"You become stronger only when you become weaker.
When you SURRENDER your will to God,
you discover the resources to do what God requires."
-- Erwin W. Lutzer
YOUR RICHER THAN YOU THINK
Standing Against All Odds
Dr. Edwin W. Lutzer
We all saw the Rodney King beating on a videotape that was replayed many times on news channels throughout the United States. Every time King tried to stand up, he was beaten down. He wasn’t even allowed to crawl without being hit with a club.
What a picture of the conflict of the soul! I remember speaking to a young man who had fathered a child and now his girlfriend wouldn’t let him see his own daughter. Though the man was a Christian, he was so overtaken with guilt, grief, and despair that it appeared as if he would never be able to walk with his head held high again. I think of those who are overcome with addictions, those who are slaves to pornography, alcohol, or drugs. No matter how many promises are made, they are always broken. What does the Bible have to say to believers caught in such sins?
We Learn To Stand
Paul writes, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). But how can we as sinners stand before God; and after we have stood to our feet, how do we get up again?
We must return to the theme of Galatians: we are declared righteous by God when we place our trust in Christ alone. Righteousness is a gift that can be applied to any sinner regardless of his sins and crimes.
And of course, Christ’s righteousness is a permanent gift that has paid the debt of our sins, both past, present, and future. That’s what Paul means when he says we are “in Christ.” Even when we struggle with the flesh and lose, Christ is still our righteousness. That’s why we can keep standing. Christ is our representative before God. It is the fact of our acceptance in Him that allows us to stand up when we fall.
Before the throne my surety stands
My name is written on His hands
[Five Bleeding Wounds He Bears by Charles Wesley]
Thus, when faced with sin and failure, our responsibility is to remember that Christ continually represents us to God the Father, and that His righteousness, given to us, is all that we need.
But what do we do when we are overwhelmed by our sins? George Spalitin was a co-worker of Martin Luther who had given a friend some advice which he later came to regard as sinful. He was immersed in grief and could not be consoled.
When Luther learned of his friend’s grief, he did not try to minimize the sin, but rather, he magnified grace. In a letter dated August 21, 1544, he wrote: “My faithful request and admonition is that you join our company and associate with us who are real, great and hard-boiled sinners. You must by no means make Christ to seem paltry and trifling to us as though He could be our helper only when we want to be rid from imaginary, nominal and childish sins. No, no! That would not be good for us. He must rather be a savior and redeemer from real, great, grievous, and damnable transgressions and iniquities, yea from the very greatest and most shocking sins; to be brief, from all sins added together in a grand total...You will have to get used to the belief that Christ is a real savior and you a real sinner. For God is neither jesting nor dealing in imaginary affairs. But He was greatly and most assuredly in earnest when He sent His own Son into the world and sacrificed Him for our sakes.”
Yes, we need a Gospel that is able to save great, hard-boiled sinners. There is no use trying to minimize our sin or to simply reeducate our conscience so that we can cope with guilt. No, we must realize that Jesus Christ died for real sinners, even those who have committed “damnable transgressions.”
Paul says that we should “no longer be subject again to the yoke of slavery” but to stand in the freedom of Christ. The “yoke of slavery” refers to looking to ourselves to find some reason why God should accept us, or some reason why He should forgive us. Sometimes we do this by making a promise that we shall never commit the same sin again, or we try to think back to times when we did obey God. Or, many people live with guilt, assuming that guilt is punishment by God. All such attempts to establish a relationship with God are futile and greatly encouraged by the devil.
We must not meet the accusations of our conscience by either (a) minimizing the sin, or (b) trying to look to something we have done to make ourselves feel better. No, every time we sin, we must reaffirm that our acceptance before God has remained unchanged because of the work of Christ on our behalf.
To quote the words of Paul, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:33,34).
How do we stand up? Through faith in Christ’s complete work on our behalf. We stand because we know we have been completely received by our Heavenly Father independently of any works that we could perform; independently of what we deserved. And when we fall, we cling to the same truth and find comfort in knowing that our acceptance before God has remained unchanged.
We Must Learn To Walk
Second, Paul says that after we have learned to stand, we should begin to walk. Specifically, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). We are tempted to read the verse this way, “But I say stop carrying out the desires of the flesh and you will walk in the Spirit.”
Paul, of course, reverses the order. He knows that we need the fullness of the Spirit up front, even before we can begin to say “no” to the flesh or walk in the strength of a yielded life. That’s why the Holy Spirit indwells every believer; He is available at the very beginning of the Christian life. New Christians, carnal Christians, and those of us who who have desired the will of God for many years — all of us, must learn to walk in the Spirit.
How is this done? By faith. Just as we put our faith in Christ for our acceptance before God, we must exercise the same faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The famous preacher, F. B. Meyer tells about the time he struggled with the filling of the Holy Spirit. Though he had wept at many altars, and through yieldedness sought some kind of special infilling, it simply never seemed to happen. Then in his weariness he prayed, “Oh Lord, you know that no one needs the filling of the Holy Spirit more than I. Yet, I am too tired to agonize, I am too weary to seek it.” Just then, he says, it was as if he heard the voice of the Holy Spirit say, “Just as you have received salvation from the Christ of the cross, in the same way receive the fullness of the Spirit from the Christ of the resurrection.” So he began to drink of the Spirit’s fullness in faith. And in his words “I have been drinking ever since.”
The fullness of the Spirit is not a reward for good behavior; the Spirit is given to us as sinners so that we might experience good behavior.
The cross enables us to stand and to remain standing, but it is the Spirit who helps us walk in the Christian life. As we appropriate the Spirit’s power by faith, we will find that we don’t fall as often.
We Must Learn To Fight
Paul says that we should keep fighting. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit, against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Galatians 5:17). Though Paul doesn’t say it here, in Ephesians 6 he refers to us as fighting with the sword “which is the word of God.”
All of us know the fight that goes on between the flesh and the spirit, each desiring supremacy in our lives. These two forces are bitter enemies and each seeks to dominate the other. Paul speaks about the works of the flesh and gives a long catalog of sins, each wanting to take hold in our lives.
Here is hope for everyone! As I conclude these brief thoughts on Galatians, I am reminded of a letter I received from a rapist serving time in prison for raping four women. He wrote, “I have been able to leave my past behind, but my victims have not. It hurts me to be joyous and yet I cannot help them. How can I make amends for those who were my victims? It was sheer terror for me to be under the pressures of sin and addictions for the first one-half century of my life. Since being born again, God has put me through heat — He has turned up the thermostat. When I go through one of those glazing experiences, I forget His ability to get me through. But I’m learning.”
Do we have a Gospel that is able to save a rapist? The answer, of course, is yes. Christ died for sinners, real sinners. He too can stand cleansed by Christ, walk in the Spirit’s fullness, and fight by using God’s word. He must stand in the freedom with which Christ made Him free.
God has declared us to be righteous; we are accepted in the Beloved One. In light of that, we can rejoice in our perfect standing. My friend, no matter how far you have fallen, if you believe in Christ alone, He will declare you righteous. He will enable you to stand then walk, then fight.
Yes, we can make it, living for Christ all the way enroute to our heavenly city. We are richer than we think!
"Standing Against All Odds," chapter 6 comes from Dr. Edwin's W. Lutzer's Sermon "Your Richer Than You Think" A copy of the entire transcript is posted on the sidebar of this blog under the heading "Digging Deeper." The web link is here: http://www.moodychurch.org/radio/transcripts/yourericher.html
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