I’m saved and I struggle.
Once you read the first part of that statement (“I’m saved”) then you must presume the second part (“I struggle”) without my having to say it. After all, how can you be saved and not struggle?
To be saved not only means you’re forgiven, and thereby saved from the penalty of sin in this life and the next. ( Romans 3:23-26) It also means you’ve been given a new nature while retaining your old one ( Romans 7:17-18) and the two are guaranteed to be at war with each other. (Galatians 5:17) If you weren’t saved, there’d be no struggle, because your old nature would be in control. If you are saved, you daily experience the tension between the flesh and the spirit, sometimes prompting you to admit, as St. Paul himself did:
For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) dwells no good thing, for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do, but the evil I will not to do, that I do. -Romans 7:19-20
The bottom line? Show me a Christian who doesn’t struggle, and I’ll show you either a non-Christian who thinks he’s a Christian, or a Christian who’s just not very honest.
That’s why I can’t help but grin when someone hears my testimony and asks, “Well, do you ever struggle?” I somewhat understand. They want to know if it’s possible for a person who was involved in sexual sin to ever reach a point where there are no temptations whatsoever towards that sin.
But that’s raising the bar awfully high and, to my thinking, not very realistically. Even people who claim a transformation by which they are once and for all delivered of all sexual temptations (that’s not my story but who am I to say it couldn’t happen?) still recognize the need to be cautious, in case those temptations ever return.
Of course, a sinful behavior can be turned from and never repeated. When a person does so, she or he may feel temptations, without yielding to them. That’s a struggle. If the person gives into those temptations, that’s no struggle; it’s a transgression.
So yeah, I struggle. With lots of sinful tendencies, by the way, not just sexual ones. Temptations towards old sins are dormant but present; not very noticeable, but available upon request. New temptations abound as well; some days are better than others; all days are imperfect. I doubt that puts me in a special category.
On the contrary, “Every man is tempted”, James said, “when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” (James 1:14) No mystery there. Lust is a manifestation of the flesh (Galatians 5:19) the flesh exists as long as we’re in these earthly bodies (I Corinthians 15:53) and there’s no cease-fire in the battle between those two.
Struggle is a fact of life – every believer wrestles with temptations; many (most?) Christian men wrestle with sexual ones. As much as we may tire of the struggle, I can see some benefit coming from it.
- The Struggle enhances humility.
Pride has got to be the stupidest of all sins, and the commonest. In pride I look at anything good about myself, real or imagined, and out goes the chest, up goes the nose, send in the Clown.
Amazing. Paul said, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hast not received it? (I Corinthians 4:7) And yet, ignoring that obvious truth, when God creates something, I say “Look what I made!” When God takes action, I say “Look what I did!” When God gives me a free gift, I say “Look what I earned!”
Like I said, amazing. So to balance that out, the Holy Spirit interrupts by reminding me of my many shortcomings, including The Struggle. That brings me down to earth and humbled in the dust, which is not a bad place to visit on occasion.
Sin is never good, and thereby nothing to thank God for. But to be allowed to wrestle with a temptation, rather than get complete deliverance from it, is something I’ve grudgingly come to appreciate. I lack humility. I need humbling. This helps.
- The Struggle reminds me that I don’t really belong here.
When reading the newspaper, watching tv, or strolling through the mall, don’t you sometimes feel like you chased a white rabbit, went through the looking glass down a hole, and landed in a world going from weird to weirder by the minute?
It’s a place where the erotic apart from the intimate is elevated, where sexual imagery is used to promote every conceivable product, where the line between natural and unnatural behavior is hugely, maybe permanently, blurred.
Contrast what you see practiced in this world to what you see commended – commanded, in fact – by God, and you’re slapped with a hard reminder that you’re here on a pass, but your permanent residence is elsewhere, and your allegiance is to a Sovereign this place seems to have never heard of.
That reminder is something to be truly grateful for. Life in the Spirit requires, among other things, awareness of the eternal versus the temporal. Get too comfortable with the second and you lose your hunger for the first, so whatever bolsters the eternal perspective is something to value. Remember, we, along with all creation, are groaning, waiting for deliverance from these limited, corruptible and sin-infested bodies. (Romans 8:22-23)
Likewise, our true citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and good citizens remember their home country and their rightful leader, claiming and keeping their allegiance to both. I thank Him, then, for the daily reminders of the contrast between where I live and where I belong.
- The Struggle keeps me clinging to Him.
I was puzzled the first time I read John 15:5,where Jesus said “Without Me, ye can do nothing.”
Huh. “Nothing? Can’t lift my arm, breathe, or walk a few steps?” I wondered. “What about all the people who don’t know Him? Does He empower them without their awareness? Are we really and literally helpless apart from Christ?”
But I now think He was describing the Spirit filled, powerful, and fruit bearing life his disciples were to live, a life He describes throughout these chapters. In that sense, we can’t do anything of eternal value without Him. Apart from Him there’s no fruit produced, as He said: “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” (John 15:4)
So in seeking to live a holy life, I’m given a strong sense of dependency on Him by The Struggle. Mind you, I really don’t feel I need Him any more than anyone else. We’re all dependent; it’s just that some of us know it while some are clueless. I were a gambler, I’d bet that I’d be in the “clueless” camp if not for The Struggle. Because with every relentless bombarding of temptaions I encounter on even the best of days, I get the message: “Abide in Him, Mister, or you don’t stand a chance!”
So in all things, this one included, let’s give thanks today. Because to struggle is to go against the tide, to deny ourselves, to offer our bodies to Him and to love Him through obedience. And isn’t that the stuff true discipleship is made of? It’s also the stuff eternal rewards are made of, a fact to keep in mind when the going gets tough:
“Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he shall receive a crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)
A crown of life; a blessed hope; and Him, face to face, forever. So much, for so very, very little. So in this, as in everything, we really can and do give thanks.