Re-Published From scriptureinsights.com
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14 KJV).
Much of our Christian life calls for a balance between extremes. One area where this is needed is the balance between striving and allowing God to act in our lives. In much of our Christian life, we work and God works. There are times when we can strive too hard. Sometimes we need to simply get out of the way and let God do what he wants to do. And we should never try to do in our own strength what only God can do in his strength.
But, as is so often the case, there is another side to Scripture, which says that there are also times when we need to put forth effort, sometimes quite strenuous effort, in order to receive the best that God has for us. In this paper I want to emphasize that side of the issue. I do this partly because we American Christians, living comfortable lives, sometimes need to be reminded of the need to struggle against apathy and self-satisfaction, and partly because I need it myself.
There are a large number of energetic verbs in the New Testament, which speak of the effort we may need to put forth. Most are in a tense that speaks of continuing effort. We find words like “make every effort”, “strain”, “struggle”, “pursue”, “run with diligence the race set before you”, “fight the good fight”, “wage war”, “persist’, “resist”, “stand”, “take hold”, “guard”, “endure to the end”. I want to look at some of those concepts.
B. Taking the Kingdom of God by Force.
In Matthew 11:12 Jesus declared that “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Luke 16:16 is similar. (Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, and any emphasis is mine.)
What does this passage mean? First, In what sense could it be said that the Kingdom of God was advancing forcefully? The statement must have surprised the disciples. They were expecting a kingly Messiah who would advance by military force to drive out the Roman occupiers, and restore the kingdom of Israel to the glory it had in the days of King David. They were puzzled and confused by a Messiah who showed no sign of doing any such thing (see Acts 1:6).
But in the spiritual sense I think we can see that Jesus’ coming to earth was a frontal assault on the kingdom of satan.
With the Fall of Adam, satan had become “the prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30). Paul calls him the “god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4; see also Ephesians 2:2; 1 John 5:19). When, in the wilderness, satan offered to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” if Jesus would bow down to him (Matthew 4:9-10), satan had the authority to make the offer.
The reason Jesus came on earth was “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8), “to destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). When Jesus brought God’s kingdom to earth, there were now two kingdoms, existing side by side – “the dominion of darkness” and the kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). There were “children of God” and “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10; see John 8:42-27).
Satan sensed this attack. He tempted Jesus. He tried many times to have him killed. Wherever Jesus went the demons manifested. They sensed the threat, for they cried out, “Have you come to destroy us?” Mark 1:24), “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Matthew 8:29).
Shortly before his crucifixion Jesus declared, “Now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). Paul declares that Jesus, “having disarmed the [evil] powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).
The victory is not yet complete, but it is clear that, in the spiritual world, the kingdom of God has advanced forcefully.
Second, what does it mean to say that “forceful men lay hold of it”, or, as KJV puts it, “the violent take it by force”? A look at some examples in which people have pressed in vigorously to the kingdom of God may be helpful.
C. Examples of Pressing in to the Kingdom of God.
The Bible gives us a number of examples of pressing in, arising in many areas of Christian life. When we add them all together I suggest that they show that God wants us to pursue him, his gifts and his promises, with an intense passion.
a. Blind Bartimaeus.
As Jesus was passing by, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside. “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.'” Jesus stopped, called him, and he received his sight. Then Jesus commended him, saying, “Your faith has healed you” (Mark 10:46-52).
Bartimaeus wanted one thing with all his heart. He wanted to see. He let nothing stop him. “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet” but he “shouted all the more.” (Matthew 20:31 says “shouted all the louder”.) We don’t know how long this went on; it could have been for some time. He would not be kept from the healing he sought. When Jesus commended his faith, I believe Jesus was saying that he had shown his faith by his persistence in the face of obstacles. Our faith is demonstrated by action, and this blind beggar demonstrated his by strong, persistent action.
b. The woman with the issue of blood.
On another occasion, as Jesus was walking, ” A large crowd followed and pressed around him.” A woman, who had been “subject to bleeding for twelve years”, pressed in, touched his cloak, and was healed. Jesus asked who had touched him, and she fell at his feet, “trembling with fear.” Then Jesus said, “Your faith has healed you” (Mark 5:24-34).
This woman persisted in the face of a number of obstacles:
- Women were not supposed to press in through a crowd of men.
- She was ceremonially unclean, and it was unlawful for her to touch anyone who was clean.
- She was probably weak after a twelve-year illness involving loss of blood.
- She was afraid.
- Her urgent need motivated her to overcome all these obstacles and receive the healing she desired. Again I believe that it was because she pressed in, in spite of heavy obstacles, that Jesus praised her faith.c. The Canaanite woman.
A Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon came to Jesus, “crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’ Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’ ‘Yes, Lord’ she said, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (Matthew 15:22-28).
Again, we can see great persistence in spite of seeming rejection. And again, Jesus saw her persistence, her pressing in, as evidence of “great faith.”
d. The Paralytic.
Once there was a great crowd in the house where Jesus was. Some men came bringing a paralytic. “Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.” Then he said to the paralytic, “‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all” (Mark 2:3-5, 11-12).
The paralytic’s friends pressed in. It seemed impossible to get their friend to Jesus, but they found a way. They had to lift him up onto the roof (while on his mat), make a hole in the roof, and then lower him down into the dense crowd. Jesus was impressed with their persistance in the face of seemingly insuperable obstacles. “When he saw their faith” he healed their friend.
“Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1). The parable was that of the widow who kept insisting that the unjust judge give her justice. Jesus ended, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” (Luke 18:7).
Earlier he had told another parable about a man who needed bread to give a visitor. He knocked at his neighbor’s door at midnight to try borrow bread. The neighbor refused, saying he was in bed, but eventually yielded. Jesus said “Because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs” (Luke 11:8). (KJV has “importunity”. The word can mean recklessness or shamelessness).
Then Jesus went on “So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). The Greek verbs mean, “continue to ask”, “continue to seek”, “continue to knock”. And it seems clear in context that Jesus is saying, “If you keep on asking, seeking, and knocking with the same persistence as was shown by the man in the parable, you will receive.”
It is those who seek God “with all your heart” who will surely find him (Jeremiah 29:13). It is the “fervent” prayer of a righteous man that accomplishes much (James 5:16 KJV). Paul says that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Romans 8:26). Jesus says that it is right, and sometimes necessary, to “cry out” to God, day and night. All of these passages suggest that there needs to be an intensity and fervency in our prayers. There needs to be passion, and also persistency.
When Jesus was having dinner at the home of a Pharisee, “a woman who had led a sinful life” came in, wet his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them. The Pharisee said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner”. But Jesus received her worship and told her, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:36-50).
Not only did this woman come into the house uninvited, but she must have sensed the scorn and rejection in the face of the Pharisee and probably many of his guests. Pharisees would have nothing to do with “sinners”, particularly with immoral women. Yet she persisted in her act of worship and service, and received a great blessing.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6). “Hunger” and “thirst” are words of desiring. They can mean a very intense desire. Strong says that the Greek word for “hunger” means “famish”, from a related word meaning “starving”. “Thirst” in the Near East, can often be an intense thirst. The form, in the Greek, is “the hungering ones,” that is, those who keep hungering. I believe this Beatitude speaks of a continuing desire for God’s righteousness that may be filled at one level only to break out again at another level, and is completely satisfied only in heaven.
Jacob wrestled with God all night. God lamed his hip but Jacob would not let go. Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). Jacob persisted until he got his blessing.
We usually think of salvation as a free gift from God. All we have to do is to be willing to accept it. That is the way many of the Scriptures relating to salvation speak. But there is another thread in Scripture which calls for a vigorous effort on our part. We cannot win salvation, or earn it, by our effort, but sometimes we receive it only after a good deal of effort.
I believe Matthew 11:12 is talking about salvation. What does laying hold of the kingdom of God mean, if it does not include laying hold of the promise of salvation – a victorious life here on earth and eternal life in heaven? And Jesus says that it is forceful (or violent) men who lay hold of this salvation. But there is more.
a. Enter the narrow door.
“Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to'” (Luke 13:23-24). (We know from Matthew 7:13-14 that the narrow gate or door leads to eternal life and the wide gate leads to destruction.) The verb “make every effort” (KJV “strive”) is agonizomai, closely related to our word “agony.” It means to struggle, to compete, to contend with an adversary, to contend for victory. It is in a continuing tense, “keep on striving”.
b. Work out your salvation.
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purposes” (Philippians 2:12). The verb “work out” , katergazomia, is from ergazomai, to toil, labor, work (the root of our words “energy” and “erg” – a measure of work) and the prefix kata which, according to Strong, “frequently denotes opposition… or intensity.” So we must toil or labor against opposition to complete our salvation. We do it “with fear and trembling”
c. The pearl of great price.
A different kind of intensity is expressed in one of Jesus’ kingdom parables
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). The picture is of a man who has devoted his life to an intense search. When he finally finds what he is seeking, he sacrifices everything he has in order to get it. He is happy to make the sacrifice for his joy in what he is to receive (compare verse 44), but it still means a sacrifice. We see this in Philippians 3:5-11, where Paul, who was a “comer” with a very promising future before him as a Pharisee, gave it all up and considered it rubbish (KJV “dung”) “for the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”
Scripture talks a good deal about the cost of following Jesus. (See, for example, Luke 9:57-62). Most of the early disciples faced martyrdom. Many today, in Muslim and Communist countries, face severe persecution. Why are they willing to do so? Because they have such an intense desire for the kingdom of God!
6. Sanctification and growing to maturity.
Once we are saved we start the process of growing to Christian maturity. This process has a number of aspects. Each of them, at times, calls for us to put forth significant effort.
a. Be holy.
“Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15). “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).
Being holy, or sanctification, is a necessary part of our Christian growth. Many Scriptures speak of this as something God does. (See, for example John 17:17; 1 Peter 1:2). But those quoted above speak of it as something we must decide to do and then do. “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Even though God does it, we also must “make every effort” to be holy.
b. Live by the spirit.
The way to become holy is to live by the Holy Spirit, to live a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. Scripture makes it clear that this is a choice we must make, and that it requires constant application on our part.
“Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16). This is a choice we make. It is not an easy choice, for Paul says that the sinful nature and the Spirit “are in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5:17). The consequences of this choice are enormous. Those who live according to the sinful nature “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will receive eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). Those who succeed in living by the Spirit receive and show the fruit of the spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Romans is similar. It speaks of an internal warfare, in which the fleshly nature is “waging war” against God’s law (Romans 7:23; see also 1 Peter 2:11). It tells us to live a life “controlled by the Spirit” (Romans 8:6). It says, “If you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live” (Romans 8:13).
I believe it is largely of this inner warfare that 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 is speaking when it says that the weapons of our warfare have divine power to “demolish strongholds”, and to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
We may have to take very strenuous measures to achieve victory in this warfare between the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5-6; see Ephesians 5:6). Paul said “I die every day” (1 Corinthians 15:31). He also said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). We must “die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
Jesus put it vividly. “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'” (Mark 9:42-48). Jesus is using colorful imagery, but the point is clear. Whatever you have to do to get rid of the sinful nature, do it.
c. Be transformed.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-3).
Offering our bodies as living sacrifices requires decision and vigorous action on our part. This passage also commands us to be transformed. It speaks of a major change. The Greek word is metamorphoo, which speaks of a metamorphosis like that from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
How do we achieve this metamorphosis? In part it is by deliberately feeding our inner man with scripture, worship music, prayer, and sound teaching and preaching. By becoming filled with God’s word and allowing it to work in us (see 1 Thessalonians 2:13). By allowing the word of God to be “engrafted” in us (James 1:21 KJV).
In part it is by recognizing every false belief and attitude, confronting it with the truth of God’s word, and deciding to live by God’s truth. This is part of the daily, even hourly or minute-by-minute, process of taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). It is part of the process of throwing off “everything that hinders” (Hebrews 12:1). The goal of the transformation is to become like God in character (see my paper on “Be Transformed”). It takes determination and effort on our part.
d. Put on the new self.
Scripture refers to this transformation as putting off the old self and putting on the new self : a “new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-23), the “new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:9-10). This is a gradual process. It requires repeated decisions. “Which self am I being in this matter? Which self do I want to be?” It requires action.
Scripture repeatedly calls on us to grow, spiritually. “Grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2; see 2 Peter 3:18). Our goal, as Christians, is to be “built up”, “to become mature”, and to “grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-15). Paul prayed that we would be “growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience” (Colossians 1:10-11). He prayed that Christ may give us “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better”, and that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” in order that we may know “his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19). Paul commended the Thessalonians for living in order to please God, and then said, “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1; see also 4:10). In whatever way we are living righteously, we need to keep doing it more and more.
Paul told Timothy to “exercise thyself … unto godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7 KJV). The Greek word is gymnazo, which refers to the intense training for athletic contests. We are to train like an athlete. Hebrews speaks of those “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). It speaks of God’s discipline which “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ… Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things you will never fail.” (2 Peter 1:3-10).
I find this passage so revealing. God has given us everything we need. Therefore, we must make every effort, and pursue our calling and election eagerly. We cannot do anything without God. “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 3:5). He has given us everything we need. “His incomparably great power” is at work in us (Ephesians 1:19; 3:20). We are “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). But at the same time, we must “make every effort” to possess certain qualities “in increasing measure.” “From the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). It is because he has given us so much that we must “make every effort.”
f. Hold firmly to the word.
“By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:2). We are reconciled to God by Christ’s death “if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (Colossians 1:23; see also Colossians 2:6). “Stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Paul wrote Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16). “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14).
Jesus warned, “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4). He warned against false teaching (Matthew 16:12) and false prophets (Matthew 7:15). Paul warned that in later times “some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). He warned against being “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). He speaks of those who have “wandered from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 2:18). Peter warns against “false teachers” who will “secretly introduce destructive heresies” and whom many will follow (2 Peter 2:1-2). He writes, “Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position” (2 Peter 3:17; see 2 John 8). John wrote, “Do not let anyone lead you astray” (1 John 3:7). Jude warns of false teachers and then says “build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).
Hebrews is full of warnings about falling away from true faith. “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:2). “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:17). “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened… if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance” (Hebrews 6:4,6). “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:11-12). “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess” (Hebrews 10:23). “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27). “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36). Do not “grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). “Strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12). “See to it that no one misses the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks” (Hebrews 12:25). “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9).
Our protection from falling away or being carried away lies in three things. (1) We must be alert: “Watch out.” “Pay more careful attention”. “Be on your guard”. (2). We must consciously fill ourselves with true teaching: “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” (3). We must hold to the truth: “Hold firmly.” “Hold unswervingly.” “Continue in your faith.”
g. Trial and testing.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 1:6-7; and Hebrews 12:7-11 are similar. (Note that James assumes that trials will come. He says “whenever”, not “if”.)
God allows, and sometimes brings on us, trials, testings and difficulties of various kinds in order both to test and to strengthen our character. We can learn from them and grow from them. But while the process is going on, it may seem very strenuous and almost beyond our ability to cope with.
A key word is “perseverance”. It is by persevering that the good soil produces a crop (Luke 8:15). It is by perseverance that we grow to maturity. Zodhiates says that “perseverance” “refers to the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial”. (Spiros Zodhiates (ed.), Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, AMG International, 1991, p. 1765, #5281). Perseverance is an essential quality in Christian life.
h. Spiritual warfare.
Whether we like it or not, all committed Christians are engaged in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Warfare is strenuous. Scripture uses strenuous words to describe it. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). “Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith” (1 Peter 5:6). “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the evil day comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). We “struggle” (KJV “wrestle”) against evil powers (Ephesians 6:12). We “wage war” (2 Corinthians 10:3). This is, indeed, a description of forceful or violent men.
7. The whole Christian life.
Let me close this section with two Scriptural descriptions of our whole Christian life which emphasize its energetic character.
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). “Throw off”, “run with perseverance”. These are vigorous words.
Paul wrote, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:13-14). If Paul felt it necessary to “strain” and “press on,” can we afford to do less?
D. Why do we need to strive?
Why do we need to strive, to be forceful?
Let me suggest a few reasons:
- Sometimes God wants to be sure that we are serious, that we mean business with him. Jesus had many followers. Only a few of them became disciples, and it was to the disciples that he devoted most of his training effort. Do we seek salvation just as an insurance policy against eternal damnation, or do we genuinely seek to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ and serve him?
- God is primarily interested in developing our character. Often the best way to develop character is to have to struggle against obstacles.
- When we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and allow the Holy Spirit to enter into us, there inevitably begins a struggle, a warfare, between the old self and the new self, between the desires of the flesh and the Holy Spirit. That struggle is not resolved until the Holy Spirit has won complete control over our soul and body.
- There is an enemy who seeks to kill, steal and destroy. If he cannot prevent us from being saved, he will seek to lead us into falsehood so that we will do his work. If he cannot do that he will seek to shut us down and make us ineffective. We need constantly to struggle against him.
God does not want lukewarm Christians (Revelation 3:16). He wants men and women who will love him “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). It is those who seek him “with all your heart” who find him (Jeremiah 29:13). He wants total commitment.
In these difficult days I believe God wants to raise up Christians to a new level of intensity. I think this will occur only if we cry out for it, if we seek it with everything in us, if we hunger and thirst for it.
But we need to remember that in our striving we strive with his mighty power, not our power. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). We need to know “his incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19). When we rely on his mighty power, we can, indeed, be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
James Morrisson is a retired attorney. He was law clerk to Chief Justice Stone of the U.S. Supreme Court and served in various legal capacities in the federal Government. He has argued a number of cases in the US Supreme Court. He holds a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies. He has taught Scripture and has edited Christian teaching materials. He currently lives in Richmond, VA with Frances, his bride of more than 60 years.
More Of James Morrisson’s Articles:
- Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Minds
- Who Did Jesus Say That He Is?
- Evidence That Jesus Was Resurrected
- Pain and Suffering
- The Abundance of God
- A Perspective About the End Times
- Some Thoughts About the Judgment of God
- The Importance of Obedience
- The Authority of Scripture
- Some Thoughts About Salvation
- The Fruit of the Spirit
- Our God Is Faithful
- The Trinity
- Dealing with Difficulties
- Standing Firm in the Faith
- Living by the Spirit