Before I became a Christian, life was uncomplicated. I was hell bound but oblivious of the fact. I liked going to church. It had good fellowship teas, sports teams, and girls. There were youth groups, Christian Endeavour and camps. The ministers were fine men who taught the Scriptures. Trouble was, I happened to be spiritually deaf to it and ‘blind’ to my condition. That was until God had had enough of my stupidity.
“Shape up or ship out” filled my mind one evening.
Shaping up to the Lord’s expectations has been an ongoing drama, challenge, pleasure and battle. As mentioned last week when I became a disciple something in me died. The ‘Old Man/sin nature’ was crucified. The Saviour gave me new life. Trouble was, it lived in an old body, with a soul nature twisted, stained and motivated by self –interest. It was sometime before I understood my inner conflict. That happened, in part, by reading Romans 7. Paul seemed to have had a similar struggle. A part of the explanation of my inner conflict in regards to shaping up was due to where faith in Christ placed me. When I accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord He enlisted me into His combat team.
Suddenly, life became complicated. I set out to do the right thing and my soul nature came up with all types of excuses why it was a bad idea. ‘Think about your image, your interests, the cost or what will people say?’ My spirit would intervene and warn me that I belonged to the Lord and was accountable to Him. My soul was egged on by the Devil and the World system saying everything was alright. Whenever I yielded I found all three to be deceivers. I failed. I was miserable. My testimony was scarred.
Fortunately, the Lord didn’t dishonourably discharge me. Disciplined, yes, but not forsaken. He had made that promise for which I am eternally grateful.
How did Paul express his sense of relief and confidence in not being ‘drummed out’ or left to ‘rot’ in self-pity? ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Romans 7:24-25). What does our thanks include? The very fact that the Lord doesn’t abandon us. We had been seduced, tripped or tricked into ungodliness and disobedience and now we recognised it. Sorrow leads to repentance. Repentance leads to restoration. Although we have unseen but real scars on our mind the Lord Jesus renews our relationship. It seems to me that proof of our ‘Old Man’ being crucified is a sadness about how we have failed the Lord and his calling. 1 John 3:9 makes the point that the crucified believer does not continue in sin. When he falls (or jumps) into it he is unsettled and disappointed because he has let Jesus down. Repentance is the attitude which allows the Lord to reach down and pull us out of the guilt, shame and recriminations of the accuser. Sure, we will need a good ‘washing’ of our inner life which God’s word unleashes. It's our responsibility to make sure we get into its ‘bath.’
Romans 7 needs to be read into chapter 8. ‘There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ We will have our regrets and memory flashbacks but we cannot be blackmailed by the powers of Darkness. Christ Jesus has dealt with it on the basis of His crucifixion and being our Advocate. We can only overcome our ‘flashbacks’ by filling our heart and mind with gratitude for His grace and following Philippians 4:8’s advice.
When I was a new recruit for Christ Jesus I thought my calling would become easier as I aged. Silly boy! The ‘shaping up’ process merely takes on different dimensions. I’ve likened my calling by Christ into His fellowship as a spiritual ‘boot-camp’ which leads to life’s battlegrounds. Fortunately, I was not left to my own devices. The Lord God of Hosts gave me His Holy Spirit as my personal trainer (and Sergeant Major). Into my hands was placed the Warrior Lord’s manual to know and obey. He also placed me into a company of other recruits, all of different spiritual maturity and national heritage. I sure have had need of them over the years.
After sixty years I look back in wonder at the grace and patience of my Commanding Officer and Lord. Jesus never gave up on me – nor will He give up on you! He still confronts me with the challenge, ‘shape up’ but there is never the slightest threat or hint about what made me ‘shape up’ six decades ago. Thank you Lord Jesus for making me and keeping me yours!
Ray Hawkins. August 10 2015.