Articles & Devotionals
Relieve the Tension
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I love this verse because it speaks so simply and directly to a great challenge we have in our Christian walk – the tension between where we are spiritually and where the Lord’s sanctification is taking us. On one hand, we have been sanctified by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and yet we are being sanctified through the challenges of everyday life and the constant leaning into Christ Jesus.
In this life, we struggle with knowing who we are and who we are meant to be and who God has made us to be. In the very beginning, Genesis 1, God made us in His image… to be image bearers of God among His creation. What a privilege?! What a blessing?! And yet we know the reality of who we are – fallen, sinful, rebellious, weak, spiritually impoverished, unfaithful. Passages like 1 John 1:7-8 encapsulate this tension so well:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Let me put it another way, on one hand, Isaiah 64:6 says:
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (or filthy rags)
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Then comparatively, we have the amazing passage of Hebrews 11:32-38
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
Though speaking of heroes and heroines of the faith, the author is speaking of broken men and women like ourselves who simply held on to the promises of God through times of great adversity. In short, people who worked out their salvation with fear and trembling… of whom the world was not worthy! Though we see ourselves through our own eyes and don’t feel like we’re exactly worthy (this is one of the lies of the adversary), I invite you to see yourself through the eyes of God. The eyes of a loving Father who has given all not because of who we are, but because of who He is and has made us worthy… worthy enough to be the bride of His beloved Son.
In 1998 there was an amazing film called “Saving Private Ryan”. Set during WW2, a platoon of soldiers was sent behind enemy lines to retrieve the last of several brothers, Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon. After the rest of his brothers were killed in action, Private Ryan, was to be released from combat duty and returned home. During the course of the movie, this platoon of soldiers was lost but Ryan survived and returned home. The end of the movie is a stirring scene where Ryan, now an old man, returns to Normandy France with his family. Ryan looks down at the grave of the captain who led those heroic men and asks his wife, “Tell me I’ve been a good man.” In short, he asks his wife if his life has been worthy of their sacrifice.
We are often so busy simply trying to survive, to endure, to make it through just one more day. The pressures of work, home, money, expectations, life, overcoming sin. This is because of our focus. Our focus on our failures rather than on the victory of Christ Jesus. Set it all aside! Set aside the pressures of this world. Set aside the tension we bring on ourselves in this present world.
I encourage all of us to re-read, to ingest, to savor and remind ourselves of Romans 8.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And that is just a smattering of the powerful encouragement we find in Romans 8. Do not just survive… be conquerors for the battle belongs to the Lord!