by Mike Ratliff
14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, (Ephesians 6:14 ESV)
Temporal focus is deadly for Christians. We know that God’s will for us is our sanctification, (1 Thessalonians 4:3) but we tend to let our focus drop from God to self. Our flesh is insidious in its desire to drive us to partake of the world and its ways for self-gratification. Our enemy knows this; therefore his temptations are often rooted there. No one is immune or exempt from this. In fact, God uses this battle to test His saints.
One of my favorite Puritan writers is John Bunyan. He was a godly man, a pastor, a preacher, a poet, a writer, and one whom God used mightily in the Kingdom. However, his opinion of himself reveals one who struggled with sin and temptation like the rest of us.
“Of all the temptations that ever I met with in my life, to question the being of God, and the truth of His gospel, is the worst, and the worst to be borne; when this temptation comes, it takes away my girdle from me, and removeth the foundations from under me. Oh, I have often thought of that word, ‘Have your loins girt about with truth’ (Ephesians 6:14); and of that, ‘When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?’ (Psalm 11:3)”
Do you suppose that God used these temptations in Bunyan’s life to work out His eternal purposes within his servant? Never forget that God will continue to work this way in His saint’s lives who have committed themselves to take up their crosses, bear them with patience, as they follow their Lord wherever He leads.
“Sometimes, when, after sin committed, I have looked for sore chastisement from the hand of God, the very next that I have had from Him hath been the discovery of His grace. Sometimes, when I have been comforted, I have called myself a fool for my so sinking under trouble. And then, again, when I have been cast down, I thought I was not wise to give such way to comfort. With such strength and weight have both these been upon me.”
God’s grace is truly amazing. We must never forget that we are saved by Grace through faith NOT of ourselves. Yes, it is important that we become more and more Christ-like as this is our sanctification, but our works have no bearing on the salvation of the genuine believer. Bunyan struggled mightily with guilt over his thought life. These quotes are from the concluding chapter of his book Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Bunyan reveals in this book how he became a Christian and the struggles he went through in dealing with a temptation to “sell God.” His conscience even became damaged through this struggle. However, what God did through this battle was to humble him and create a servant who would never compromise.
“I have wondered much at this one thing, that though God doth visit my soul with never so blessed a discovery of Himself, yet I have found again, that such hours have attended me afterwards, that I have been in my spirit so filled with darkness, that I could not so much as once conceive what that God and that comfort was with which I have been refreshed.”
“I have sometimes seen more in a line of the Bible than I could well tell how to stand under, and yet at another time the whole Bible hath been to me as dry as a stick; or rather, my heart hath been so dead and dry unto it, that I could not conceive the least drachm of refreshment, though I have looked it all over.”
“Of all tears, they are the best that are made by the blood of Christ; and of all joy, that is the sweetest that is mixed with mourning over Christ. Oh! it is a goodly thing to be on our knees, with Christ in our arms, before God. I hope I know something of these things.”
I know of what Bunyan means here. If we are honest we will admit that there are times when worship is strained and the Bible seems closed and prayer is hard work. Oh, but the sweetness of repentance when God fills this heart with Himself when I have reached the end of myself and have only Christ left!
“I find to this day seven abominations in my heart: (1) Inclinings to unbelief. (2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifesteth. (3) A leaning to the works of the law. (4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer. (5) To forget to watch for that I pray for. (6) Apt to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have. (7) I can do none of those things which God commands me, but my corruptions will thrust in themselves, ‘When I would do good, evil is present with me.’”
We sure don’t hear much of this these days do we? Our true Christian nature is revealed to us when we are not seen by others, but God alone. Are we all about doing or are we really actively obeying God without and within? I see these 7 things in myself more often than I care to admit. However, we must never forget that God is using our abhorrence of self because of these things in order to refine us.
“These things I continually see and feel, and am afflicted and oppressed with; yet the wisdom of God doth order them for my good. (1) They make me abhor myself. (2) They keep me from trusting my heart. (3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness. (4) They show me the necessity of flying to Jesus. (5) They press me to pray unto God. (6) They show me the need I have to watch and be sober. (7) And provoke me to look to God, through Christ, to help me, and carry me through this world. Amen.”
I contend that we must become self-aware as Bunyan was of how far we really are from perfect Righteousness. These 7 things are keys to being genuinely humble. None of us could ever approach the throne of grace on our own until Christ’s blood covered us. On this side of eternity we must never forget that it is only that covering that keeps us from being destroyed by our Holy and Righteous God. Because of His love for the Son who took our place on the cross, bearing our sins in His body, the Father has made us His sons whose glorification awaits.
Soli Deo Gloria!