Saturday, May 14, 2011

Monkey On My Back

Every Christian has had at one time or another a sin in their life that keeps tripping them up in their walk for Jesus. Many, perhaps most, or even all, are still hampered by one thing in their lives that keeps getting in the way. Hebrews 12:1 puts it this way,
 “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,” (KJV)

The following are other translations of the same verse in order to provide a clearer understanding:

o       Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (NKJV)
o       Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.” (NLT)
o       Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, 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.” (NIV)
o       Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (ESV)
o       Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (NASB)

As a message to the world, this verse was written to the Hebrews in an attempt to explain the necessity of faith in Christ over works of the law. It identifies Jesus as the High Priest replacing the Old Testament high priests. It also identifies Jesus’ fulfillment of the law, and graduation from works of the law, to faith in Christ, provided by His redemptive work. Chapter eleven introduces chapter twelve by giving numerous examples of faith over works. The hearers were at a crossroads. Should they believe and follow this Christ they were hearing about, or should they stick with the law of Moses? The sin that could entangle them is the same one that entangles many today … the sin of unbelief. So the first reference is to the sin of unbelief by those who choose to reject the call of the Holy Spirit to follow Jesus (non-Christians). We know this as the unpardonable sin, which is recorded in Matthew 12:31 and Mark 3:29.

There is another message this verse teaches though, and this is the one I want to dwell on at this time. This message is to Christians, not those who just say they are Christians, but those who truly are followers of Jesus Christ (Christians), and our Lord knows His own. (John 10:27)

I actually believe that all Christians, throughout their lives, have at least one sin area in their lives that Satan tries to use against them, to keep them from effectively serving the Lord Jesus Christ. Some Christians will oppose what I am saying, but I firmly believe it to be so. We all have a monkey on our back that we fight. Many of God’s followers mentioned in the Bible had sin problems. Even the Apostle Paul spends an entire chapter in his letter to the Romans (chapter seven) expounding on this. If we deny this to be so in our life, maybe we need to consider that the sin of pride could be the monkey on our back.

When we mention sin, we usually think of overt actions, but God is just as concerned about the hidden sins in our lives (not hidden from God of course).

As far as Satan is concerned, he is not going to waste too much time on those who are his anyway, but he wants to prevent any Christian from growing in the Lord, because the more they grow, the more effective they can be for the Lord Jesus.

I am not going to be so arrogant to say that I have reached a plateau in my life where I no longer wrestle with sin. I will be perfect only when I leave this world to be with my Lord. In the meantime, my duty is to exercise faith in Jesus that, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

I have actually heard of at least one incident where a person made the statement that they had not sinned since they became a Christian. This lady taught the adult women’s Sunday school class. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be married to someone like that … perfection every day. Hmmm. How could anyone live up to that? Poor husband.

I know many true Christians who are so beaten down because they can’t seem to shake the monkey off their back. They pray. They suffer guilt. They become despondent. They agonize over their failures, but it just hangs on. The longer the problem persists, the stronger are their doubts about their own personal salvation. They’re asking themselves, “How could I possibly be saved, and live like this?” What a miserably wretched life!

I don’t know much about monkeys, but they are cute little things (so is sin). They seem to be a clinging creature (so is sin). They also have very sharp teeth and can cause severe, if not terminal damage (so can sin). Maybe that is why that besetting sin in our life seems to be like a monkey on our back. It’s cute, but it’s hard to shake, and it can cause much destruction. Oh yes, monkeys often stink too, and can do some disgusting things.

There are two major points concerning this subject I hope will help.

FIRST of all, if I were not a Christian, I would not give a flip about sin in my life. Bring it on! The more the merrier! Whoopie! However, the very fact that sinning against God makes me miserable, is a very strong indication of my being a true child of God. Could it be that I am miserable because I fear punishment? Good!  Nothing wrong with that! Should a child fear punishment from his/her parents if they transgress? Of course! Could it be that I am ashamed of my transgression against God? Of course, again! We, as His children, want to please Him. Therefore, we suffer shame and guilt because we are guilty when we do not please Him. As you mature in His Word, your transgressions still come, but not as often and not with the force they once did, because you have “ripened” under His tutelage. You are becoming an adult, standing under the “wings” of the Almighty God.

SECONDLY, there is a pattern. When our time is spent in fellowship with God through reading/studying His Word and prayer, there is less of a problem with sin in one’s life. As a matter of fact, increasing the time spent in fellowship, puts more distance from that monkey in one’s life. Once it climbs down off your back, you feel so free! Oh, it may still lurk around, but it won’t be a part of your “living” anymore. This pattern also works in reverse. Get your eyes off Jesus, as Peter did in Matthew 14:28-33, and you will sink. The monkey is back. But Jesus’ hand is always there, reaching out for you and me. Friends listen, God has made a promise, and He never breaks a promise. He promised that He will not allow us to be tempted more than we are able to withstand, and that He would always make a way to escape. (see 1 Corinthians 10:13)

I have used 1 John 1:9 often. Every Christian should. It was written for Christians, and for our benefit. He has told us to come to Him and confess (literally name) our sins and He would forgive us our sins and also cleanse us of all unrighteousness (other sins we are not even aware are in our lives). We must come to Him though with a repentant heart and believing. If we don’t meant it, we haven’t accomplished anything. If we don’t believe it, we are sinning, because we are questioning His veracity. That monkey will hang on even tighter and dig in its claws.

I do not make bets, but if I were a betting man, I would have to say that Christians who suffer from this malady, are not staying close to Him. The closer we stay to our Lord, the safer we will be. Satan will try anything, as he did with Job, but God is always in control. Our security is in Him. He is our umbrella on a rainy day. If we stay under the umbrella, we don’t get wet. We toss the umbrella aside, we get wet.

There is a saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. Sin originates from the mind. When our minds are idle, we are inviting failure. The Scriptures say, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2), “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;” (Ephesians 4:23), “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:5), and “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1:13). If we feed our body healthy food, it will react accordingly. If we live on junk food, again, it will react accordingly. The mind is the same. The Lord wants us to think on, “…whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

If you have a problem with stealing, your hands may pick up the object, but the order comes from your mind. If you have a problem with lying, your tongue may commit the deed, but the order comes from your mind. If you have a problem with pornography, your eyes may be the windows to your soul, but the order comes from your mind. If you have a problem with illicit thoughts, pride, or greed for example, they are already in their place of origin,  your mind. Get the point? Now read the previous verses again in the last paragraph.

(By the way, I am NOT talking about positive thinking. That would be one of Satan’s “feel-good” tools of deception. I am talking about the power of God working in our lives, drawing us close to Him through Bible study and prayer, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide our thinking toward the will of God.)

Those without Christ are those, “Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19 )

Allow me to repeat that those without Christ are not going to be upset over sin in their lives. Those who are His sheep will never be happy until they are in the Father’s will. Get as close to Him as possible, and stay there. This can only be done by constant communication with Him through listening to Him from His Word, the Bible, and talking to Him through prayer.

Jesus wanted so much for Jerusalem to come to Him in order that He could provide what they really needed. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke 13:34) He wants the same for us today.

Satan wants to keep us as pre-occupied as possible. If we allow it, he will drag us down and keep us from being productive for Jesus Christ. If he can keep us in sin, he will. Then again, maybe the sin is gone, but we stay pre-occupied in our worry that maybe, just maybe God is going to get us for those bad deeds. This is just as effective for Satan’s cause. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in the following verses, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-12) Notice especially, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” You came to Jesus and put your faith in Him. He graciously saved your soul, and you follow Him (though stumbling often) because He is your Master.

If there is sin in your life that you are battling, keep one thing in mind, you do not have to sin. Repeat, you do not have to sin. No, you don’t have to, because, “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18) “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (Romans 6:22) “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” (Romans 6:20) “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2) So many Christians have not caught on that the shackles have been cut! You are no longer in chains! You have been freed by the blood of the Lamb. So … whose servant are you? Who do you serve? Who is your Master?

Trust God to do what He says He will do, and leave it at that. If you spend your time worrying today because of what you did yesterday, you will be doing the same thing tomorrow … worrying, getting nowhere, on the bench. Don’t allow Satan to play you for a fool. Get off the bench and get in the game, except in this case, it is no game. We are in a spiritual war, but with a pre-determined outcome. Our side wins! We are on the winning team! So, get close to the Father … DAILY. Forgive yourself. God has. Then move on with Him. Your shoulders will feel much lighter.

Grant Phillips