Friday, March 8, 2013

How to Run Well (Part 2)

•The First Fall. Shortly after your conversion you will discover that there are many traps. Let me point out some of them, so that being warned you may be prepared, with God’s help. The first fall (sin) after conversion is very frustrating and disappointing, especially if you had previous addictions or sinful habits. Not one of us escapes this experience. The joy of salvation is in our hearts and it seems as if no sorrow or clouds will cross our path again. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, we sin! Bitter shame and sorrow fills our hearts. Perhaps some of you have that sorrow and shame in your hearts right now. To make matters worse, your worldly friends may have noticed it, and are amused at your defeat; your Christian friends are none too sympathetic; and you don’t know what to do! 

This is Satan’s opportunity, and he will suggest to you, “A nice mess you have made, trying to live as a Christian. Wouldn’t it be better to give up and save further disgrace to yourself and dishonor to the Lord?” He will tempt you to distrust God. “Give up,” is always his word. 

Friend, let me tell you what not to do: do not give up, but get down and go on. 

Get down in humiliation and self-judgment before God, remembering that even though you have changed, He has not. This sin of yours is one among the many for which Christ suffered on the cross, and He has now gone into heaven to be your Advocate (see 1 John 2:1). God is still your Father, and the message to you is: 

“If we confess our sins, He (the Father) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

Get down then in confession to God and He (as your Father) will forgive you. The very process itself will have a cleansing effect on you; and with greater confidence in Him and less in yourself, go on. 

•Old Associations. Beware of old companionships and associations! Sometimes when the convert himself starts brightly, confessing the Lord, seeking to leave his old companions, they are not willing to part with him, and move heaven and earth to retain him. Sometimes it happens that years later love grows cold, and the believer begins slowly (more rapidly as time goes on) to drift back to people and to things he once left behind. Sometimes, most subtle and dangerous of all, we think that by joining our former ungodly associates we will gain their confidence and influence them for good. 

This is a great mistake. We will not lift them up. They will drag us down. Experience universally confirms this statement, and so does Scripture. 

Jehoshaphat was one of the best kings of Judah, while Ahab was the very worst king of Israel, and yet we read, “Jehoshaphat … allied himself with Ahab” (2 Chronicles 18:1). 

What was the result? Did Jehoshaphat elevate Ahab to his own level, so that he could say with satisfaction, “You have become as I am”? By no means – the very reverse! In verse three of the same chapter Jehoshaphat said, “I am as you are,” and was not ashamed to admit it. 

This was followed by the battle at Ramoth-gilead, in which Ahab lost his life and Jehoshaphat escaped by the skin of his teeth. God confronted him with a very serious message through Jehu the prophet: “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Therefore the wrath of the Lord is upon you” (2 Chronicles 19:2). The final outcome of all this was that Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram married Ahab’s daughter (2 Chronicles 21:6) – the notoriously wicked Athaliah, a true daughter of her mother Jezebel, and the cause of much misery to Judah. 

If you want more evidence from Scripture, read carefully Genesis 13, 14 and 19, which tell about Lot’s sad downfall because of his friendship with the men of Sodom. He did not elevate them – they degraded him, so much so that no one paid any attention when he warned of Sodom’s impending judgment. We ourselves would not know whether he was a true saint of God if the Spirit of God had not called him “that righteous man” in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:8). 

Of course you will meet your old companions, but let them know right away that the old relationships no longer exist. Speak to them about Christ. Whatever you do, don’t descend to the old level. If you do, your power, like Samson’s, will have left, and you will easily fall. 

In most cases, one good, bold confession of Christ is enough. Some friends may eventually be converted; others may just leave you. If not, you will find it best to leave them. If you can’t help them, they will harm you; don’t give them that opportunity. 

These remarks apply equally to the forming of new links and associations. This principle should guide you in your Christian life: 

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14; read through v. 18). Pray with this text in mind, and keep it in a prominent place in your heart and memory. If obeyed, it will save you from a world of sorrow. You need it, because you cannot go through life without forming many kinds of associations. 

Beware of the “unequal yoke” in society; beware of it in business. Many a Christian has had his testimony ruined through partnership with an unconverted man and involvement with his questionable practices. But above all, beware of it in marriage. Unequal yokes in society or in business can be broken, but marriage is life-long. How many promising young lives have been voided and how much sorrow has resulted from disobedience to this divine command! I wish I could shout like a trumpet blast and warn every young convert in the country. 

•False Teachers. Be warned also about false teachers and their doctrines. Do not be surprised that they exist. Satan, as well as God, has his servants, but he works by imitation. The Apostle Paul said this about some of Satan’s agents: “Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corin­thians 11:13-14). Most likely, before long you will discover men or women with strange doctrines, seemingly credible and covered with a thin veneer of truth. 

Here are one or two hints: 

If they present doctrines that contradict the simple gospel you have received, diminishing the death and resurrection of Jesus, refuse and avoid them; they are false (see Galatians 1:6-8). 

If they do not acknowledge Jesus as their Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3), or that He – a divine Person – has come in flesh (i.e. has become man); if they do not confess His deity and manhood (1 John 4:3), they are not of God. 

If Christ is not the center of their teaching, but rather some religious fad; or if they demand your subjection to the teaching of some man or woman who assumes the place of prophet, or to some new revelation which someone professes to have received, you may safely turn from them. If tested, they will prove to be liars (see Revelation 2:2). 

If the teacher himself is unconverted, don’t listen to him. Of course he may say what is right, just as a parrot sometimes makes very appropriate remarks. Scripture, however, is very decisive: “The natural man (i.e. man in his natural or unconverted state) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). 

Don’t pay attention to unbelievers’ theories, whether honestly advanced by themselves or dishonestly cloaked as “Higher Criticism” and “Modern Thought” by religious leaders. The poor authors of these soul-destroying delusions do not have the Spirit of God, and even though possibly very intelligent, are not Christians, and know nothing of true heart religion. 

Again, if anyone comes to you with doctrines which he must support by twisting Scripture, either by re-defining words in our English version or by continually referring to the Greek or Hebrew original and translating to fit his ideas; or if he takes texts out of their contexts – you have every reason for being suspicious of his doctrines. “No prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Remember that the Bible is a whole: one part dovetails into the rest, not only agreeing with it, but explaining it as well. 

•Hobbies. Seek grace from God not to spend all your spare time on hobbies. Many Christians, both young and old, are sadly lacking in freshness. This is frequently not because of sin or even worldliness, but because of some interest or hobby that occupies too much valuable time and thought. Common hobbies include recreation and entertainment in their multiple forms, as well as many “harmless” activities and pursuits. 

Do not misunderstand me. I don’t want to impose legal requirements on you. If we merely force you to show a false godliness and wear a “holy” expression, you have only gone “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Of course you must have exercise and recreation, especially if you are young; otherwise your health will suffer. The point is: keep them in a secondary place, subordinate to Christ and His interests; don’t let them become prominent. If you do, they will become weights. 

“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance” (Hebrews 12:1), the apostle directs us. Notice it is the “weight and the sin” (i.e., weights are something additional to and distinct from sin). “Sin” is like some entanglement across the racer’s path: if he catches his foot in it he goes down. A “weight” may be something very useful and excellent in itself, but if the race is to be won, it must be set aside. The athlete does not even carry valuables; he has no pockets in his brief uniform. 

If you find anything in your Christian life becoming a weight to you, however good it may be, have the courage to let go of it. We want you to get the maximum joy and blessing out of your knowledge of Christ. 

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