Why the Struggle?

by Jul 22, 2017

Victory and Heart Belief
There is nothing more wearisome than trying to live out the truths of the word of God through self-effort, determination, and willpower. Performance wears us out completely. Are we really expected to struggle to live out the truth? Jesus, who is the Truth, said, “…Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). His promise of rest seems to run contrary to struggle. The original audience who first heard these words were “wearied and heavy-laden” for the same reason that we sometimes find ourselves. They were worn out trying to ‘do’ the truth—that is, trying to keep the Law.

We say that we believe that Jesus has fulfilled the Law in us (Rom. 8:1-4) and we are no longer under its stringent obligation, and yet much of our spiritual life is trying to “stop doing this and start doing that.” Too often overcoming sin is our focus keeping us in struggle, as opposed to “setting our minds on the things above… [where our lives are] “… hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-4). The truth is, our stringent effort to not sin is the flip side to keeping the Law since to break the law is to sin. Our effort in this is really no different from those trying to keep the Law prior to the cross in Jesus day. What defines the spiritual life of many believers today is their struggling to overcome sin as opposed to enjoying the rest that God has provided in Christ’s victory. The question remains then, “Why are we struggling?”

We may no longer endeavor to keep the actual Old Testament laws, yet many put just as much effort into trying to keep the teachings of Christ and the Apostles, as our Old Testament forefathers did trying to keep the Law. What is the difference? As I have said in other places, when our focus is on trying to conform our behavior to the truth, rather than allowing the truth to transform us, frustration and eventual failure is inevitable.

 

“Martha, Martha!”
Like Martha slaving away in the kitchen complaining to the Lord about how hard she was working, Jesus is still saying to us, “…‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41-42). Mary was setting at the feet of Jesus taking in all that He was bestowing upon her. He has a rest for us as well, if we could just stop working so hard, trying in vain to accomplish what has already been done. The writer of Hebrews says it this way, “… for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…” (Heb. 4:11-12)

Jesus fulfilled the Law in us (Rom. 8:4) and is calling us to “get out of the kitchen with Martha” and come “sit with Mary at His feet” (Lk. 10:41-42). We are not called to conform ourselves to the truth, but rather to position ourselves so that the truth transforms us. This is the work that God is doing in every true believer for “…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure…” and “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:13, 1:6)

 

Difficult Teachings of Jesus
Much of Jesus’ teachings were difficult for His hearers to embrace. His message was often a call to do the what seemed to be impossible. Once, after Jesus delivered a difficult message, even His disciples balked at His words and responded with, “Then who can be saved?” (Matt. 19:25). That was the Lord’s point: no one can! Apart from the redeeming work of Christ, all men would perish.

His focus was often on keeping the Law perfectly and even brought correction to the common interpretations, raising the standard back up from where it had been lowered. (See Matt. chapter 5). For example, when Jesus said, “… I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20) he was raising the bar above the accomplishments of the religious leaders. But then, He raised the bar completely out of reach when he said, “… you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) Jesus message was simply just difficult; not keeping the Law perfectly was not keeping it at all.  Striving to do what is impossible to do, will always result in the same results; eventual burnout and defeat. The purpose of his message was not to get His hearers to go out and try harder, but to realize how much they needed a savior. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, [from trying to do the impossible] and I will give you rest” (Jo. 11:28).

The Bible is clear concerning the absolute necessity of faith to live a life in Christ. Here are just a few instances in Scripture where faith is deemed essential for living a life in Christ:

“…Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, the righteous man shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11);
“…[may I] be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9);
“…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6);
“…For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4).

Do you see the common element that runs through all of these passages? Faith: the Spirit’s persuasion of the truth that we believe in our hearts, with absolute certainty. It is not accomplished through willpower, self-effort, or trying harder to believe. Understanding how we come to this faith is crucial for walking in His effortless victory. Effortless victory? Yes, indeed. The very idea that victory is struggling or battling to overcome something does not make logical or theological sense. Victory on the battlefield is not a process. The war itself may have been a series of battles, but when victory is truly realized, the battle is over. Victory is what we have been granted because the battle has been won. Too often victory is understood to be something we are maintaining or a work in progress. True victory does not require maintenance. It is only victory because it is sure and complete. Here again, we see a disconnection between what the Scriptures declare and what is typically played out in real time. This is a problem.

We are not suggesting that struggling in what seems like a battle is not common among many believers. In fact this seems to be the norm. Nevertheless, it still makes no logical sense to proclaim a victory in the midst of a fight. It is safe to assume that if you ask the typical believer if he believes that he has victory in Christ, he would say, “Yes.” However, if you asked him if there was any struggles remaining in his Christian life he would also say, “Yes.” So then the next question that needs to be asked is, “If indeed we are victorious, then why so, and with whom or what are we struggling?”

Since the Bible declares us victorious then whoever or whatever we were struggling with prior to the battle can no longer be any threat. If we find ourselves still in the battle, it is possible that we have misdiagnosed our situation. We may see a battle before us when there really is no battle to wage. We need to put down our kitchen utensils, come out of the kitchen, and join Mary at the feet of Jesus.

 

With Whom are we fighting?
We also may have misidentified the enemy, not realizing that the real threat we need to be concerned about today is ourselves and what we believe. Even though it may not feel so, our struggle does not come from without, but is totally contained within. We are not victims of the devil or anything else. We are “more than conquerors…” (Rom. 8:37 ESV) even though we may feel otherwise. The truth is still the truth whether it feels true or not. We merely feel whatever we believe and do what we feel.

Someone will say, “What about the devil?” and Ephesians chapter six! Satan is our enemy for sure, but he cannot force his will on any person and has always been limited to deception (unless in rare occasions where he was granted direct permission from God to do what he did). Also, like so many supposed “spiritual warfare” passages, Ephesians six is a declaration of victory and not battle. Wrestling was what they were doing, but not what they need to continue. The Apostle Paul was not telling them how to wrestle, but rather how to stand in the finished work of Christ.

We are not struggling with the devil, but only with what he exposes within us. We must never forget that “…each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (Jam. 1:14). The devil cannot make us feel anything, since we only feel what we believe. However, he does trigger and expose the lies we believe resulting in our feeling badly. However, his doing this is a service that can benefit us, if we will attend to what has been exposed within us.

Satan has never forced any person to sin, do evil or even oppose God. If this were not so, that person will be able to stand before God and say, “It wasn’t my fault, Satan made me do it.” It is always our own free willed choices that lead to any sin ever committed. If the devil cannot touch us (1 Jo. 5:18), and if he cannot make us do anything that we may do, then what is there to fight here?

If we find ourselves in a struggle, it is not with any outside forces. Our lack of realized victory is not because there is any outside battle still to wage, but rather we lack truth and perspective and therefore, struggle within and with ourselves.
Victory is ours because it has been secured for us in Christ and not because we have won anything ourselves. We are afforded His victory and called to rest in it. We do not have to fight to keep it, work to maintain it, or perform to achieve it; it was secured for us by Christ and we possess it by faith.

I was taught in my early years that because Jesus won His victory we in turn can win ours. His victory and ours were viewed different and separate. I no longer believe this because it is simply not what the Scriptures say. Christ’s victory is our victory. John the Apostle said it clearly, “… For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4). Herein lies the answer: our faith. When we birth from God we were born into victory. “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13)

 

Defining Faith
Applying the definition that “faith is the Spirit’s persuasion of the truth that we believe in our hearts, with absolute certainty”, brings this victory into focus. If I do not believe with my heart that I have victory, I will not be able to walk in it. Rather I will be “…like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind…being a double-minded man, unstable in all [my] ways” James 1:6,8). However, if the truth of His victory is my foundation then I will not be moved. I feel whatever I believe and then do whatever I feel. Even when we resist the lie-based emotions we feel and choose to do the “right” thing, it is our struggling with the lies that is producing the “good” behavior. This is not the work of God nor a fruit of His Spirit. He desires that we know the truth in our hearts, so we may cease from the struggle,  and that our “good works” are the fruit of His Spirit that we bear as an outcome of His inner presence.

Let’s go back to the root meaning of belief—that is, the belief that God brings about within us. Peithô  —to persuade or to be persuaded — is what God does for us that we cannot do for ourselves. We can memorize the Scriptures and become smarter, but this does not produce faith/belief. God grants us faith—peithô—that results in our believing with absolute certainty. Peithô is always a gift from God and never something that can be produced by our own efforts. Faith is God’s persuasion of the truth. The Lord continuously births faith in the yielded believer “faith to faith” so he may walk in it since the “righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17). Who is it that has this victory? Who is it that “…overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”(1 Jn. 5:4).

There is no other path to victory and the victory claimed is enjoyed through the same means as it was acquired: faith. Faith is having been persuaded of the truth by the Spirit and knowing the truth with the heart with absolute certainty. To the degree that I know the truth in this manner I will enjoy the victory that is ever present. However, heart belief only comes about when the Spirit grants it. This is why we pray that God will grant us “… a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him…” and that the “… eyes of [our]heart[s] may be enlightened, so that [we] will know what is the hope of His calling” and walk in His victory. This is also why we practice TPM as a means of cooperating with God in His faith refining process.

 

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