Is it wrong to strive?

work

Since the beginning of time, there have been false prophets.  The greatest tactic of Satan is not to completely dissuade people from God, but to twist His words just enough to get people off the straight and narrow – though often times believing they are still on the path to Heaven.  In the Garden of Eden, Satan twisted God’s words – nothing he said to Eve was untrue, it was just a distortion of the truth.  They did not die right away, they did “become like God”, knowing good and evil – but they disobeyed God and brought the curse upon mankind (Gen 3.4-5, 22-23).

The failure of the Pharisees and Sadducees was that they distorted the Law of God, keeping the letter of it without obeying the first and primary one:  to love God.  They added to the Law in order to make their reputation great for being pious without knowing God, thus while they appeared to be holy, they were far from the heart of God.

Jesus Himself warned strongly of false prophets.  He foretold that there would be many who would arise within the Church, who were wolves in sheep’s clothing, who were tares among the wheat – they look just like believers but truly are not (Matt 7.15, 13.25-30).  The apostles and epistles deal with many heresies and distortions of the Gospel in the early church and also continue to warn against false prophets.

And we have seen this trend continue throughout Church history.  This is why councils were held, doctrines defined, heretics discredited and sadly many cults and false churches started.  In the early days there were major disputes about the nature of Christ:  was He man, was He God, was He both?  And these debates led to conversations about the trinity.  Such doctrines we now take for granted, but were difficult in the beginning.  Other false doctrines have been believed at various times throughout history, such as the belief that human nature is good, apart from God, and will seek God on its own.  While it was condemned as heresy early on, as Christianity has become a major world religion and Christians have less conviction to the knowledge of the Word and doctrine, such heresies gain more traction.

Another dangerous teaching was the Keswick movement that started in England in the early 19th century.  Also known as the Higher Life Movement, it influenced many of our heroes in the faith.  The core of the belief system was that the true Christian life required two major crises:  the first led to conversion and the second led to maturity or the “deeper” things of Christ.  They defined these as justification (salvation or conversion) and sanctification (maturity, the deeper things).  This second crisis is similar to the Pentecostal belief of the baptism of the Spirit, and it is called a variety of things, such as “entire sanctification”, “second touch” or “second blessing”.  The benefit of this experience, they believe, is the Christian realizes his unity with Christ and thus can stop striving.  He has that fullest communion with Christ, His joy is complete, the Holy Spirit is living through him, and he can even attain perfection.

As Christians are less and less learned, we are doomed to repeat history (and believe false doctrines)- just like all other disciplines of study and life.  And while there are those who still believe in a second touch – namely the baptism of the Spirit – there are also those who are adapting the “cease striving” aspect of Keswick theology all across the United States today.  This appeals greatly to our culture who has defined herself by individual autonomy, lack of absolute truth and tolerance.  Essentially they are saying it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin and I am a passive agent in my (and other’s) sanctification.

It is indeed the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin and righteousness:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.”

– John 16.8-11

No one can be convicted of sin and long to turn to righteousness without the work of the Holy Spirit.  We cannot drum that up in our own hearts, and we cannot force it upon someone else.  But just because the Holy Spirit works in and through us does not mean that we are off the hook in terms of responsibility before and to God.

Even under the covenant of grace, even with salvation by faith alone through grace alone, the entire New Testament continually commands us to strive, to work, to obey, to die to our flesh, to live unto the Spirit (Luke 13.24, Phil 2.12, Heb 5.9, Rom 8.13, Gal 5.25, etc.).  We must root out sin from our lives, we must be active in our Spiritual lives, and through that we will have peace knowing that our sanctification is being established.  There is a dual responsibility:  the Holy Spirit enabling us, and us doing what He leads and enables us to do.

If we do not work, if we do not fight, the battle between the flesh and Spirit will allow the flesh to prevail:

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

And we are also solemnly warned that if we continue in sin and do not submit to the sanctifying work of the Spirit and commands of Jesus, we are not saved:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

It is sin alone that separates us from God, and therefore when we are saved, when we are born again and have Spiritual life, the Holy Spirit enables us to fight sin.  We abide in Christ, drawing the life-giving sap through Him, the vine, and thus we are able to die to our flesh.  We see the work He does through us, and because of that we have peace and rest, knowing that our eternity is secure.  The rest is a Spiritual rest.  The peace is the knowledge that no matter what happens to us on Earth, we will one day be glorified with Him.  It is not necessarily temporal peace or rest.

Unfortunately, we take promises that are not for us and try to claim them, like Ex 14.14.  God wanted to show His power to the Israelites and reveal to them who He was, as He was preparing to bring about the Mosaic Covenant with them, write the Law, lead them through the wilderness and into the promised land.  He was revealing Himself to them, and exemplifying His power by parting the Red Sea, providing a way for them, and destroying the Egyptians – all at once (after He had shown His power by the plagues in Egypt).  Thus Moses proclaims:

“The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”

This was a situational promise, this was to the Israelites while they stood on the shore of the Red Sea.  This is not an ongoing command for how we are (or they were) to live their lives.  As they conquered Canaan, there were times that they fought, there were times that God fought for them.  He likes to change it up and be unpredictable.

There is another verse that Keswick Theology loves,

Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

– Ps 46.10

What does this mean?  If the command is to cease striving, and the response instead is to “know that I am God”, then this is not a command against working towards holiness.  It is a command against proving God.  John Piper gives this illustration:  imagine that you commit a substantial amount of time in prayer, asking God to reveal or give you something.  We ask, we communicate our need, we are emotionally involved.  While we are deep in prayer, imagine God walking up to us with the provision on a tray, handing it to us.  When we finish our prayer, however, we turn around and go right back about our day, instead of looking up and receiving that which He is handing to us.  When we rely on and depend on God, when we ask Him for things, there is a moment where we must receive that which He is giving us.  God has given us provisions for the Christian life, and often times we ask for those things instead of taking them up, even though they are already ours.  If we know that He is God and recognize His gifts and provisions, we receive and our striving in satisfied.  Our sanctification, however is a life-long process for which we continue to work, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification (becoming more like Christ, growing in Spiritual maturity) is part of our salvation.  God promises that all who are justified will be sanctified:

“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

– Rom 8.29-30

We will have a variety of experiences with God throughout our life, and we might even have a variety of crises.  But there is no Biblical teaching of a second revelation whereby we go into a deeper relationship with God, and the exhortation is clear that we are to work out our salvation continually, and not be passive.  Not only that, but we are to hold one another accountable and help each other work out our salvation.  That is why God gave us the body.

Are you actively working out your salvation today?  Are you fighting for holiness and sanctification?  Or are you just coasting through life, expecting the Holy Spirit to work through you without your participation?  Let’s get up close and personal with Him today.  Let’s be aware of the false prophets and false teachings that have led many astray and fight for the purity of doctrine and belief within our own hearts and churches.  Let’s unite with those around us to push one another on to holiness, and give the Holy Spirit glory for enabling us to obey!

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