There is a point of no return for believers when getting involved too heavily in matters of life in this world, especially where other people=s money is involved, or you have committed large amounts of other resources, like time and energy in things or opportunities, that you consider worthwhile. It is at these points, where outward and inward motives converge, that strong temptations exist to turn from the righteous path, where previously the simple light of conscience or a word from a friend could have easily corrected a mistake in judgment. Investing in this world has a way of dividing loyalties, skewing judgments, and reorienting priorities. Beware when you stand lest you fall; there is a traitor in our midst.
There is a war going on inside every person for the ownership of their soul. This is a true statement, but really the war is not only for the throne of our hearts, it is for the throne of God. Satan=s war is against God, and men are only a means to an end. Satan uses men to get at God, and God does not hold men guiltless although it is the Devil=s work.
Let me try and lay this out from Scripture, then you can make the application, whether what I say is true or false.
I am not going to trace back to the beginning of all our problems to the first sin. You are already familiar with that story: Adam and Eve, and the serpent, and how he deceived Eve, and Adam, through his own will, deceived himself. Satan=s methods have not changed as history has shown, only the actors are different. AThere is nothing new under the sun.@ So, I will start with the New Testament, with some Old Testament wisdom thrown in. The storyline is the same, but I will apply it to today in the decisions we make that effect our lives and the lives of those we touch.
Let me start off by making two short statements of truth for the believer.
1. The world is our enemy, and
2. The flesh is our enemy.
These two statements encompass all that is wrong with our lives. If we knew everything that these two statements contained we would be able to see clearly, and recognize the great warfare that is raging in the spirit realm, and how it flows through into the lives of natural man. But, because we do not understand all that these two short sentences hold, good and evil get all mixed up into a deadly cocktail, of what we call our moral lives, and we willingly drink and even give toast to what we comprehend as the vast freedom of our Christian lives. But, the truth is that we neither know ourselves, the Devil, or the Scriptures, but mostly we do not know ourselves or the treachery of our own hearts. We have a superficial knowledge from reading the Bible, but we do not know, as in understanding, the ramifications of what we read. The less we understand, the more potent the cocktail, and the more heady our confidence in seeing our way clear to do almost anything in the name of the Lord; the history of the Church bears this out. And this is where the problem begins.
We say we know certain things, but true understanding comes with the application, i.e. obedience. Even a child can recite his or her sums, but the test comes at the cash register when they have to make change. It is there that they find the importance of experience; only by their obeying and applying the rules that they have so often recited. Those who refuse to obey the rules find that they have become either penniless, a cheat, or out of a job, because they failed to follow the rules of addition. 1 + 1 = 2, and we break this rule to our own hurt, and we break the laws of Heaven to our own hurt also.
Let me explain a little more, then I will back it all up with Scripture.
We understand easily enough statement #1 above, that the world is our enemy. The world is external to us. We look out at the world and we can see how this enemy tries to defeat us: the lies, the lust, the greed and envy, the injustice and unkindness, the hate and wars, the deceptions and illusions. They assault our eyes and our ears to get at our senses, and unless we are blind or deaf we recognize the messenger and trickster behind these schemes. It is the Devil, and he comes with great force, from every direction, trying to penetrate our defenses. This is the easiest to see, and this is also the easiest to defend against, even though for some it is very hard and they never get very far down the road with the Lord. We could go on and on about how Satan wages this outward battle, because it is in front of us, it is outward, outside our bodies. This outward battle is just one way we are attacked, the other way is by the enemy within us.
As if this outward battle isn=t bad enough there is yet another battle that is a hundred times worse, because we have failed to recognize, acknowledge, and build appropriate defenses against. I will use a story to illustrate what I mean. Imagine a war, a real war, like Viet Nam. I know how hard that can be, and at times it can seem impossible and that it couldn=t get any worse, but it can. Suppose a platoon of soldiers were caught in an ambush while on a patrol. They follow all the rules for engaging the enemy: assume defensive posture, lay down a field of fire, estimate the size of the opposition, consider a route of retreat or attack, exit the kill zone, address the seriously wounded, and radio for support fire. They do everything by the book, then under heavy siege there comes a turn, not for the better, but for the worse. Imagine what would happen, through an act of treason, disloyalty, and betrayal, a large number of those soldiers defected and turned on those who had put their trust in them. You can see how deadly the situation would be, it would be almost hopeless. No longer is their enemy just "outward" he is within the ranks; within their own Amembers.@
This is exactly the situation that every Christian faces, and they don=t even realize it. They try to engage the outward enemy and are bushwhacked by their own deceitful hearts. It is the treason of their own members,@as Paul puts it. Our hearts are deceitful above all things, making us believe we have an ally, when its real allegiance is to evil, and how it works (wars) against us. We are in a very bad predicament, the enemy without, and the enemy within, working to destroy us.
Not realizing the power, the intentions, or the means of defeating this enemy within is the fatal flaw for most Christians leading to apostasy, lost rewards, or even worse, Hell. And, this occurs while they are theologically and throughly convinced that their soul is out of harms way.
We live under the illusion that we can pander to the dictates of a deceitful heart and come away unharmed. ACan a man take fire into his bosom and not be burned?@ Once the soul has been tricked it becomes easier for the outward enemy to win over the will of that person. Once the floodgate of sin can be opened without resistence, Satan will waste no time putting that person in chains.
Romans 7:21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
Paul, in chapter 7 of Romans is dealing with the state of the believer with regard to the remaining power of indwelling sin. Paul states as an absolute: So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
Paul calls this indwelling sin a law.@The law he has discovered is stated in some versions as a principle. Although this is true it doesn=t carry the force that Paul is trying to present. Paul uses the word Alaw.@ The law he is describing is not a law as in a ruling, as in the Ten Commandments, it is rather a law in the sense of causing something to happen, like the law of nature, or the law of gravity. It is a law in the sense that it is constantly urging or inclining an action to take place. Likewise we find in Rom. 8:2 the law of the Spirit of life which is a powerful working force given to us by grace. Once we are born anew this law of the Spirit of life become a force causing something to happen, just as the law of sin and death. These both are active within the believer. The thing which we need to know is that this thing, that Paul calls a law, is very effective and powerful, and remains in us as indwelling sin, constantly working toward evil. Paul also tells us that although the Law of the Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death, that it is still forceful, and is not dead.
Christians have this blessing, that the Spirit has been given to us to help us in ruling over the law of sin. Carnal men do not have this Spirit and do always what the law of sin requires, they can=t do otherwise. But, Christians have a solution to sin at their disposal, if they so choose to invoke its rule.
Paul says he Afound@ this law. He had heard that there was such a law. He had heard it preached. He was convinced that there was such a law. But, it is one thing to know something in a general way, but, it is a different thing to have experiential acknowledgment through the power that is exerted on one own life. The power of sin, Paul knew, firsthand. This was his discovery, this is what he found, his grave illness. It is one thing to hear a discourse about cancer, it is something else to know cancer by the destructive effects it is having throughout your body. This was his experience, his discovery. This is a fact, that if you never have a discovery of this cancer in your self, then it is a sure thing that you are under the dominion of that law of sin, and not the other law, of grace.
It is important to understand something here. Paul said, When I want to do good. The inclination of Paul=s heart is to do good. This is also the inclination of the hearts of all born again Christians. It is habitual leaning of the Spirit that dwells within them, to do good, and not evil. Paul says that when this inclination to do good expressed itself, the battle was on. The evil that was in Paul was habitual also, and would always exert itself at the most inappropriate times, like when he wanted to do good. The law in them is not a law unto them, there is a difference. The Bible say that we want to always do good, that is the new law unto us, but evil is present, and it is the residual sin that is Ain@ us; it is a law in us, not unto us. There is always through grace a constant and prevailing will to do good, but there is the power and effectiveness of indwelling sin to the contrary.
It is the will power that is the vessel that is directly assaulted by the law of sin. The opposition we make to sin comes from our knowledge of Scripture or our conscience. The will to sin is with us all the time. Take away all the considerations of God=s word and the sting of conscience and we would sin continually without provocation. It is the will that has to be delivered from the law of sin. When we would do good, we find a will in bondage to the law of sin; evil is there present.
We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Sin is inherent in us. We have good in us, and we have evil in us. Gal 5:17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.
From what has been said so far we can see that much wisdom is required to guide and manage our hearts, and our ways before God.
There are two springs from which our walk upon Earth flows, sin and grace, and it is the will, that makes the decisions. The will is not naturally delivered at our new birth, we are only given the tool to bring it into subjection.
But, how is it possible to make good decisions with the heart and will being so corrupt? Rom 7:24, 25 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
There are two things we need to know if we want to drive back the sin of our flesh and to do the good that pleases God.
1. We must know the will of God, and
2. We must know ourselves.
Here again #1 is self evident. To know the will of God is a matter of study and prayer, and God Himself will give us the answer.
It is this second part that has all the difficulty. Most Christians go on all their lives dealing with failure, one after the other, because they have not known their own hearts and presume to hear from God when they are only hearing their own hearts speak.
Jer 17:9,10 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
The heart is the seat and the focus of sin. Scripture everywhere assigns sin to the heart. Solomon said,
Eccl 9:3 the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live.
Mat 15:19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:
We all fall under many outward temptations, aggravations, provocations, incitements, enticements, irritations, and imaginations, which excite and stir us to all forms of evil; all of these are but the opening of the vessel and the letting out of what is stored up there. The root of all these things is in the heart. These temptations and irritations put nothing into the heart of man, but only allow an opportunity for the heart to vent and expel what is already there. Gen 6:5 and 8:21 And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Hence, it is called by Jesus the evil treasure of the heart.
Lk 6:45 And an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil.
It is by this deceit that men will do this sin or that, and think that by its satisfaction that they will not sin any more. Every sin only increases the strength of the law. In this unsearchable heart dwells the law of sin, and much of its security and strength lies in this, it is past our finding out. We are fighting with an enemy who=s great strength we cannot discover. When we think that it is defeated and our souls seem at rest, we can be sure that it has only slithered off into some secret place to lay dormant to be aroused when we least expect it, and catch us in ambush. The best of our wisdom is to watch and pray that we enter not into temptation.
One of the loudest voices you will hear from the galley when making a life decision is to listen to your heart. That statement and charge couldn=t be further from the truth or the desire of God. A lot of times when we are struggling to make a decision we go with what feels rightYand at times that works out and we think we are on the right path. Proverbs 28:26 says, He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.
All the disorders of the heart, all of its false promises and fashionable appearances, promote the interest and the advantages of sin. That is why God cautions his people to look to it, lest their own hearts should entice and deceive them. The heart is a liar in all that it promises.
Here are a few considerations for taming the heart. We cannot defeat it. The best we can do is hold it at bay; it is a lifetime fight, and he who dies in this warfare will be the victor.
First, never think that the work is ever done. To crucify, mortify, or to subdue sin, will never be at an end. Regardless of how well we pretend we have done, there is always some reserve remaining that we overlooked. Beware when you stand (as a victor) lest you fall.
Secondly, sin hides in that which is versatile and changeable, and deceitful above all things. This means that there has to be someone on the wall at all times. It is a perpetual watch. An outward enemy will give some rest, but you can never rest against this inner enemy. You cannot be too suspicious, doubtful, or watchful. We find many warnings about being, careful, circumspect, diligent, and watchful. All the cautions that are given concerning the heart, I think none is as important as, remember not to believe the heart.
Thirdly, commit it all to the Lord, who alone can search the heart, and knows it. Everything else mentioned is our duty, but here lies our safety. Ps 139:23, 24 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. In the previous verses David is praising God for knowing all things, and these words were his conclusion.
Knowing ourselves is the thing that is most needed by Christians today, as it has always been. This is why Paul gives so many warnings to not trust our ability to reason things out; we simply cannot do it, we will rest on faulty facts, our house will crumble. Where is the wisdom of this world? Where is the wise? Has not God brought to nothing the wisdom of the wise and the philosophers. We can barely decide what we are going to eat for breakfast, much less things that really matter: about our family, our friends, our life as a mother and wife, or father and husband, about God. We are just not capable, regardless that we make the declaration that it is for good, that doesn=t make it so.
We have not even gotten into the effect and strength of this indwelling sin. How this law causes fearfulness and eruptions of actual sin; how it destroys a once healthy zeal and holiness; how it leaves it victims beaten, bleeding, and dying, with no strength to lift their head to Heaven; or the slow and unrecognized dying by degrees, of a slow fall from grace; or the great apostasy that is swallowing huge numbers of once stable believers into the morass of easy believism and cheap grace.
We are living in a time when we should be buttoning down the hatches for the great storm that is on the horizon. It is a time of introspection and casting off of all weights that anchor us to this world. Our eyes need to be glued on the eastern sky, not on the treasures of this world.
Be careful when contemplating building something for God. God nowhere requires us to build anything for Him, only to become a living stone in something He is building.