In fact, exactly because we are saved by grace, and too easily forget that sanctification is a long, sometimes arduous process, we tend to let our guard down when it comes to our sin nature.
Kind of like loosening our pants after a huge Thanksgiving meal.
As a result we fail to develop a true biblical Christian worldview, skimp on doing daily due diligence supported by God’s word, and so we are easily suckered in by whatever the Enemy puts in front of us and wants us to be duped by.
Yum! Hearsay! Rumor! Slurp!
Instead of always carefully considering all we take in against the truth of Scripture, we fall into believing whatever feels right, sounds good, seems reasonable, makes sense -- whatever tickles our not-yet-fully-sanctified ears and doesn’t force us to think too deeply.
And this applies to everything we consume: all TV (even “Christian” programs), cable news, books, movies, magazines, and, yes, even, sadly, our beloved ministers.
In other words we happily consume as “truth” what is nothing more than rumor, urban legend, hearsay, false reporting, inaccurate information, bigotry, political obfuscation, self-serving agenda, poor reasoning, twisted scripture, and the like.
We go for the warm fuzzy feeling instead of the harder critical thinking.
Prone to wander far, far away
Among my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount” written in 1758 by Robert Robinson. The opening line alone is lofty and lifts our eyes up: “Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.”
Lovely! Uplifting! Warm and fuzzy!
It’s easy to get caught up in the hymn’s positive and rapturous aspects, and then miss the vital message that comes in later verses:
O to grace how great a debtorThe two most telling lines, and the more important message for us to heed, states so bluntly, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face...
It’s a dire warning we need to ponder.
Stop one second and let it sink in. Because of our sin nature, even as we are living in God’s bountiful and scrumptious grace, just like the Children of Israel in the wilderness who whined at every inconvenience, we are prone, disposed to, bent toward walking away from God.
Because of our ever-present sin nature, we are likely at any convenient moment to leave the very God we love and to Whom we owe our lives.
Yes we are. All of us.
We do this even while claiming we’re not by accepting lies as truth, indulging in spreading rumors, wrapping our allegiances around bad ideas, and via other “soft” sins.
If we are truly, deeply, brutally honest, we know that our “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick...” (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV).
The proper and only response is to always be on guard, as Robinson puts it, “O to grace how great a debtor, Daily I’m constrained to be!” It’s a daily, even moment-to-moment necessary effort.
Note those last words: necessary effort.
Giving into sin is easy. Resisting takes effort. And it isn’t futile. But it is a requirement.
Rotting away in Wrong-believing-ville
What’s the consequence for not being on constant guard against our sin nature?
We will start bearing stinky, bad, rotten spiritual fruit.
Good fruit is revealed, in part, in Galatians 5:22-26:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (ESV).Bad fruit would then be the opposite:
Hate, worry, discord, impatience, harshness, cruelty, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, a lack of generosity, lack of concern for anyone else, focusing on our own selfish interests, belittling or insulting others, and the like.Essentially, we are “prone to wander” away from abiding in the Spirit and working out our salvation, and into everything God’s Word warns us against.
As fallen creatures it’s what we do.
A long obedience in the one true direction
We must be on continuous guard and wage ongoing war against our sinful nature as long as we draw breath on this earth.
As Robinson states in his hymn, this is our state until we reach heaven when, “O that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face.”
Until that day, well, it’s a different story.
An unguarded and inadequately restrained sin nature will draw us toward putting our faith in ourselves, our patriotism, our politics, our country, our culture, our comfort, our safety, our biases -- all things we unthinkingly accept that gives us a false sense of meaning, purpose, place, and hope, replacing God.
In other words, we end up living a false gospel and embracing an unbiblical worldview without even realizing it.
Feasting on fear & loathing
That this is true is becoming apparent in the current debate over the Syrian refugee crisis.
Those who say a loud No! to letting any of “them” come into “our” country are claiming “they” are a danger and a risk.
What are these refugees a risk to?
They are viewed as a threat to our health, our wealth, and our American way of life.
And some making many of these arguments are Christians who are ripping Bible verses out of context and force-fitting them to make their points. Coupled with this are terribly flawed and grossly biased click-bait reports being generated from not-so-credible sources.
There is stubborn refusal toward seeking out the truth, uncovering vetted statistics, or considering any information that could move them from their “us against them” stance.
In fact, variations on the utterly selfish “me and mine first” theme threads all through these misguided arguments.
Attempts to counter these positions are viewed as “ungodly” attacks and met with vehement ridicule, reviling, and resistance. Abusive name calling often ensues.
The irony that these kinds of themes, responses, and behaviors are completely counter to the message of Christ and the teachings of the New Testament is completely invisible to them.
Hard truth cannot be seen when the sinful nature gets in the way.
Instead, all that gets through is only information that soothes, reassures, and nourishes the sinful nature.
Instead of dying to self, it’s all about self-protection.
What makes this especially insidious is that everything gets filtered and colored by just enough God-talk that it seems, to the uncritical eye, as “godly” and “Christian.”
In reality it is an utterly self-centered feast for our sin nature.
Looking inward to see outward more clearly
In his concluding words to his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul admonishes them to, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14, ESV).
It’s easy to take this and other similar passages in the Bible to mean only that we are to be on guard against what’s “out there” in the world as opposed to what’s “in here” in our hearts.
And doing so we miss half the warning. We need to think more deeply on Paul’s words.
What does it take to “stand firm in the faith”? What is involved when we “act like men”? And how are we enabled to “be strong”?
By the way, to “act like men” implies not just an aspect of manliness, but of being mature and wise, qualities women should also aspire to.
And, of course, over everything, we are to act with love and all that that implies (see 1 Corinthians 13 for details).
Getting a grip on our sin nature
So what can we do to ensure we’re putting our sinful nature to death rather than being duped into wrong-headed and wrong-hearted belief and behavior?
Foremost we must always keep in mind that sanctification is a long, sometimes arduous process. It involves daily, even moment-by-moment effort. It’s not once and done.
Salvation is only the beginning to our Christian walk, a walk that frequently takes us through dangerous and tempting terrain.
As Jesus made clear, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23, ESV).
Denial seldom yields the warm fuzzies our sin nature craves.
Add to this essential awareness the need to be in the word daily (Joshua 1:8), be active in a local body of believers (Hebrews 10:25), abide in the Lord (John 15:7), and practice the other normal Christian disciplines* (Hebrews 12:8).
To these I would also add a few more suggestions:
- Question everything: “Testing the spirits” is not limited to discerning truth in a sermon, but is a practice to be applied to everything we take in. Just because you saw it on Fox News or CNN or read it on your favorite news website doesn’t mean it’s accurate.
- Be open to different views: Getting stuck in a rut of thinking can be dangerous. We should have nothing to fear from considering differing views. Just because an idea makes us a little uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s bad. God has a knack for pushing us out of our comfort zones to keep us growing in Him.
- Make contrarian friends: A great way to stay sharp in your thinking is to have a few friends you know and trust, yet who tend to think differently than you. While annoying, they can also be the source of incredible insights you might otherwise have missed.
- Read challenging books: Yes, read your Bible and read it daily. Sure, enjoy that comforting devotional. But don’t ignore other great and challenging books by excellent Christian authors such as C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Dallas Willard, J.I. Packer, Nancy Pearcey, and so many more. Check with your pastor or friends for suggestions or click here for a few.
- Understand the consequences of our words and actions: Before lashing out at someone, and especially before insulting them, consider these words of Jesus: “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:45, NLT). We need to live out the Golden Rule daily as part of our witness to the world. This also applies to how we treat our enemies.
- Beware of idol making: Idols are anything that get between us and right Christian living, that take our eyes off of God’s commandments. Comfort and safety can be idols. Preserving a specific way of life can be an idol. A source of news or a favored Bible teacher can be idols. Serving the self can be an idol. Advocating for a certain political party can be an idol. Anything that supersedes a life bent to God’s will is very likely an idol.
Frankly, fighting against our sin nature is, to be blunt, a royal pain in the butt.
It’s hard work and we can’t let our guard down for a moment. If we do, we’ll find ourselves advocating for something that serves our comfort and joy yet denies Christ and makes a mockery of God’s word.
So given the high stakes, resisting our proneness to wander, to fall into wrong ideas, to push against God’s will, to be taken in by sweet sounding falsities, to deny justice to others, to seek comfort at any price, to protect “me and mine” at the cost of another’s well-being -- this is a resistance that is not futile and which we must engage in daily.
In other words, fighting against our sin nature, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
*Click here for an article on “Spiritual Disciplines” that offers a good overview of these.
- Punishing all for one or a few: Treating Syrian refugees like naughty children
- All the leaves are brown & the sky is gray: Random thoughts & raw poems on terror, solidarity, France, Lebanon, Russia, refugees & U.S. governors acting badly
I wrote this post partially in response to “feedback” I received from yesterday’s post, particularly in one forum where I shared it. There I met a lot of resistance and was even called “Idiot.” I once heard that you’re nothing on the Internet until someone labels you an idiot. This isn’t the first time it’s happened, so “Woohoo! I am somebody!”
Kidding aside, though, some of the reactions have been disheartening, particularly given some of the clear bigotry being passed off as right Christian behavior. So, what do you think about (a) letting Syrian refugees into the U.S., and (b) what I’ve written above? Agree? Disagree? Don't care? Is any of my biblical thinking askew? Is there something I’ve missed or misrepresented? Share your reactions and insights in the comments! All I ask is that you be civil.