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Friday, June 22, 2012

The Repentance Game, Part 2: The Plowman Who Looked Back

 Last time, I defined the godly form of repentance and spoke about the need for a Christian to be actively and willingly involved in the act of obedience, so that God can bring about the transformation of that individual.  That sounds good and everything, but it isn't the whole story.  If it was left up to our willpower alone to bring about obedience, we probably couldn't do it when the temptation got too strong for us. That's when we need special help.

The Plowman Who Looked Back

At some point, when the life of following Christ is difficult or even painful to us, the desire arises to turn our backs on our new life and return to the things we once knew.  We hate pain, and we hate depriving ourselves of anything.  Our enemy, Satan, knows this too well, and will lean in to our ear and begin to whisper words of discouragement and temptation when we are at our weakest, most gullible state.

This is a serious battle, though!  Jesus wanted us to see the seriousness of the situation when He said, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God," (Luke 9: 62 NIV).  He was presenting us with the nature of this choice to go back to sin, because the work is "too hard."  Giving in to temptation and turning back is more than a momentary lapse in judgement; it's basically an act of total rejection of the Kingdom of God.  
How, then, can anyone avoid such a catastrophe, when our very nature and inclinations are working against our desire to follow God?  The answer is fairly straightforward--we need strength that comes from outside ourselves.  We need the transforming and active involvement of the Holy Spirit to complete the work in us.

Taking Your Exit

The good news is that we are never abandoned to our cravings and weaknesses when we know God and are straining our ears to hear from Him.  He has given His word, which He never takes back, that He will be there, fighting for us!  The Bible says, "No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it," (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV).  Note that sometimes we will have to endure it--God doesn't always remove the source of the temptation from our lives completely--but God has always and forever given us a way of escape from sin's clutches.  When we know the Lord, we are never backed up against a wall, with no way out except to give in!

However, we have to be listening to hear God's voice.  This is the difference between Christians and non-Christians when the temptation to sin comes.  They don't hear the exit door creaking open, and God's voice saying, "Quick!  Come with me!" Sometimes the exit is not even that easily discernible.  Christians may only get a glimpse of the way of escape as they run by, so they had better be looking for it!  Our Friend and Lord cannot help us if we refuse to take His help or if we talk over His advice. 

Walking or Sinking on Water

Read Matthew 14: 25-32.  When Peter saw Jesus walking on water, apparently outside of and more powerful than the most powerful things in nature, he wanted to do that, too.  It was an attitude of trust that Jesus wanted to see in His disciples, and Peter was the first to jump on the bandwagon.  He even succeeded in taking a few steps.  Unfortunately, Peter didn't count on it being so hard!  He took his eyes off Jesus for just one moment, and looked at all the natural things that were stronger than him, and he felt afraid and he started to sink.  However, Peter didn't drown.  In his moment of failure, he cried out to Jesus for help, and Jesus reached out and lifted him up into the boat.

In many ways, trying to follow God and be transformed and obedient to Him is just as hard as trying to walk on water!  In fact, the act of overcoming our own natural weaknesses and inclinations to sin is the same kind of defiance of the so-called "irresistible" forces of nature.  It seems impossible, but it can be done. Jesus proved it by doing it first, and Peter showed that the rest of us can overcome nature, as well. 

Peter also showed us that when we mess up and we ask for God to help us back on track, He is faithful to do it.

If you find yourself today regretting having taken your eye off of Jesus for a moment (whether plowing or walking on water, the effect is just the same), the solution is as simple as asking Jesus for forgiveness and help.  He will grant it!  The next time the trial comes, remember what you did wrong the previous time, and this time, turn to Jesus quickly and as the only viable option.  It's going to take supernatural strength (above and outside of nature) to overcome the sinful nature.

So, to try to put what I've been talking about in a neat little summary, I'm talking about a type of repentance and transformation that puts an end to the endless cycle of the repentance game.  It comes first by realizing your need (finding the sensation of being buried in water or dirt unpleasant, to combine Christ's metaphors), and desiring God's ways, which are healthier.  This brings about godly sorrow, which is a yearning for what is right, not just a yearning for the end of immediate pain.  From this, a willingness to change and to take God's advice has to come.  In fact, what is needed is not just a willingness, but a willfulness that seeks God's help and clings desperately to it when it comes.  Any individual who does these things will be delivered from sin, so if you are struggling, take heed.  Your deliverance is near!
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls. --Joel 2:32 NIV