March 7, 2013

The most subtle threat to your spiritual life

by Justin Erickson

I am responsible for my sanctification.  Yes, I know that holiness is only by grace as I cooperate with the Spirit of God and apply my heart to the means of growth in grace – the rich study and meditation of God’s Word, deep dependence upon God through prayer (including thanksgiving, petition, intercession, and confession), fasting (not just from food), worship, fellowship, etc.  However, at the end of the day, the one responsible to make changes in my life is me.  I am 100% responsible, while at the same time 100% dependent (Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13; 1 Timothy 4:7).  I am also, therefore, without excuse for any unwillingness to change.  Scripture promises that I will never be tempted beyond what I am able to handle and that in every situation, God faithfully gives me enough grace to persevere through the test so that I do not have to sin (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Simply put, if I don’t change – it’s on me.  It’s my fault.  If I do change, God gets all the credit (Romans 11:33).

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One of the areas where my spiritual health either thrives or diminishes is in what happens to me when God’s Word is open before me.  Whether it’s my own personal devotional time with the Lord, under the preaching of a sermon, in a class designed to equip me, or whatever – each time the Word of God is open, I am confronted with a wonderful opportunity or a serious danger:

The opportunity is the ability to grow and be conformed more into the image of Christ (Colossians 3:10) by the all-sufficient, intimate, and practical knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:3-4).

The danger is not that I would close the Bible and then run out and do the opposite.  That’s possible, but not where most of us struggle.  The danger is that I would be exposed to the truth and simply do nothing at all.  That is the most serious yet common threat to our pursuit of holiness.  The reason it’s so unsafe is because to train ourselves to hear truth and do nothing means that we routinely dull our consciences and allow our hearts to harden without even realizing it.  Then when the day of testing is upon us and we need the Word to do its work in our hearts, it doesn’t.  We’ve told it not to so repeatedly, it’s just doing what we taught it to do.  We’ve taken the proverbial smoke alarm off the ceiling and removed the batteries, but now that there’s a fire, we have no warning until it’s too late.

Or maybe it could be compared to tires on a car.  For most of us, it’s not the big blow out that will leave us spiritually stranded on the side of the road; it’s the slow leak that goes unattended little by little that eventually puts us in the same place.  Thus the book of James declares in James 1:19–27:

 19 “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. 22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Just a few observations that may save your soul from serious spiritual decline – one of it’s greatest dangers:

  • The entire unit of vv. 19-27 is about the Word of God, as made clear by the command in v. 21, “in humility receive the Word implanted.”  Everything else in the section tells you how to do it.
  • Thus, in v. 19, we should readily place ourselves under it (“quick to hear”), we should not be hasty to install ourselves as teachers of it (“slow to speak” cf. 3:1)and we should not become angry at it when it confronts our need to change (“slow to anger”).
  • In vv. 22-23, merely hearing is not enough.  Hearing only leads to spiritual delusion. Doing of the Word assures us that we are receiving it.  We don’t know it until we do it.
  • Hearing truth and do nothing is as absurd and forgetful as a man who studies his face in the mirror and then cannot remember what he looks like – the color of his skin and hair, etc. – vv. 23-24.
  • The only pathway to spiritual blessing is apply the truth we know, every time we look into it; it will set us free – v. 25.
  • The surest way to know that the Word is working in us who believe (1 Thessalonians 2:13) is that we bridle our tongues, care for those in need, and cultivate the kind of purity that separates us from the world – vv. 26-27.

You have just been exposed to the Word.  You will be again and again.  Resolve right now that every time you do, you will take at least one thing you have heard and put it to work immediately and you will paddle against the spiritual drift spoken of Hebrews 2:1, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.”  It’s not a matter of if we can change; it’s whether we will. 

Justin Erickson

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Justin is the Senior Pastor of Highland Park Evangelical Free Church in Columbus, Nebraska.
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  • Steve Hardy

    Thanks for this timely and helpful reminder. How important it is for us as believers to desire to be changed every time we encounter the Word. I think this becomes even more important the longer we’ve known the Lord and we deal with the what we consider our familiarity with Him and with certain passages of Scripture.

  • Brian

    I have drifted very very far from the Lord and have so much sin in my heart and on my conscience. I have hardened my heart and dulled my conscience. I’ve been hearing and reading the Word but haven’t acted on it and did as I should have done. I’ve been gathering and collecting all of this Bible knowledge. I have not guarded my heart like I should have and it’s the reason why I’m in the pit that I’m in today. I’ve been struggling with my salvation, wondering if I’m truly saved. I don’t know. Each and every day is like hell, wondering if I’m truly saved. I feel like God has left me forever. Somewhere in my heart I don’t want to give up completely and leave the truth that I have heard even though there are times that I want to because I keep getting deeper and deeper into the pit that I created and caused to myself. I’m trying to look at Christ but it seems like He is hidden in a fog and I can’t see Him clearly. I’ve been falling asleep, being lazy, and being complacent. I feel like it may be too late for me. . . . my heart’s so hard.

    • Gwen

      Brian,

      Your post touched my heart, and I’ve prayed to God to ask him to soften your heart. I am not well versed in the bible to be able to point you to passages that might help. But it occurred to me that what you need to do is pray. Pray earnestly and faithfully every day and ask Christ Jesus to forgive your sins and to open your heart to him.

      I know He will hear you. God bless you.

      Gwen

  • kevin2184

    Very convicting, thanks Justin for posting.

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  • Chris

    My friend, great post. Thank you for the reminder.