by Brian G. Bettes
Life can be discouraging sometimes. Do you ever feel that way?
As we approach the fall holydays, a lot of strange things can start to happen. It seems that Satan becomes more active, stirring things up, causing problems, and creating difficulties for us; sickness, family problems, financial problems, car problems, and spiritual problems too. I am not just talking about “things” not going well. I am talking about deeply rooted personal problems as well. Maybe we are still struggling with a sin we have had for…well, way too long.
We can get down on ourselves and become deeply discouraged, can’t we?
Though each and every one of God’s spirit-begotten children wants to serve him with all of their hearts (which I believe is our desire), we are faced with the reality that we just aren’t “there” yet, are we? If you are like me, this will be familiar: Every day thoughts go through my mind, words come out of my mouth, and actions are taken that just don’t measure up to “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). All of us fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and if we are serious about our calling as followers of Jesus, we can allow that to get us down. I don’t know about you, but the toughest opponent I face is that guy looking back at me in the mirror every day. Satan loves to play that tune to us all the time, doesn’t he?
Let’s take a look at someone else who struggled with his humanity, but was also able to give some encouragement to move beyond the struggle.
It is assumed from the account in Acts 9 that Saul, whom most of us know as Paul, was converted not long after Pentecost, AD 31. The exact timing is not overly relevant to the fact that, by the time he wrote the book of Romans, Jesus had been working directly with him for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 or more years. Within that time frame, he was baptized and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-18), spent time directly being taught by Jesus in Arabia (Galatians 1:15-17), was used as an apostle to the Gentiles by Jesus (Romans 11:13), had many visions and revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1, 7), and had been following “the way” for a long time. His life belonged to our Father and Jesus and he was committed to surrendering fully to Them. So it should be very instructive for us when we read of his struggle with his own humanity (Romans 7:15-24).
I would ask you to please read through those verses slowly and carefully. As you do, remember that Paul wasn’t just “some guy” talking about having a hard time doing the right thing. Paul was an apostle, a member of a group of servants that very few men in the history of mankind have had the opportunity to be a part of. He was loved and supported by the Head of the Church, with whom he apparently had direct contact a number of times. Paul was not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill “Joe Christian” (if there is such a thing). What I guess I am trying to emphasize here is, by every indication, Paul had a much more direct, and likely closer, relationship with God than the vast majority of us. He certainly was used as a very powerful tool by Jesus to add to His Church; something that most of us will not do in this lifetime in the same manner as Paul. Yet even Paul struggled.
In that case, it should come as no surprise when we find ourselves “delighting in the law of God according to the inward man” but find ourselves sometimes succumbing to the law that is “warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:22-23) as Paul did.
Paul provides a tremendous amount of encouragement at the end of chapter 7 by stating that it is through Jesus that he was delivered from his wretchedness and “this body of death” (Romans 7:24-25). However, it is what he says in chapter 8 that I like to focus on when I feel the shadow of gloominess that comes over me as my old man tries to resurrect himself within me.
First he starts with the understanding that, after having accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and burying the old man (Romans 6:1-11), there is no condemnation for those who have taken that step and are now in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Understand that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. Revelation 12:10 says that he has made that a full time occupation of accusing us before God night and day. Yet God doesn’t accept his accusations. Why? Because of the powerful work that Jesus did as our Savior in dying in our stead for our sin. As a result, as stated above, there is no condemnation about us that Satan can bring before our Father. We should remember that when Satan accuses us to ourselves as well (1 John 3:20-21).
It is after this understanding, that we are not condemned before God, that Paul changes the conversation to focus on our future. This is the really encouraging part to me. Paul reminds us of God’s plan to create a family, and how we get to be a part of that family. We are to be His very children and joint-heirs with Jesus (Romans 8:14-17). God has something much greater in mind for us than we can possibly imagine.
Every once in a while I sit and ponder, trying to wrap my head around the reality of going from this flesh into becoming the very son of the Living God, as Jesus is (1 John 3:2). It fries my circuits every time! It is such a huge leap, yet it is what we are being offered.
So when we find ourselves becoming discouraged, remember Jesus and His work. Because of that work, we cannot be condemned to our Father. All He sees, if we are repenting, is Jesus’sacrifice. And what He also sees is His sons and daughters that He loves very much. We should be seeing the same thing He is. Let’s keep our focus on Jesus’ saving work, both in death and resurrected life, and our proclaimed future that He became an example of.
As Hebrews 12:1-2 says (emphasis mine), “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”