July 3, 2015

Do this . . . not that . . .

1 Samuel 5:1–7:17, James 1:19–27, Psalm 119:33–48

Watchman Nee, a Chinese Christian who was martyred for his faith, wrote several books about the nature of human beings. He believed that we are body, soul, and spirit. He also believed that the soul is the seat of our emotions, intellect, and will. Of course these ‘parts’ work together and are often indistinguishable.

However, in my observations when we Christians rely on ourselves instead of Christ, we tend to focus on one of those three aspects of the soul. Even denominations do it. That is, some put emphasis on feelings/emotions. Others focus on their ability to choose, and still others are all about intellect and knowledge. This is not to neglect the other two facets. Of course, I am also generalizing.

My other observation is that those who rely on their intellect tend to take pride in how much they know. If they are like me, they also are prone to assuming that if they know the truth, then obedience will just happen. That means much less effort is taken to do what God says and therefore applying all that knowledge can fall by the wayside.

This is often illustrated in the Old Testament. The Israelites knew they were not to worship idols, but that knowledge was not enough to overcome their sinful tendencies. They were often told and told again to stop this sin. But just knowing that idol-worship was wrong was not enough . . .

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only. (1 Samuel 7:3–4) This sounds great, but reading the rest of the OT reveals that their obedience didn’t last.

When Christ came, died for our sin, and sent the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts, it seems this would end idolatry, but not so. As it has been said, the human heart is still an idol-making factory. Even as Christians, this remains part of our sinful human nature. So also is the tendency to think knowledge is enough, at least for some people, including me. I read to learn but so easily neglect to obey what I know.

Today’s NT reading once more rebukes me: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:22–27)

Knowing something is sin is not enough to stop sinning. Feeling bad about it will not stop it either. Sin is simply too powerful for any part of our souls to overcome. I cannot beat it with emotions, will power, or intellectual understanding. I need the power of Jesus Christ to overcome sin.

The Bible speaks of ‘besetting sins’ meaning those that seem to cling like glue, to hover, to pull us in more easily than others. I have a few of those, and as I struggle to understand the reasons I’m so vulnerable, God says that my problem is not about understanding, either. I need to do what He says — instead of simply trying to stop sinning by figuring out what caused it. Understanding only has one purpose; it is to turn me from my own wants and efforts and yield to God in obedience.

The 119th psalm is all about understanding and knowing the will of God, yet sprinkled throughout are verses that make plain the importance of doing what I know:

Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. (Psalm 119:34)

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37)

I will keep your law continually, forever and ever, and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts. I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. (Psalm 119:44–47)

Instead of focusing on what I want, God tells me to focus on what He wants and what others need. Only then will I be able to resist and conquer those sticky sins that I already understand far better than is necessary!

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