Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Strive: The Fight Of Faith

In the days and months following my conversion I remember an intense fight in my soul. I felt, almost constantly, under spiritual attack. Thoughts, feelings, words and images that I hated would fly through my mind. I would resist them, pray for relief, and wrestle with the question of whether I was guilty for having them. Was this Satan or demons whispering into my ear? Was this just the exceeding sinfulness of my own heart being revealed? Guilt and fear and a general feeling of 'dirtiness' flooded my soul.

My fight of faith became very intense, and there were times when I thought I was going insane. A war was going on inside of me. At work I would sometimes escape to a solitary place to battle the thoughts. I would pray and sometimes even cry out against what I was hearing in my mind. Faced with sinful thoughts I would sometimes yell, "NO!" and fix my thoughts on Christ. Guilt, condemnation, fear and doubt made for very tough days.

At the same time, I was growing in the Lord. The Scriptures were fresh and new - an oasis in the desert of my struggles. I was connected to my local church and praying with other believers.

Eventually the attacks lessened and I began to walk in victory. I experienced great peace and joy as I matured and became increasingly aware of the Holy Spirit. I now see those dark days as a mixture of spiritual attack and a renewing of my mind. Before my conversion I had filled my mind with sinful thoughts and trained myself through years of godless ways. The Lord was re-training me and making me strong. These were sanctifying times.

John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, tells of a similar experience in his autobiography, Grace Abounding To The Chief Of Sinners. He describes years of intense spiritual attacks as he fought his way to faith in Christ.

Sometimes we present the gospel or imagine conversion to Christ as some sort of easy, three-step process (rather than a miracle of God that is impossible for man, and comes as we give up everything...). A Christian t-shirt in a gift store showed a picture of a caveman, and referred to accepting Jesus as, "So Simple Anyone Can Do It" (see it here) The truth is, we are at war. Satan, the system of this world, and even our own flesh resists God and Christ. As we are being awakened to the Lord, and even after conversion, there can be great conflict.

But Bunyan encourages us: "O friends! Cry to God to reveal Jesus Christ to you; there is none teacheth like Him" (Grace Abounding, 125). Bunyan is speaking about being convinced by God himself rather than man. The easy way is to get a quick answer from a man. But in times of spiritual warfare we need something greater on which to stand. We must seek God himself until he convinces our spirit with his word. We must stand on our own faith in Christ, not on someone else's.

Jesus himself taught us to strive as we come to God:
“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Luke 13:24, ESV
Jesus was certainly not teaching a salvation by our effort, or good works (He taught us that eternal life is through faith in him - John 5:24). He said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. But he did not mean that there would be no difficult days. He promised persecutions (Matt 10:22), and he encouraged men to strive. The narrow door to life will not always be available, so we must seek the Lord while he may be found (Isaiah 55:6). Conversion to Christ is a purging of sin and self, a letting go of idols and worldly pleasures; a repentance of wickedness. Strive to enter. Life is not just a party, though Christ certainly fills us with joy, even in the midst of suffering. The joyful Christ (Heb 1:9) was also called a Man of sorrows (Isaiah 53:3), and his followers are "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor 6:10).

Believers are also commanded to "strive to enter that rest" that is in Christ (Hebrews 4:11). Though God sovereignly draws us (John 6:44) and keeps and preserves us (Jude 24), we are responsible to make every effort to enter the place of rest in Jesus, where we are not trusting in our performance and works, but only in Christ. There is a fight of faith; a striving. We must preach the gospel to ourselves and cry out to God.

Are you in a time of spiritual attack? A dark season of the soul? Are you facing temptation or plagued with guilt and condemnation? Do not give up. God has loved us and has given us his Son. Christ has died for sinners on the cross and has risen in victory for us. He has called us to come to God through repentance of sin and faith in him. The Spirit is working in those who are responding to the gospel with faith. Do not give up!

Strive. Not in attempts to earn favor with God. But strive in faith; crying out to God to reveal himself to you. Preach the gospel to yourself. Surround yourself with the people of God, the preached word, the prayers of the church.
The grace of the Lord sustain you and keep you and enable you to strive to enter his rest!

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