The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. Genesis 6:5 (NIV)
In my human nature, I am a rebel from God.
I want to do things my own way. I want to make my own decisions. I want to decide what is good and evil on my own. I want to rely on my own strength. I want to make my own plans. I want to be who I want to be. I want to be my own god. I don’t want to surrender my life to the true living God. This is my rebellion that deserves eternal separation from God.
Imagine that you are the creator of the universe. You have created billions of people. Along comes someone (everyone of us) who rejects your authority and decides he or she is going to do as they please in life. Would you want that person’s attitude in your kingdom? Oh, of course, you desperately love the person and you long for them to enjoy paradise. However, you simply cannot, under any circumstance, allow such a heart of rebellion into your kingdom. It must be dealt with before that person can ever “legally” cross over the border.
Back to reality. I am not the creator of the universe and I have a huge problem. It is my human nature to rebel from God. I cannot stop that rebellion on my own. I cannot wake up one day and decide I’m going to do things God’s way from that point further. I cannot stop myself from relying on my own strength. I cannot stop deciding for myself what is good and evil. I cannot stop myself from making my own plans. I cannot stop myself from trying to be who I want to be. I cannot stop myself from making my own decisions. Every inclination of my heart is to rebel from God all the time. I cannot stop myself from rebelling even though my eternal life in God’s Kingdom depends upon it.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Romans 7:24
I need God to forgive me for my rebellion from Him. I need a savior. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth to die for my rebellion. He took upon Himself the punishment that I deserved for daring to rebel against God Almighty. He came to pay the penalty for every rebellious thought, word, or deed that I’ve ever done. He came to pay the penalty for every rebellious thought, word, or deed I will have in the future. Thanks to the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, who rose from the dead and has been restored to His glory, I can be forgiven of my rebellion from God.
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Matthew 4:17. (NIV)
However, Christ calls us to do more than to simply ask for forgiveness. He calls us to repentance. He calls us to surrender our lives to God. He calls us to stop the rebellion. If I punch a person in the face for no particular reason, how authentic is my request for forgiveness if I punch that person in the face again and again? If I ask God for forgiveness for my rebellion from Him but I continue to rebel from God, isn’t God justified to question the sincerity of my request for forgiveness?
True repentance for rebellion from God means that we stop rebelling from God. What does true repentance look like? We want to do things God’s way. We ask God to help us with decisions. We let God define what is good and evil. We ask God for strength and provision. We ask God to reveal His will for our lives. We ask God to make us who He wants us to be.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26 (NIV)
Repentance is not something we can ever achieve…on our own. Our hearts are naturally rebellious. We need help! Thank God He has given us a solution. He has given us the Holy Spirit. When we ask for the blood of Christ to forgive us for our rebellion, He gives us the Holy Spirit to help us to repent. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to do what we can’t do on our own. It is the Holy Spirit that transforms our thoughts and intentions so that we begin to live for God and not for ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to surrender our lives to God. It is the Holy Spirit who produces a big change in our hearts and minds.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thessalonians 5:16-18.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 37-40
However, the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is fueled by prayer, the study of God’s word, and acts of obedience. Prayer is a statement of our dependency on God. The study of God’s Word is a statement that we want to know His ways. Doing the things God calls us to do, no matter how feable those things are, is evidence that we desire to surrender our lives to Him. It is prayer, the study of God’s Word, and acts of love for God and our neighbors that empowers the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
You don’t feel like praying? Pray anyway! You don’t feel like studying God’s Word? Do it anyway! You don’t feel like showing love to your neighbor? Just do it! The Holy Spirit will bless those small acts of surrender and multiply them. He will bear fruit in our hearts and minds. We will change. We will become more like Christ. He will increase within us a desire to pray, to study God’s Word, and to obey God’s commands. The more we do these things, the more our thoughts and intentions will be focused on the glory of God, the surrender of our hearts to Him, and on acts of compassion for people in need.
Imagine that you are hundreds of miles out at sea. You are treading water to survive. The moment you stop treading, you will sink into the depths of the sea below. You simply have no choice – you must tread water.
Imagine that the vast ocean is our human desire to rebel from God. Treading water represents prayer, the study of God’s Word, and acts of obedience to God. The Holy Spirit keeps us afloat in the sea of our rebellion by our devotion to these three things. The moment we cut back on prayer, we sink into our natural inclination to rebellion. The moment we cut back on the study of God’s Word, we sink into our natural inclination to rebellion. The moment we stop obeying God’s commands, we sink into our natural inclination to rebellion. On the positive side, the more we pray, study God’s Word, and obey God’s commands while at sea, the stronger the Holy Spirit makes us and the longer we can tread water. He will deliver us from ourselves to the shore where we can finally stand safe on the Rock, no longer fighting to survive against our own tendency to rebel from God.
This article was written on a day I read about a pastor who has confessed to a sin committed 20 years before when he was a youth pastor. How could he do that back then? Wasn’t he a godly man? I suspect he was. I suspect he was treading water day after day. However, he had one moment when he gave in to his natural desire and sank below the waves. He now has to live with that moment decades later. I’m just like him. We all are. We all get spiritually exhausted and we can abandon the things we need to do to stay afloat. We often have moments of failure. The Holy Spirit reaches under the waters and pulls us back to safety. He helps us tread water once more.
There is room for compassion for a brother or sister who has fallen. It’s very hard to stay afloat in the Christian life. Our tendency to rebellion is thousands of miles wide, thousands of feet deep, with crashing waves, and scary monsters who swim beneath our feet. It’s a miracle any of us ever does anything good at all. However, the joy we have is that the Holy Spirit reaches below the water and pull us up and takes our prayers, our study of God’s Word, and our small acts of obedience and gives us the strength to swim hundreds of miles to the promised land where we can finally place our feet on solid ground.
Pray, study God’s Word, and do something today to obey God. You’ll stay afloat for another day. Do it again tomorrow.