.  She was nothing but noise and need but I would be willing to die for her. I wish you could know how a father feels.  Do you think you are a better father than God? Do you really think you have a greater capacity to love your child than He loves you?

The more you enjoy the love of God, the more the things of earth grow strangely dim. How did Romeo get rid of Rosalind? He thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.  Then he goes to a party and he sees Juliet.  “…Rosalind who?”  The best way to mortify sin is to go to the fountain of life.

How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose. You drove them from me. You are the true sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place. Oh Lord my God, my light, my wealth and my salvation.

Augustine of Hippo

Ben Stuart is an author, speaker and pastor of Passion City Church, Washington D.C. Ben served for eleven years as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly Bible study attended by thousands of college students on the campus of Texas A&M.

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