In recent weeks Iâ€™ve experienced a dramatic shift in the tides of a certain spiritual battle within my flesh. Temptation to this one particular sin in my life comes in transient waves dependent upon various circumstances within and without myself, but the decision to dive headlong into an approaching crest is entirely my own and without excuse. So many times Iâ€™ve not even considered standing against the crush; or, when I do decide to stand, I overestimate my strength and lose my footing as the sandy ground is literally swept out from under my feet. The undertow is always stronger than the wave itself, and in an instant Iâ€™m engulfed and sucked out to open water.
Iâ€™ve done the various brain gymnastics over the years where this sin is concerned: â€œItâ€™s disgusting; I must simply rise above it because Iâ€™m really not as disgusting as this sin would reveal me to beâ€¦ Itâ€™s normal, everybody does it; what does God expect me to do, if He made me this wayâ€¦? Itâ€™s only a problem if X or Y is going on around me or if God places Z in my path; if I change the circumstances, I wonâ€™t have to struggle with itâ€¦ Itâ€™s only a certain aspect of it thatâ€™s really sinful; maybe I can find another outlet , or just cut my indulgence short before it goes to far â€¦ Itâ€™s a matter of the will, so if I can just decide enough is enough, temptation itself will become a moot pointâ€¦This time I know that this brings me no happiness and breaks fellowship with God, so now I know I mean business when I say I repent. I bet the 3rd billionth timeâ€™s the charm, and I really wonâ€™t even be tempted to do this againâ€¦â€
With each rationalization or decision to place confidence in circumstance or self, I sense a certain calm in the waters. Even after some revival-like experience of fellowship with God, I can fool me into thinking Iâ€™ll never see another crest again, so I turn my back and take my eyes off the waters entirely â€¦ Enter tsunami.
But above I said Iâ€™ve experienced a shift in the tides of this spiritual battle. For better or for worse? Something is definitely different; this morning I opened my eyes and looked around and noticed a change that has been lingering in the air for weeks, now. Noticing it all at once, however, in retrospect, took my breath away. Itâ€™s more than a simple cessation of sin. Itâ€™s an entirely new perspective on the nature of the sin itself along with the motivation for and the means with which to stand against it. Through various means the Lord has been challenging me in His mercy and grace to be holy, for He is holy, and to know and believe that I canâ€™t stand holy against a wave of defilement unless Heâ€™s giving me the grace and the strength to do it; unless the foundation of His Spirit replaces the sand beneath my feet; unless I ask Him to stand with me, waist-deep in the dirty water.
Waitâ€¦ask GOD to stand with me in the rank unrighteousness of my flesh? Yes. I tried to articulate what is different, what has led to such a relatively LASTING relief from/victory over this sin recently, despite the fact that the waves keep coming. I tried to put it into words, and this was the best I could come up with: at my â€œbestâ€ moments in the past, Iâ€™ve walked along the beach of my life with the Lord, sometimes even hand-in-hand, wading in the shallow parts of the surf where Iâ€™m not as embarrassed by the small temptations washing over my toes, where itâ€™s easy to squeeze His hand and rely on His grace to keep walking and to ignore the pull.
But the tide rises, and something happens. I let go of His hand. He never abandons me, but I refuse to keep Him with me as the larger waves approach. I either try to escape to higher ground, where I can ignore the reality of the waves for a while longer, or I refuse let Him stand and face those filthy waves with me – as if He couldnâ€™t see them from the shore, or as if a Holy God simply couldnâ€™t, or shouldnâ€™t, be able to wade out that far into the morass of my spiritual darkness.
I forget that He already did. He took on every possible wave of defilement for all of mankind when He hung on the Cross. Did He drown? Was He sucked under and contaminated? No; the full, swollen tide of human depravity rose up and engulfed Him, but it did not knock Him over and suck Him under; He rose out of the tomb precisely because His holiness was such that it could not be defiled by what He must face on our behalf. He did it once and for all at Calvary to effect our justification; why was I then treating Him as if He could not face my depravity with me daily to effect of my sanctification? Where did I get the idea that I could, or even should, effect my own? I would never advise anyone else that it were even a possibility, for Iâ€™ve read my Bible and I know better. But in practicality, especially with this sin, I would not take Him with me. It was just too shameful.
Several weeks ago I listened to an audio sermon that spoke about the spreading fame of the King. One point illuminated to me something about Christâ€™s special ministry as the God-Man that I had never thoughtfully considered beforehand. The speaker related the account of the woman with an issue of blood from Matthew 9:20-22. He pointed out the gravity of this womanâ€™s disease in light of Jewish religious law and custom: she would have been viewed as entirely defiled by her disease, unable to worship openly in the temple and basically treated as a social outcast, as anyone who had contact with her, or even ate a meal with her, would also be considered unclean and unfit for temple worship for a certain period of time that would constitute purification. She reaches out and touches Christâ€™s garment as He passes, believing–perhaps somewhat desperately–that He is that powerful to cleanse and heal the defiled. She doesnâ€™t ask Him directly though; why not? Perhaps she fears Heâ€™ll shun her or avoid contact with her, as her religious culture is compelled to do under the Law? If He is God, after all, He mustnâ€™t be defiled by her disease, even as she attempts contact with Him to be rid of it.
But He IS God, and so He knows what has happened to Him. Is He angry with her? Does He judge her for â€œdefilingâ€ Him in this way? No. He tells her to â€œbe of good cheer,â€ for her faith has â€œmade her whole.â€ In effect, as the preacher put it, Christ tells her what no one else could tell her, and what no one expected to hear from a Holy God: He tells this diseased and defiled woman, â€œI can touch you.â€ And whatâ€™s more, His touch could, and did, heal her.
The character of the God-Man is such that He can reach out and touch the sinner without compromising His own holiness. And in this ministry of â€œtouchingâ€ us in our defilement, he is able to cleanse us from it — and to stand strong FOR us against the approaching waves that would defile us again.
So, whatâ€™s different? In the past weeks, Iâ€™ve begun to believe this about our God: through Christ, He indeed can touch us, even as we face the continual onslaught of temptation arising out of our own lusts. Heâ€™s not only a Refuge to which we run for safety; Heâ€™s a Commander who insists on fighting right there in the frontlines with us in the fray.
And when we finally ask Him to stand with us, He â€¦ does. The waves still come, but Heâ€™s waist-deep with us, holding us up with HIS righteousness. We still feel the crush, we still feel the tugging tides beneath us, but more important is the promised Grace, the overarching Love and Power of the Almighty, Who has everything at stake where our sanctification is concerned.
I hesitate to call it a victory. Iâ€™ll likely fall again when I in my weakness forget these truths and resort to old habits. But hereâ€™s another blessed truth: this isnâ€™t about me, it is about Him. Itâ€™s about what can He can do. Itâ€™s about the security of His promises:
Philippians 1:6 (KJV) Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.