by Mike Ratliff
I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:9-24 ESV)
If we are honest, each of us would have to confess that there are sins that have an incredible hold on us. It seems that no matter how devoted we become in our walk before our Lord, there will be some sins that trip us up, making us stumble and fall to our deep chagrin. Our self-loathing resulting from this can be quite severe. We cry out to God, we promise Him that we are done with that sin. We declare that we would rather die than do it again. We weep. We mourn. We then start to recover and become joyous in the Lord again. Then a short time later there is that sin pouncing upon us out of no where. We seem to have little or no strength or resolve to fight it off and then we stumble right back into it again.
This whip-saw, teeter-totter, up and down, back and forth hell on earth drives us to near madness. Why can’t victory come Lord? I have let go so You could control me Lord! Aren’t we supposed to ‘Let go and Let God?” Part of the problem in our 21st Century American Church is that there is little emphasis, if any, on proper biblical discipleship. Also, many preachers seem to believe that all they have to do is encourage their pew sitters by being positive. No one, it seems, is taught how to live as a true disciple of Christ.
Part of what is missing in the 21st Century Church is a proper Biblical understanding of sin as something alive within each of us. The Bible is very clear that, unlike most people’s understanding, no one is good because our hearts are desperately wicked.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10 ESV)
But, but, but…didn’t that get washed away when I got saved? Justification by Faith is an “imputation” of Christ’s righteousness to our account. It did not make us perfect little Christians. Our regeneration changed us into new creations, but that means that God called and drew us to believe and gave us the ability to do so. We now have the ability to obey Him. However, our sin nature is still intact and very much alive. We all have a tremendous drive to be fulfilled. From birth we have been desperately seeking fulfillment from all of our experiences, senses, or whatever. The most used part of our being that we use for this is via our flesh. We seek things from our flesh to feed our insatiable appetite for fulfillment. Of course, nothing we can do or acquire this way gives us any lasting fulfillment. This means that we are like zombies on a treadmill seeking anything to fill that void in our hearts. Many people use religion in a hope to fill that void. That, of course, is nothing more than chasing after the wind in church.
Our 21st Century churches have left out four vital emphases that, if restored, would, I believe, lead to one of the deepest revivals in our history. The first one that is tragically missing as a vital emphasis is the Holiness of God. God is Holy, but most Christians seem to have no idea how important that is for us to understand. His Holiness sets Him apart from his creatures. He does not have our weaknesses. When we recognize His Holiness, He is awesome and adorable to us in His strength and (this is vital) He is visitant to our consciences. His presence there exposes and condemns sin within us. When we take His Holiness lightly or do not understand how vital it is then we suffer the consequence of a hardened heart. Our consciences become weak and impure. However, when we have a vital and fearful understanding of God’s Holiness and Awesomeness, then our consciences become cleansed and powerful in driving us to obedience.
The second missing emphasis in the 21st Century American Church is the significance of motivating desire. Desire is the index of our hearts. Motivation is the decisive test of whether our actions are good or bad. If our hearts are wrong, lacking reverence, or love, or purity, or humility, or a forgiving spirit, but instead festering with pride, self-seeking ambition, envy, greed, hatred, sexual lust or the like, nothing that one does can be right in God’s sight. In our 21st Century American Church, too often, however, the moral life is reduced to role-play, in which prescribed and expected performance is everything and no attention is paid to the craving, ragings and hostilities of the heart so long as we do what we think we should do. We check our hearts this way, but it is all external and not the way God assesses us. Scripture tells us to mortify sin, but we think that means to break bad habits. However, to mortify sin means to drain the life away from our sinful desires and urgings. We think we can change our habits by replacing them with good habits, but unless we kill the root then we have not mortified the sin within us. Our motives are still rooted in the flesh.
I used to work with a fellow who was probably the best example of a repentant Christian I have ever met. He had a sign pinned to his cubicle wall right over his phone with a duplicate right next to his computer monitor. All it had on it was the question, “What are your motives?” I really admired this guy’s spirit. He was one of the most gentle and tender-hearted men I have ever met. I watched him deal with some of the most difficult and unreasonable people imaginable and stay as calm and gentle as ever. I pray God develops this desire in my heart.
The third missing emphasis in the 21st Century American Church is the need for self-scrutiny. We must understand the fallen nature of our hearts. If we are ignorant of this then we are in great spiritual danger. If we start to believe that we have some “goodness” in us that God would desire then we have made a huge error by falling for our heart’s deceitfulness. We fail miserably and set ourselves up for a huge fall into sin when we trust what our hearts tell us. We must never forget what God says about our hearts in Jeremiah 17:9-10. We must never take what our hearts tell us about ourselves as pure truth. Our hearts lie. They tell us that our motives and attitudes are pure when they aren’t. We must watch and examine ourselves by Scripture in order even to know what habits of our hearts need to be mortified. Our mind-sets must be changed. Do we hear teachings from the pulpits in our churches about this? I think not.
The fourth and last missing emphasis in the 21st Century American Church is the life-changing power of God. Now we are back to the wonderful miracle of the regenerated heart. Our new birth does change us drastically. We are changed morally, but it is not something standing alone. It is rooted in a sustained exercise of faith, hope and love. This walking by faith is the process whereby the power of Christ’s death to deliver from domination by sinful desire. and the power of the Holy Spirit to induce Christlike attitudes and actions are constantly being proved. Part of this miracle of being able to mature unto Christlikeness is powered by the expectation that we can know deliverance from sinful passions in the heart through prayer to Jesus. Real deliverance from sinful passions is a wonderful blessing. In the words of John Owen from his The Mortification of Sin, “Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of thy sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and thou wilt die a conqueror; yea, thou wilt, through the good providence of God, live to see thy lust dead at thy feet.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if the remnant, the little flock of Christ, in America could grasp how powerful we are when we are living lives of repentance by actively putting to death the sinful desires of our hearts then we would be those bringing light into the darkness of this dying world. The aberrant versions of Christianity, born out of disillusion with inconsistent Christians in our 21st Century churches, would quickly fade away because sold-out Christians who walk the walk by faith will be used by God to reveal what real Christianity is. The counterfeit church would lose all its luster because nothing can outshine what God uses to reflect His glory.
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