A Timely Message for the Church
(by Chris Long)
I met with a person recently that I hadn't seen in a few years. He is someone that has always had a heart for ministry and had "great plans" of all he'd like to do for God, and indeed is currently attending Bible college. But as I listened to him tell me about the sin he's been involved in since I last saw him, culminating in a very serious situation for which he may be facing multiple years in jail, my heart was just breaking inside. As I listened to stories of repeated sexual sin, drug use, drinking, anger, bitterness, all while also being enrolled in Bible college and studying for the ministry, it just broke my heart.
But you know what? It breaks my heart not just for him, but because this is sadly just another tale of what is VERY common within the Body of Christ. The amount of worldliness among those that call themselves Christians is absolutely off-the-charts. We've lost the "fear of the Lord" (if we ever had it) and have been pushing the grace envelope as far as we can. The Bible talks about many in the day of judgement who will say "Lord, Lord" - notice these are people that call Jesus "Lord", but He will tell them to depart because He never knew them. I suspect there are many who think they are A-OK with Jesus, that will find out differently and it will be absolutely tragic. We need to repent. And we need to do it now.
Many of you know that I had a struggle with pornography/lust from an early age. At age 15, when I accepted Christ, many things changed about me quite quickly such as having the peace of the Lord instead of the anger I had previously had. But I found that while I had the desire to rid my life of the pornography/lust, I found that I didn't have the strength to do it on a lasting level. Friends, that started an almost 14-year battle. A very very intense battle. I went to the utter depths many times, including at the point of considering suicide. By God's grace, He never let me go and by His Spirit, when I sinned, would bring me to repentance and restore me each time. I repented (sincerely sorry for my sin with a sincere desire to change) and God restored me and made me right with Him again each time. God was very very gracious to me. He IS a very gracious God! I would have no hope if it weren't for Him! But God's kindness towards us is to lead us to repentance (see Romans 2:4). Sadly, there are many people who call themselves Christians who do not repent of their sin or do not do so with sincere motives. To be blunt, if this is you, you should be very afraid.
God was very gracious to me and continued just teaching me more and more. I can tell you though that one of the things the Lord taught me was that He wouldn't let me just take His grace for granted. There was one day when the Lord had really spoken to me earlier in the day in a powerful way about not sinning, and later that day I chose to sin. The Lord gave me a real good spanking over that one. I saw Scriptures that night that I had somehow never seen/"glossed over"/previously managed to "explain away" - Scriptures that literally put my entire salvation in question in my mind. God also allowed me to feel for a moment what life without the Holy Spirit would be - It was absolutely terrifying on a level I cannot even attempt to describe. You can think I'm crazy if you want or give me "theological reasons" for how a Christian can't lose their salvation. All I can say is that God showed me that night that he takes sin VERY VERY seriously. We would be wise to do the same.
For me, everything culminated in April 2009 when I finally realized on a deeper level (beyond my head) that the only way for me to change, was for me to die (my flesh, that is). I had to die to myself and submit myself unto the Lord. I realized that my root issue was pride - I didn't want to let go of control - I wanted to "be a Christian" and get all the "blessings", but still be in control of my life. And yet, it became apparent that this was exactly the problem. If I was going to change, it would have to be the Lord's working in me, and so I submitted myself unto Him and cried out to Him to be the Lord over my life - my body, my mind, my future, my everything - in a deeper way than I ever had before. Jesus had previously been my Savior, but I hadn't really let Him fully be Lord over my life in submission to Him. I realized that Jesus wanted to be Lord over all of me and that I needed to submit unto Him and let His life work in me and through me. In submitting to the Lord, God responded by pouring out His Spirit. I knew that night that God set me free of the pornography and also of a longtime gluttony issue (they both had the same root cause!). While there were some subsequent "return trips" to the filth, as I have been abiding in and submitting unto Him, I have been walking in the freedom that Jesus came to bring me.
See, I learned through my longtime struggle with these ongoing sins, that I needed to resolve the core issue, not just try to put a band-aid on the sin. Several years ago a person was really trying to get me involved with a Christian "recovery group" that he was going to where they try to hold you accountable to keep you from sinning. I had been down that road before and knew that it wasn't my answer. I knew that while accountability is good and should be practiced, it wouldn't solve anything unless *I* changed deep down - unless the root reasons of WHY I was sinning against God even though I knew it was wrong, were solved. See, even at the time, I had already learned that unless the core heart issue is dealt with, you'll just go from one sin to another. A person might be able to go to something like Alcoholics Anonymous because of a drinking problem they have, and they might actually be able to stop drinking from both sheer willpower and the accountability/"status rewards" of the group (though they'll likely only be able to stop for a time), but I can promise that unless they deal with the root issue of their sin, they'll just substitute one sin for another. It will just manifest in a different way - a different "sin branch" because the problem still exists in the root.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that there is not a place for groups such as these because I do believe they can be useful, but what I am saying is that sometimes these groups can actually KEEP people in the "sin cycle" because they never address their real issue. They deal with everything on a superficial level and keep people on that superficial level. These groups can actually keep people from going deeper with the Lord and addressing the root problems. Further, they often keep you in the cycle of identifying yourself with the sin. The person I mentioned, as he was going to his group a few years ago (he's still going), told me that he knew he had to go to this group because he was an "addict" and would always be an "addict". I knew just enough of the Bible at the time to know that this was a lie from the pit of hell. Jesus didn't die for me so that I could be an "addict" my whole life; He died to set me free in Him - my identity is in Christ, not in sin! I wondered many times where that freedom was and where the abundant life that Jesus talks about was, but I determined in my heart to press into the Lord and find out.
My friends, I have found out and am still finding out, that the abundant life IS real and that freedom is possible. But that freedom is found in submission to Christ. Not in programs, not in other people/accountability, not in willpower, not in ANYTHING that I can do. The ultimate answer to ongoing sin in your life is to do exactly what the Bible says to do: Submit to God. Submit to the Holy Spirit instead of your flesh.
But, in order to do this, we've got to trust God - we've got to learn about God and love Him more - we've got to press into Him and seek Him with all our hearts. In John 8:31b-32, Jesus said "...If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Now this passage had long puzzled me because I didn't experience the freedom in the lust/gluttony/self-control area. But notice that the freedom comes as a result of knowing the truth, which comes from "holding to" His teaching. As we keep seeking Jesus in sincerity, seeking to live in reality based on the Word of God (not a made-up fantasy land like most of the world seems to be living in these days), seeking Truth and doing everything we can to cling to and obey His teachings, we will experience freedom. The truth will set us free. It may be a process. In my case, it was a multi-year struggle. But the truth WILL set us free. It set me free. He set me free. He can set you free too.
The one piece of advice I could give anyone struggling with ongoing sin in a specific area is to just keep asking, seeking, knocking. If you fall, sincerely repent and go forward. Don't let the enemy keep you in a place of discouragement or despair (I've been there many times!!) - just keep pressing into Jesus and trying to grow closer to Him and more in love with Him. And as you do, you'll find that you really do want to obey Him and that as you submit unto Him, He'll give you the power to do so. Don't give up! There is HOPE in Jesus Christ!
With that said, to bring this back to how I started, as those who claim that we are "Christians", we need to eradicate the worldliness from our lives. This certainly includes sexual sin (lust/fornication/adultery/homosexuality, etc.) and gluttony and other "big name" sins, but also just the general worldliness. Most "Christians" live just like the world. They watch the same movies and t.v. shows, listen to the same music, do the same activities, etc.
I'm going to make a harsh statement here, but it is absolutely true: If you claim to be a Christian, but you spend a lot of time watching movies/going to the movies, I can say that there is likely a real problem. Not just because of the time wasting (which can also be a sin...), but because most movies produced are downright trash. Even many of the so-called "family films" of recent years are filled with sexual innuendos, inappropriate jokes, and filthy language. Then you look at the PG-13 and R movies and it just gets really bad. Many "Christians" are even numb to this stuff. They have no problem sitting through a movie that takes the name of their supposed "Lord" in vain or shows people in sexual situations. And many "Christians" don't even realize or care that there's a problem with movies/t.v. shows that have as central themes things such as vampires and witchcraft and worship of "mother earth", no matter how subtle or "heartwarming" the story...
My intent isn't to get legalistic about movies, but to just make the clear observation that given the tremendous amount of movies / t.v. shows produced (most by an unbelieving world!), the ones that are actually worthy of our attention as Christians are a fairly small number. Actually it's amazing just how POSITIVE many "Christians" rate many movies on CHRISTIAN movie review sites - movies that are filled with all sorts of content that is contrary to the Word of God.
I'm just using movies as an easy example. The problem is that there's far too many of those who say they are Christians going out and living just like the world. This takes many forms - including activities you might not even think of: things like spending all your time on social networking sites (i.e. Facebook,Myspace,Twitter) or watching stupid videos on YouTube, or constantly texting people with useless/idle chatter. Yes, I know I just hit some nerves. The truth is that we are to be light to a dark and dying world that is on a broad road to hell. They're on the broad road. We who are on the narrow road, or think we are, need to live like we are so that we indeed show that we are! (read that again). The proof is in the actions. We can go to church every week with our church face on, sing the songs with hands raised high, even be in Bible college with grand dreams of ministry, but if we're living just like the rest of the world, are we really on the narrow road or are we deceived into thinking we're on the narrow road, but really we're on the broad road? We want to be very very careful! There is a reason why we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (see Phillipians 2:12).
There should be a distinction between my life and that of the world. And there should be a distinction between your life and that of the world. If my values and the world's values are the same, then there's a real problem.
James 4:4-10 says:
You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
And Ephesians 5:1-20 says:
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:
Be very careful, then, how you liveŚnot as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus is very clear in John 12:24-26:
"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me."
Friends, the Bride of Christ needs to purify herself, for the Bridegroom is coming and all signs point that He is coming soon. The way to purification is through Jesus Christ alone - repentance before Him, and submission unto Him. We need to humbly and sincerely repent on our faces before the Lord. This is serious. There is a real heaven and there is a real hell.
Luke 13:23-24 says:
Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
And in Matthew 7:13-14:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
There is a broad road (that Jesus says "many" are on) and a narrow road (that Jesus Himself says that "few" find!). You want to make sure you're one of the "few". If there's any doubt, repent now in sincerity of all of your sin and wrong-living, place your faith solely in Jesus to forgive you of your sin (thanks to His death on the cross for you), and submit yourself - all of you - to the Lord. If you struggle with ongoing sin, then as mentioned earlier, the process is the same - you need to repent. If you fail again, then you repent again (in sincerity, taking care not to take grace for granted).
This isn't a game people. We've perverted Christianity to the point that there's no or little cost to following Jesus; you just say a prayer and you're "saved" and God will bless you and give you "your dreams". It's all about what God can do for you, rather than your obedience to God. People take it all so lightly. At many churches, people have little fear of the Lord - and this is evidenced even in the casualness that's been taken to an extreme. I've been at good Bible-believing churches where it was not all that uncommon to see people with their gourmet coffee in their hand, people taking their shoes off and resting their naked feet on the pew in front, dressed very casually - to the point of even indecency in some cases. Now part of that is the local culture here, but the point is the same - we take this whole Christianity thing WAY too casually when what hangs in the balance is literally the difference between heaven and hell for all eternity! The phrase "the fear of the LORD" is all over the Bible as something we're supposed to have. I'm afraid many place so much emphasis on God's grace and love that they forget He is a holy, righteous, God who will judge every thought, word, and deed that we do!
I've been saying hard things, and they go for me too. We all make mistakes and do things we shouldn't do. We're in a sanctifying process. We're going to sin and mess up. When we do, we need to repent of our sin and let the blood of Jesus cleanse us. Then we submit ourselves unto the Lord in obedience - growing deeper in Him. Much of the church would seem to be still in the "milk" phase, not anywhere near getting into the "meat" - spiritual maturity. The irony is that some people even think they are spiritually mature, when they're not. The person I mentioned earlier that just told me of all the sexual sin, drug/alcohol use, and is now potentially facing jail time, actually more-or-less said that he was spiritually mature - living on the "meat", not the "milk." Umm... If we're not living in obedience to Jesus, there's a problem. We might know a lot in our heads, but it has to be lived out in our lives. It's time that we start growing up. The way we do that is through repenting, submitting, obeying, asking, seeking, knocking, humbling ourselves before God with the reverential "fear of the LORD".
The devil loves to try to tell us about how we're missing out if we don't do as the world does. He's partly right. We ARE missing out if we obey the Lord. We miss out on all sorts of ugliness and darkness and things manifesting death (in a variety of forms). But we gain life! (both here and forever). The abundant life is found in obedience to Jesus. That's when we're REALLY living!
My goal for each year is that at the end of the year I am closer to being like Jesus than I was the year before. I believe this to be a worthy goal for every believer.
I don't know about you, but time just seems to be "speeding up" in recent times. The number of changes that have occurred in even the last 10 years are astounding. But I praise the Lord that some things don't change: Jesus Christ is still the Lord, He is still the only way for man to be right with God, He still wants all people to come to Him in repentance and faith, and He still is coming back again. Will this year be the year? Nobody knows for sure, but His return certainly is coming soon. I'm convinced we're in the final chapter of human history - it's just a matter of how long the chapter is. Times are getting serious. It's time we all recommit ourselves afresh to Jesus and make sure we're living right. If there's been any sin entangling us, it's time to lay aside that stuff and get right with Jesus. There's an awful lot of the world in most Christians...it's time to repent, and with the Holy Spirit's help, live the life that we are called to live.
Each day that passes means that we are just another day closer to seeing Jesus face to face, either here or in Heaven. We're that much closer. It's time to make sure that our lives are matching our talk.
The King is coming soon. "So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him." (2 Peter 3:14)
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)
May we all examine ourselves and commit to run our race well, with a clear distinction between our lives and that of the world.
With love to you in Christ,
This is version 2.0 of this document (June 7, 2012).