by Mike Ratliff
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder… (2 Peter 1:3-13)
In the 1960s, the premier football team in the NFL was the Green Bay Packers. They won the NFL title in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967. They also won the first two Super Bowls. Their coach through all of these winning seasons was Vince Lombardi.
I was watching the news one day in 1966 during the NFL preseason drills. During the sports segment they showed some film from the Packers’ training camp. The players were in the background going through drills. The reporter asked Vince Lombardi several questions about team depth, returning starters, et cetera. I will never forget his answer. (This is from memory so I will paraphrase.) He said, “I can’t answer any questions about who is starting or who is playing what positions. Right now we are focusing on fundamentals.” I remember being amazed at that. This team was full of the best players in the NFL and Coach Lombardi was making them go through tackling and blocking drills that would hone those fundamental skills these guys have been using since they were kids. I do not remember hearing about any of those players complaining about it either.
I am constantly amazed at how often God takes me back to fundamentals. I have this deep hunger and drive to soar in the spiritual realm. I want God to fill me with all of the wisdom, knowledge and grace I can handle then let me fly. However, that is not how He works with me at all. This deep thirst and hunger for the things of God is still there (Thank you Jesus!), but there are times He seems far away and I feel like I am floundering. During those times, I will find myself feeling very empty and alone as I try to do His will. Silence from the throne is like death to me. I have found, though, all I need to do is leave the details alone and return to simply seeking His face and being content with His presence. The act of "seeking the Lord's face" is simply turning all of our attention to Him and away from everything else. This requires time alone with the Lord in prayer and meditation. It is a very warm and wonderful place to be. Obedience at that point is a joy beyond expression as it is completely by His grace.
When I became a runner in 1979, I wanted to run in a race. I selected a 10k race that was a few months out and started running every day trying to get ready. On the day of the race, I arrived early and was stunned to see several thousand runners getting ready. We lined up and I jockeyed myself into a good position. When the gun went off, I took off like a rocket. It became apparent after the first mile or so I had taken off way too fast and was not going to be able to finish. I walked back to my car and drove home. It was a painful and humiliating experience. I continued to run, but I was very leery about running in another race.
In June 1980, I moved from Maryland to Oklahoma. My Dad was a serious runner and we trained together. After a few weeks, we decided to run in a 5-mile race scheduled for the July 4th in a nearby city. I was very nervous about it. I didn’t want a repeat performance of that 10k. It was a hot day and the course was unknown. The gun went off at the start and I did not take off like a bullet this time. I simply ran a pace that was a little faster than I trained. After a mile or so I realized I was very comfortable and could go faster. I then sped up and started passing people. I ended up running those 5 miles at a 6:30 pace (six minutes and thirty seconds per mile). I knew I could have run it much faster, but I was very happy that I had finished. I was awarded a 3rd place trophy for my age group, which was a complete surprise.
What’s the point? In the first race, I was convinced I could simply out-will everyone and run past them. I found that I was completely out-classed and was not prepared to run in the race. In the second race, I was prepared. I was training the right way and when I got into the race, I ran with my head not my emotions.
This Spirit-led walk, running the race God has set before us, is like that as well. Sometimes we get our eyes on what we want or what we have done in the past then step out on our own full of self-confidence. When we do this, we expect our circumstances to be God-blessed and everything to go our way. Well, that is how we stumble right into a failure. Why? We have taken our eyes off Christ and this has opened the door to our enemy who does all he can to get us out of the race. What is the right way to run this race?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
We must keep our eyes fixed on Christ. Any let up is an invitation to disaster. Those “sins which clings so closely” are those besetting sins that we harbor in our hearts that habitually cause us to stumble. When we run the race with our eyes fixed on Christ, we are denying our sinful desires and we are aggressively uprooting them. This is the mortification of our sins. However, when we take our eyes off Christ we have actually turned our hearts away from Him. When we do that, we turn to self-gratification, Soul-led, mode. Our “OLD MAN” sin nature comes out of hiding and demands to be fed. If we do not catch this and turn our hearts back to Christ, we are in big trouble and those besetting sins are waiting on us.
What is the solution? We must continue in the fundamentals. However, the following is usually what happens. God uses us in a wonderful edifying way, people tell us how knowledgeable and spiritual we are, and we make the mistake of believing them. The next step for us is to stumble. Why? We get out of the process of walking the walk by faith, running the race, and abiding in Christ by thinking that we have arrived. We must not think like that. We must consider ourselves babes in Christ who are helpless. No matter how successful we become in this Spirit-led walk the danger is there to become prideful in our humility. Success in this walk will come to those who understand it is not them who is doing all of that wonderful spiritual work in the heart. It is God and God alone who can and will grant us repentance. No matter how hard we try to be godly, we cannot do it. We must put all of our effort into drawing as close to God as we can. Allow Him to break up the fallow, uncultivated, ground of our hard hearts. When we become tenderhearted, we can hear and obey Him.
The Apostle Paul is a good example for us. He was very godly. His spiritual insight was awesome. However, even after years of serving God with his entire being he confessed he was still a work in progress.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead… (Philippians 3:12-13)
The way to run the race God has set before us, not stumbling or falling, is returning to the fundamental process of focusing our entire being on Christ. When we are victorious or God uses us in wonderfully, deep spiritual ways we must continue to fix our heart’s focus on Him in all humility. The alternative is an ugly “parasitic sin."
The fundamentals that keep the Spirit-led believer in the Walk by Faith are amazingly simple to understand yet are very difficult to master. Here is a list from my book Walking the Walk by Faith that I used to show the process of becoming a growing Spirit-led believer.
Walking the Walk by Faith
- Fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (Matthew 22:29
- Learn what Christ teaches (Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (Romans 12:1
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Renew our minds and become transformed unto Christ-likeness (Romans 12:2)
- Discern God’s Will and submit to it (Romans 12:2)
The reason it is difficult to master is we think once we have been through this cycle several times we cannot be sucked back into the old way of walking. Success comes only as we remain submitted to our Lord as He takes us through whatever growth cycles He has designed specifically for us. That means we must never let up on our pursuit of God. My experience has shown me I must be extremely diligent in staying focused on my Lord. Any let down and I will be on my knees very soon confessing and repenting of some sin.
What is the secret? How can we stay in the race? What has to change so we keep our spiritual eyes on Christ?
- It takes time and it takes the constant sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to change us.
- We must change our attitude so we view our salvation, our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, as our most valuable treasure. When we do that we treasure it, we protect it and we focus our whole being on living the life that builds up that treasure and the treasury of Godliness in our hearts.
- We must ask God to grant us repentance.
- We must develop godly habits as we get rid of worldly habits.
- We must fast from the things of the flesh as we feast on God.
- We must not compromise with the world and its ways.
These fundamentals open up our hearts so God can break up its callousness or hardness. This is God circumcising our hearts. This enables us fall in love with Him like never before.
And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)
This is the key. God must roll away our reproach by actually breaking up the hardness in our hearts so we can hear Him and love Him. This is the point we become Spirit-led. Our part is total surrender and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When God has drawn us into this submission and we have obediently gone hard after Him then He will cut away our spiritual blindness by circumcising our hearts. It is a wonderful day when we realize God has altered our entire value system. How can we discern this? With a now tender heart our godly value system, housed in our conscience, has a clear and undefiled reign in us. A clear and undefiled conscience is a wonderful part of the treasury of godliness in our hearts. Why? This conscience is in complete bondage to sacred Scripture. Where do we read and learn God's value system? When we study the Bible and meditate on its truths God will write His Word on our hearts. This is the imparting of His value system into our conscience.
The Spirit-led already know this. Why? They are living it. Oh, they may fluctuate back and forth between being Soul-led and Spirit-led, but over time the amount of time spent being Spirit-led out-weighs the time being Soul-led to the point they are nearing the transition point. What is the transition point? This is the point where the Adult Christian has matured to the point they are becoming Christ-like and are nearly ready to become a Mature Christian. What is the character trait that marks this believer? It is humility. This is not false humility masquerading as humility. This is genuine humility, which exists only in the heart of the genuine believer. This believer has matured to the point they are becoming Christ-like. This humility comes only through God’s good work in our hearts.
The Spirit-led believers who have matured to this point have done so by dedicating themselves to sticking to the fundamentals. The godly habits of feasting on God while fasting from the flesh are paramount. The walking in Repentance with Joy is a constant in their life. This believer stays in the cycle of fearing God, turning to Jesus, taking up His yoke, learning what He teaches, submission as a living sacrifice, obedience, mind renewal and discerning and doing God’s will. Why? These fundamentals not only bring the believer into being Spirit-led, they keep him or her there. God uses these fundamentals to build genuine humility in the heart of the Spirit-led believer. This humility grows and grows all the way through both the Adult Christian and Mature Christian stages.
Genuine humility is the opposite of self-confidence. That means the more mature a believer becomes the less they will have confidence in self. That fact can be quite disturbing. When I started seeking God about writing my third book, I realized right away that I was not a Mature Christian…yet. I struggled for a while with that. I asked for wisdom and knowledge. What happens when we seek the Lord that way? He gives us the wisdom and knowledge we need.
Have you ever seen any of those old black and white movies from the 1930’s about men in prison? They wore black and white striped shirts and pants. They had a heavy iron ball chained to one of their legs. They spent their entire day, every day, hammering away with sledgehammers at big rocks to make little rocks. I have never figured out why they had to do that. However, this makes a good analogy for the point we are making here about becoming that broken and usable believer according to God's will.
The Soul-led’s heart is hard. Their hard-heartedness blinds them. They are full of unbelief. The Spirit-led believer became that way by God circumcising their heart. He cuts through the callousness as the believer submits to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This opens the heart up so the believer can hear God. Think of this process as God taking a sledgehammer and breaking up our hard hearts. Hard hearts are like large, rock-hard boulders. When God circumcises our hearts, the boulders are broken up into small rocks. The process of going through the Adult Christian stage is one of making these small rocks smaller and smaller until they become the fertile soil of a tender heart. Some believers may race through this stage and become tenderhearted very quickly, however, most of us take much more time because we have some very deep-seated strongholds and idols that need to be demolished.
The Mature Christian’s heart is not rock hard at all. The particles of the fertile soil of their heart are very small and soft. There are no weeds because, being good gardeners, they are constantly pulling them up, roots and all, as the Lord reveals them. Weeds and rocks in the garden are the result of self-focus, self-confidence and self-gratification. No weeds or rocks are the result of continual brokenness before the Lord. The broken, fertile soil of the tender heart is poison to pride. Pride thrives on the rocky sour and poor soil of the hard heart.
God is calling us all to make it through the refinement of the Adult Christian stage then submit again to the call of complete brokenness and helplessness that pulverizes our hearts into the fertile soil God can mold and make as He wills. This surrender will take us to the next level as we lose all self-focus. The processes will be those fundamental steps we took while being refined, but with the added emphasis on being completely empty and humble before our Lord. It will be all for His Glory.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.