Chapter 4: Life Lessons on Self
1. Being naïve about truth and knowledge is dangerous, but being innocent of sin and evil is wise and healthy.
Choosing to rebel against God is never a good thing, and it always has consequences because sin always creates harm. But Christians can also be harmed as they are led away and deceived by Satan as he exploits blind spots in their minds and hearts. Hosea 4:6a says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” If we are naïve of the truth and of knowledge according to the Scripture, the devil can deceive our hearts and harm us according to our weak spots. Not being taught certain passages of the Bible can leave us open to being tricked into thinking that they say something that they don’t actually say. We can be deceived into joining a cause that doesn’t actually edify anybody. It is imperative that we know what we believe and why and how to defend it according to the Bible. People will try to take our money, our innocence, our time, our energy, and our purity because they see that we are not strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might because we don’t really have a mature Biblical framework of knowledge. There needs to be a confidence and authority behind our thinking, our beliefs, our habits, our choices, and our desires. Hebrews 10:35 says, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” Our confidence is not in the flesh, for if we boast in the flesh, we have a major, glaring weakness called pride. Our confidence in not in our human intelligence or the size of our muscles or bank accounts, but our confidence is in the Lord because of our position in Christ and because of His sufficiency. He is our confidence, and we must not let anybody take that confidence away. We should not become more dependent on the words from any person’s mouth rather than the words that proceed from the mouth of God. We are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), and we have the right to boldly approach the throne of grace confidently for wisdom and help as we need it (Hebrews 4:16). God wants us to do that, and we must be bold and do it. We need to get to the place where we don’t need to have somebody tell us what we think or what we are supposed to believe or what our church stands for. We need to own it, and the only way we can get to that point is to fervently and relentlessly figure out what we believe, why we believe it, and how to defend it against attacks from all sides. There must be an urgency, and it will come when we feel a dependency upon Christ that we never knew we had. Our increased sense of frailty and fallibility and insufficiency gets replaced with confidence, boldness, and certainty in His strength, infallibility, and sufficiency. We must determine what we actually think and believe, not because somebody told us to, but because it is what defines us.
Matthew 10:16 says, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Being innocent of evil means that we don’t have to become acquainted with sin in order to know that it is bad. We should be willingly aloof when it comes to immorality, but we should also be shrewd as serpents knowing that ravenous wolves seek to devour us with false teaching, trickery, and deception. Shrewd means that we know the Bible and that we are confident enough in our understanding of it to discern truth from error and to know when we are being told that we need something that we don’t really need. It is to be so in tune with wanting what God wants and having good, right desires that we won’t dare let somebody or something get in the way of our chance at experiencing the good and gracious gifts of God in this life. Romans 16:19 says, “For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.” We don’t need to know all of the ins and outs of evil, but we do need to be experts in what is good. When we enjoy the goodness of God and are confident in His goodness to us, why should we allow ourselves to be swayed?
2. Fulfillment and ultimate satisfaction come only by the indwelling Christ, and they are maintained and even increase as He conforms us to Himself.
Just as we don’t need to add anything to the gospel for salvation or anything to Christ to be able to live in godliness, we don’t need anything beyond Christ in order to be happy. Psalm 16:11 says, “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Fullness of joy is found in deep fellowship with Christ. Some seek to go beyond what they already have in Christ as if it is not enough, and they try other things like eastern meditation, mantras, more Christian service, more fasting, etc. The reality is that while Christian service is good and while fasting has its place and purpose, we cannot force faith to increase in our hearts. The indwelling presence of God must be enough, for faith is strengthened by resting upon the finished work of our faithful Savior. Psalm 17:15 says, “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” Our confidence can be in the fact that Christ will work ceaselessly to mold and shape our hearts and minds into His likeness. The more He makes us like Himself, the more we will be able to experience His joy because selfish desires will be pushed aside and any wasteful ambitions will be rejected. He purifies our desires so that we come to delight more fully in Him and to desire what He desires. This enables us to trust in Him totally, to not lean on our own understanding, to acknowledge Him by crediting Him for all that He does in our hearts and lives, and then to expect the result of Him directing our paths by giving us wisdom each and every day to make the most of the opportunities He gives us. Every day we can look forward to our eternity where there will be wonder after wonder to behold and pleasure after pleasure to enjoy. Too many think that God gives holiness while Satan gives pleasure. The reality is that holiness leads to pleasure because pleasure is found in Christ. In heaven, we will learn about all of His ways and wonders, and it will be incredible to behold. Even now, He gives us glimpses and tastes of His goodness as we see how obedience opens doors to great joy and pleasure on the earth as we do things God’s way and according to His design.
3. Hiding sin in one’s heart is the fastest way to lose hope and to lose one’s way, whereas God’s will is clear and without confusion for those who seek His wisdom without doubting.
Though a Christian can never be un-adopted from God’s family or have His relationship with God lost, it is possible to lose out on intimate fellowship with God due to sin. Whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23), so doubting God and His faithfulness and goodness amounts to the same thing. Rebelling from God will certainly make it seem that God is far away. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” Answered prayer is a privileged part of the abundant life in Christ, but it requires that we keep His commandments to us concerning our love for God and others (John 15:7). Sin also saps our spiritual energy and can even affect our physical and emotional health. Psalm 32:3-4 says, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.”
A lack of faith that God is still working and that He still cares can be just as damaging as choosing to do something wrong or not doing something that we know we should do. It all affects our fellowship with God negatively, but thankfully it can never affect the fact that we are part of His family. As His kindness moves us to repent and to believe, we can regain our hope, our way, and our ability to follow His will as He leads us. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” God may allow us to remain in a state where we lack clarity on a decision for great lengths of time, but it doesn’t mean that He is keeping His wisdom from us. Sometimes we just have to wait until the choice becomes clear. James 1:5-8 says, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” We must ask expectantly from the Lord, having total confidence that He will give us the insight to make a decision when He knows we need to make it. Life in Christ is no simple formula, but it is a life of faith. Walking by faith rather than by sight is more difficult, at least until we finally come to believe that God has better eyesight than we do. When our minds try to find reasons to doubt, we must remember that God is our on side, and He never does anything to harm us or hurt us but only to help us and spiritually prosper us in the end (Jeremiah 29:11).