While hardly a perfect comparison, those television commercials for air freshener describe the presence of God. People are blindfolded and put into a ‘stinky mess’ where the freshener has been used. They think they are in a garden, not near a pile of muck.
A better description might be that God is everywhere, even in places we associate with evil, but He is not defiled by the impurity around Him. Imagine the rays of the sun falling on a rotting corpse; that corpse cannot change nor can it spread its corruption to the sunbeam. The presence of God is like that.
Christians who struggle with temptation and sin need to remember His presence and that we have a special relationship with Almighty God. Although He is everywhere, He manifests his presence by his Spirit in an intense and special way for those who are alive in Christ Jesus. We who love Him and have been reborn by His Spirit are profoundly aware of God in us.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16–17)
How is this practical? That seems a silly question. How is my life and behavior affected when I am with godly people? How do I respond to the presence of someone who is joyful, or kind, or noble, or any other grand quality of character? I am lifted up a notch, encouraged by a higher goodness.
Yet the presence of God in me is more than mere influence. It is the Spirit of Christ that changes the way I think, talk, and act. Apart from Him, I can do nothing. Jesus said,
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
One of my near relatives is a caregiver for her spouse. She told me that she is at the place in her spiritual life where she cannot do anything apart from prayer and the grace of God. This is not only about physical ability. She referred more to having grace and courage, right attitudes and spiritual strength to keep going, wisdom for choices. Her situation is not easy.
We commiserated. I feel that same sense of need. No matter what I tackle, I’m bombarded by temptation to quit doing or saying the right things, even thinking the right thoughts. Apart from the biblical assurance that God is with me, there are days where I wonder if I’m one-step from hell itself. This season of torment seems relentless and without end, having respite only when I’m with other Christians or involved in prayer and reading God’s Word.
One comfort is offered by reform theologian Arthur Pink, in his book called “Practical Christianity.” In talking about the need to guard our hearts, he says that such battles prove that a Christian’s heart is honest and upright. That is, unsaved hypocrites never struggle with and mourn over their heart’s condition or temptation to sin.
He also says God does not leave His people under these burdens without reason. He describes those who struggle with vain thoughts for years and are still plagued by them, yet God uses that to show His people what our hearts are like by nature, and how much we need His grace. He adds, “He would keep you humble, and not let you fall in love with yourself!”
Lastly, Pink says God will shortly put an end to these cares and heartaches. The time is coming when my heart shall be as I want it. I will be delivered from such struggles and never again lament about my hard, vain, earthly and unclean heart. God will purge all darkness from my understanding, all vanity from my affections, all guilt from my conscience, all perversity from my will.
When this happens, I will be always delighted and entertained by the supreme goodness and holy excellency of God. In that day, the shadows will flee away and I “shall be like Him, for (I) shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).