Dear future Kristen,
I am writing this letter to you coming off of a very difficult season of struggle against sin. I am hoping that the next time this letter comes to your attention you will have made significant headway in the quest for humility and sacrifice and joy in God. Right now, though, the struggle is tearing me apart. On one side I feel God pulling me more strongly than I have ever felt toward Himself, while at the same time in a corner of my heart, rebellion still lurks as a squatter, relentlessly yanking me back from giving it all to Him. I don’t want the rebellion, but my heart still wants to fight against God, while at the same time I also desire to fight my heart. Now do you understand why I feel torn to pieces?
Why do I tell you all this? Well, I think it’s because this is by far not the last time you will feel pressed by sin. We are still in our fallen bodies and that wretched flesh still lives inside of us. Yet at the same time, we have the Spirit. He wants different things than our flesh and actively fights against our flesh to destroy it. (And He will destroy it, hallelujah!) The result? We become a cosmic battleground where God fights the wars of His kingdom. It’s Galatians 5 all over again. “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh.” It is the reality of the Christian life.
Thankfully, Paul gives us some help. Galatians 5:16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The flesh is still there, but it’s straight-jacketed as long as you are walking in the Spirit. But the problem is that the flesh is like Houdini. As soon as you stop intentionally walking in the Spirit and letting Him keep it restrained, it finagles a way out of the straight jacket and back into rule of your heart. The other dangerous thing about the flesh is that you love it. It feels good, even though it’s end is the way of death. “To set the mind on the flesh is death…” (Romans 8:6). Like Tozer said, it is an opaque curtain of self that keeps you from seeing the glory of Jesus (and therefore being transformed into His image), and it is so intertwined with our hearts that to rip it away and crucify it hurts like hell. But truly, the path of the flesh is the path of hell – forever death without ever being able to embrace the beauty of Jesus. And you will know the death of your flesh now, or forever death then. Choose death now.
But how? How on earth do you kill that slick, parasitic con artist that will destroy your faith and steal your joy and leave you hopeless and empty and begging despite all you have given it? You choose to say “yes” to Jesus no matter what He asks for or requires of you. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you belong to Christ Jesus, if you are His, if you are a blood-bought servant of Jesus Christ, you have crucified the flesh. Why? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and you walk with Him. Note: that does not mean you can never sin again. But it means that as long as you are walking by the Spirit and saying “yes” to Him, you will not sin.
However, to do so you must learn to surrender. In our Christian subculture, we often entertain the idea that surrender is a “one time thing” we do in a moment of emotionalism, but I don’t think that is true. True surrender is life as sacrifice. That’s what Paul means in Romans 12 when he says, “Present your bodies to God as a living sacrifice.” You don’t surrender once. You surrender every single time that you must again choose to say “yes” to Jesus and “no” to yourself. Your decision of surrender lies not in saying “yes” once in a moment of emotion, but in choosing to say “yes” over, and over, and over and over again, no matter what He asks for.
The question that remains: Why should you do so? Paul answers that question as well. “Present your bodies… which is your reasonable service.” Why? Because Jesus deserves it! “I make my appeal to you by the mercies of God, present your bodies.” See what Jesus has done, understand that He deserves your “yes”, and then choose to say “yes” to Him.
I say this to you now, in light of the struggle and the sin that I’ve seen in my own life lately because I know that God reveals sin to us progressively. As we fight and defeat one sin, another is brought to our attention. But I want your future struggles to drive you to God and cause you to submit to Him out of thankfulness, rather than causing you to run from Him. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes sin runs deep. But grace is always there and always accessible because the God of infinite grace never leaves His children. Never. Ever. You must believe that. Never forget that He loves you and wants to hear your voice, so don’t stop talking to Him, even when He seems far away or you feel like you’ve failed him again. Maybe you have, but He still loves you! He wants you to run to Him! Believe that!! Keep holding on to hope — hope will not put you to shame as long as it is in Him and His Word.
One last thing: sometimes choosing to obey gets really hard and tiring. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to produce any fruit and isn’t going to make any difference. But I promise you it will. If nothing else, it is worth it for Him alone. He says, “Do not be weary in doing good, for in due season you shall reap if you faint not.” He says, “Keep doing good. Keep doing good. Don’t give up. Sow good seed, no matter the blood and sweat and tears it takes to sow them, because God will make them grow.” The joy of reaping will be worth the pain of sowing. You have to believe that it’s worth it. Because it is.
Soon the clouds will clear, and the dim reflection you now know of the Lord Jesus will give way to unobstructed, face-to-face fellowship. And in that moment all the pain you experienced in striving to please Him will be utter sweetness, and any trite sweetness for which you sacrificed His fellowship will be as bitter as wormwood and gall in your stomach.
So stay in the fight till the final round. Jesus is worth it.