The Training of the Overcomer
V. It takes work to be holy
Have you heard of the term “learning plateau”? In certain studies, especially in languages and in the playing of a musical instrument, a student may in a certain time periods have improvements in leaps and bounds. But soon, a point is arrived that no matter how hard he tries, ‘leaps’ get stuck in mud! This is what is known as a ‘plateau in learning’. It is a key period and full of frustrations … So many students during this time would throw away the textbook, quit classes and even won’t touch them because they don’t understand. What a pity! In fact, this is but a minor way station in the process of learning. If he persists and try to adjust and accommodate, soon, he will enter into the ‘light’ beyond the ‘tunnel.’ While the method of adjusting can vary from people to people, the principle is more or less the same. It is to try continually new accommodations, new angles … until once again one can move forward.
A. The process of sanctification.
1. Three pros and three cons.
Even though our ‘spirit’ is dead towards God before we believe, it came with us when we were born. When we were born, we inherited a lot from our parents. They also inherited a lot from their parents. If we go back even further, mankind inherited from Adam the fallen character. In particular they have inherited these three aspects: spiritual blindness, a will that opposes God’s desire and will, and a habitual nature that is unwilling to do righteousness. These are the causes why before we are saved, we do not know God, we are disobedient to Him and are unwilling to walk with God. But when we are born again, God gave us three kinds of power to counteract these three shortcomings. They are spiritual understanding, a desire to be obedient to God and an ambition to do righteousness. These three kinds of power can be used to test a Christian. If you are a genuine Christian, you must know God, you are willing to obey God and love to do righteous acts by God’s grace. Otherwise, no matter how long you have been coming to church, you cannot be counted as a Christian. Because you have not repented – your mind and heart did not change! If we have all these three kinds of grace, we will definitely experience the joy of forgiveness, appreciate the wonder of spiritual observation and enjoy the sweetness of reading Scripture and prayer. You also want to share your blessings with others through witnessing.
2. Old nature coming home.
However, we need to pay attention. This kind of good life may not last long. Soon, we will discover that the old nature has come home! Bad thoughts and habits of the past will again resurface. Spiritual sight will become blur again. Love for God and the zeal to follow Him will become cold. At the same time the struggle inside will begin to intensify. One side wants to please God, the other side wants to satisfy oneself. One side earnestly desires God’s glory, the other side seeks after the pleasures of the world. One side wants to be with God, the other side wants to be with the world. It is because one is from God and the other is from Adam. Situated between the two of them, we will feel two kind of power. One power drives us towards the world and the other towards God. Overcomers, this is the ‘spiritual plateau’! And many a Christian could not endure the awkward dilemma and sense of loss … gave up to strive forward. They drift around like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and end up in dehydration and loss of will. Unable to pull themselves out, they are so pitiful!
3. Half a Christian.
Although they have applied the Jesus who died for their sins, they do not know how to apply for the Christ who was crucified together with them. They freely enjoy the grace of forgiveness but they do not take Christ as the center of their lives. The center of their living is ‘myself’ with self pity, self pride, self boast and self defense… Their moral standard is according to what they are familiar with since childhood – logic viewpoint. They often think they are so right in their own eyes. They are unwilling to follow the standard of the Scriptures. They rely only on the guidance of their subconscious and the environmental excitements to live their lives. They ignore the guiding of the Holy Spirit. They love flattery and enjoy the desires of the flesh. They are frequently proud of their wealth, accomplishments, knowledge and devious methods. In other words, many Christians have their sins forgiven but their ‘self’ lives just like any person in the world! The only remedy is to believe and also to practice. Christ not only shed His blood for them, He has also be crucified together with their ‘old self’. Now He is waiting for them to apply the grace of ‘crucified together’! Otherwise, the old self will stubbornly possess them. Then, the real peace and joy will never come upon them. In other words, if a person only believes that Jesus died for his sins and cannot see that he is already crucified together with Christ, then he is only a half Christian. He has no way of living a normal Christian life.
In theory, it is very simple to remove the old ‘self’. All that is required is to apply the grace of ‘crucified together with Christ’. Also, it has to be continuously applied. In practice, however, it is not that simple. It requires an adjustment that is one step further. At the moment when one is born again, how did we see ourselves so clearly in the evil environment of sin that caused us to abandon it; now in the same way, we need to see the evil and sinful ‘self’ of ours and declare to it the judgment.
4. The Pope in our heart.
Even though my old ‘self’ is very common but to most Christians, very few recognizes it. Most of the time, we would guard against the temptations of the world, the cheating of evil and sin, the trickery of Satan, yet we neglected the old ‘self’. It is the most wicked in the world. The Scriptures honestly record this: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” (Jer.17:9) Luther also said, “ I fear my own heart even more than the Pope and the cardinals in red. My old self is the greatest Pope in my heart!” When we do a good deed, we want to flaunt it whenever we have a chance. If the flaunt didn’t work out, then we walk around with our tail between the legs. We love flattery and hate honest opinions. We use personal gains as a measuring standard for good and evil. No matter how the Scriptures clearly point out that we have an antagonistic nature towards God, we pay neither attention nor care. This non-caring problem is neither due to our ignorance nor we have not spent enough days at church. Rather, there are ulterior reasons.
B. The realization of sanctification.
1. The expert work of the Holy Spirit.
When we have battles in our hearts, the Holy Spirit on the one hand, through the promises of God, preserves us in God’s love and grace to resist Satan’s accusations. On the other hand, He allows ourselves to fight with hard work in combating the old ‘self’ in order for us to discover the reality of the pitiful ‘self’. Under these circumstances, we may again dedicate ourselves and recommit our lives and correct our former weaknesses. Even to the point that we might set up more stringent laws to live by to control the old ‘self’. All these self-imposed restrictions will last several days or even weeks but in a little while, they will all become a waste of previous efforts. It is because the power of self-restriction can never give birth to a spiritual alliance with the Lord who died and rose again. On the contrary, such experience forces us to cry out like the disappointed Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Rom.7:24)
After a series of painful struggles, all our own efforts have turned into smoke and brought in added failures. We will then discover that in God’s sight, our old ‘self’ has no use whatsoever. We would cry saying, “Lord, I don’t know what to do anymore! I am dead!” Then, the Holy Spirit has forced us to the end of hopelessness and it is the real ‘death’! In that ‘death’, we discovered that our old ‘self’ has zero goodness and one ‘self’ in the striving for spiritual matters is just a waste of time and efforts. We also come to see our persistent mistake in thinking and direction. From the bottom of our heart we give the correct cry – Lord’s complete salvation.
2. Accomplished in one sentencing.
A that moment, the Holy Spirit let us see the revelation in Romans 6:6: “… that our old self is crucified with Him.” (Rom. 6:6) It is not our old self was about to be crucified nor we crucify ourselves but the old self is crucified with Him! Two thousand years ago, our old self was crucified with Christ on the cross. Christ was in Golgotha and we were there also! We can tell ourselves, “You cursed one without any good, you have been crucified together with Christ on the cross. By faith, I ‘count’ you as dead over there.” Then the Holy Spirit would allow us to enter into Christ’s death. This is just like what Lightfoot honestly said, “Today, I no longer exist as an individual. I have entered into Christ.” Then the ‘plateau’ is over. The stubborn ‘self’ is crucified together with Christ. A new light shines before us. From this point forward, the standard of morality is no longer good or bad. It is rather the ‘Lord’ or ‘me’. As long as it comes from the Lord or if it is for the Lord, they are all good. The opposite, if it is from ‘self’ or it is for ‘self’, they are all evil. It doesn’t matter if it is logical, whether it is a good deal, the center of life is not my opinion, my administration, my idea, my advantage, my desire … The center of life is the Lord. It is the Lord only. It is all for the Lord. It is always for the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Now May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! Faithful is He who calls us and He will bring this to pass. (Refer to I Thes. 5:23-24) Amen!