Monday, June 09, 2008

- by +, not + by -

Hello All,

I was musing over this concept the other day, while I was having an early morning coffee with a man who needed a little encouragement. He was discouraged about the way that things were going spiritually for him. He had rid himself of just about every vice that he had, except for the final vice that would be the most difficult, but he felt that this emptying would equal spiritual success.

I sat there, listening, but wondering where we have come to this conclusion whereby we measure our Christianity, our walk with Christ by our abstinence. We measure ourselves by what we don't do. I brought to mind the old saying "Don't drink, don't smoke, don't chew and don't go with girls who do!" What is wrong with this concept? I suggest that there are two things wrong with it.

First, for the individual. Ridding oneself of one or all vices is only half of the battle. For someone in this position, there is a false sense of security that is created. Christianity is not about what we don't do! The second thing that this creates is a tension between that person and the world around them. Now, don't misunderstand me: There should be a tension between the world and the believer. But imagine unnecessarily heightening that tension by sitting in a group with a bunch of non-Christians who are drinking alcohol. They offer you some, and you say, "I am a Christian, so I don't drink!" Now, you have been rude, and have given the wrong impression of Christianity, for Christ neither accepts or rejects a person based on what they do or don't drink!

As I continued to muse in my mind, still listening to this brother, a passage came to my mind. Luke 11:24 and following, provide an interesting backdrop to this conversation.

"When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first."
Luke 11:24-26

Jesus is talking about a spiritual principle in the spiritual realm that applies in the physical realm as well. You can clean out your house, figuratively speaking. If however, there is not a subsequent filling of your house, that neutrality leaves you vulnerable to return to that vice that you left. I have seen this over and over again.

A person leaves a certain lifestyle, but does not assume an alternate or other lifestyle. Soon, they are back with their old friends, doing the same old thing. I remember notably a friend of mine who destroyed all of his tape collection (that's right; I said "tape collection!) and rid himself of all the "devil's" music. He did not replace that void with anything and ended up buying his tape collection all over again, this time on CD!

Please don't misunderstand: It's vital for us to be relieved of certain habits and vices. To discipline ourselves in the use of our tongue, and what we allow into our hearts, is of vital importance. But to simply empty ourselves is not the point. It's what we begin to do that makes the difference in our lives.

I don't just stop drinking. I start praying when I'm depressed or want to escape.

I don't just stop cussing. I start learning to share with brothers and sisters my frustrations.

I don't just stop partying. I start spending time with believers, in meaningful, purposeful relationships.

It's subtraction by addition, not addition by subtraction! Take a look at such verses as Ephesians 4:20-24 and Colossians 3:8-11. Whenever the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesian or Colossian believers to put off the old man, he quickly adds that they should put on the new man. The final straw in this line of reasoning came to me from a statement made by the Apostle Peter. He begins his second epistle talking about all that God had given to them and to us, power to live the Christian life, and promises to sustain us. Then comes a perfect statement for the point that I am making, and really the point that the Word is making.

"But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, ADD to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
II Peter 1:5-8

ADD to your faith! Be innocent of evil, but excellent in what is good! These are not just mental attributes. Each requires an action. Virtue is a mindset, but there are accompanying actions. Knowledge is mental, but in order to attain knowledge, an accompanying action is necessary.

Neutrality is a break from sin; To aggressively add to one's faith is to have sin's hold broken from our lives, by the new control of holy living. This is the essence of Christianity and the true transforming work that God wants to do in each of our lives.

By the way, the guy I talked with got it! He was encouraged and as he walks, I am sure he will find what I have written here to be the truth for transformation.

Blessings...To Our Friends,
Frank Sanchez


Jeff and Aimee: said...

This rings so truly. It's hand in hand with something I've been thinking about a lot lately. A friend of mine is absolutely devastated by some bad choices one of her adult children has been making. She told me she's horribly disappointed and distraught because she thought she did everything "right" as a mom, raising that kid. That got me thinking about how I'd feel if my kids grew up and did the same things and I know that I, too, would feel like she does. That made me realize that in some twisted way, I think of my Christianity as a formula. If I do A, B and C perfectly, then I will earn D. God never promises us that. He promises us a right, personal relationship with Him--not the ability to achieve total joy at our kids' situations, nor complete pride over our career, nor an irritant-free marriage, etc. True Christianity is realizing that the right relationship with Him is the greatest gift of all (and it's easily attainable, too!)

Maritza said...

And this is when I'm glad I take the time to read your blogs :)
This was great Pastor Frank, thanks a lot for writing it.