Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Choice... (part 2)

In part 1, The Danger, we explored a probable reason for why so many "second generation" Christians struggle with living like a christian. That reason being our complacency with scripture due to our familiarity with it. We also discussed the danger of this threat to our walk with Christ because no one really recognizes it as a danger. However, not all second generation Christians react with complacency, and thus the need for part 2. As I briefly mentioned in part 1, some Christians (and this is directed at all Christians, not just second generation Christians) also rebel against their parents and their religion. We could discuss why it is that many rebel or walk away, but I assume we can all speculate on our own, and come up with approximately the same answers (e.g. feelings of resentment, suffocation, desire, temptations for freedom, temporary happiness, etc). Despite the reasoning or what action is taken, the end result from either complacency or rebellion is the same; a departure from walking the path God directs us toward.

I could easily delve into a whole essay on how to deal with these feelings or temptations, but the title this time is "The Choice...", not "The Solution...". I purposefully am passing over "solving" these problems because I believe so many people get sidetracked trying to "deal" and miss the heart of the matter. Which is, how we choose to live our life.

Certainly conquering our sinful natures is important, but when get so focused on single sins, we lose sight of the fact that all of our single sins stem from the same place, our choices, and most importantly, our choice on how closely we will follow the law of Christ.

I am going to step off to the side here and preface for a moment about why "the choice" is so important by discussing a little bit about sin.

See, its very easy to wander away from God, and not even know it (As you read on, I wish you to know that I am not just "preaching", if you will, but rather speaking from painful and personal experience). Recently I have begun to read a book by Jerry Bridges titled, "Respectable Sins". I think this book makes a very good point. We forget how big our "little" sins are because we do not commit the big taboo sins, such as murder. These "little" sins are known as the "respectable" sins that everyone struggles with on different levels. They are respectable either because everyone does them, because they don't "hurt" anyone thus they can't be that bad, or because they were just carried out in your mind.

Many of us look at our own lives and say, "I go to church, I fellowship, I volunteer, I witness, I work on mission trips, I sponsor children, I have never committed adultery, or murder. As far as people go, I'm doing pretty good, and I'm doing much better than a lot of Christians I know!" If this is you, pay attention because that mindset is just as dangerous as a complacent one. When we see ourselves as "pretty good" people, we stop thinking that we are very vulnerable to attack from Satan, and we fall into his trap before we even realize it.

See, even if we are a "pretty good" people. We still sin. It's human nature at its raw core. One of the points that was made in Jerry Bridge's book, and also discussed within the group I am a part of, is how much of a slippery slope our small sins are. In the book, sin was likened to cancer, a malignant cancer. In other words, it has the potential to spread with unlimited growth. A lot of times, small sins are left unchecked simply because we are distracted by bigger sins, or all of our little sins, if tackled at once, become overwhelming. However as Mr. Bridges states in Chapter three,

"One of the common truths about cancer is that it can often grow undetected until it reaches a crisis stage or even a stage that is terminal... To tolerate [small] sins in our spiritual lives is as dangerous as to tolerate cancer in our bodies. Seemingly small sins can lead to more serious ones. Lustful looks often lead to pornography addiction and perhaps adultery. Murder often has its genesis in anger, which grows into bitterness, then to hatred, and finally murder."

After reading that quote the first time, I thought, "even so, I would never murder anyone!" So if your like me, stop for a moment and consider the point behind the words. Small things lead to bigger ones. This is the ultimate reason behind the point I am trying to make and why "the choice" is so important. (I do in fact realize I have not yet expounded on "the choice" and what it is.)

Many common factors that lead to small sins and then to bigger ones are complacency, rebellion, experimentation, peer pressure, skewed perspective, despair, and others.

For a moment, I would like to expound on a few of these using my own experience. Two weeks before I was eighteen, one of my cousins was shot and killed. He was fifteen. As I struggled to deal with his death, at his young age, I came to a conclusion. I did not want to die without having experienced things, life, my own choices, not just my parents'. Therefore, when I turned eighteen. I went out, bought a pack of cigarettes, and smoked them. Not necessarily a sin in the action, but, the mindset that led me to that first pack, led me to extremely colorful and not altogether pleasant language, as well as illegal drugs, and drinking. I partied, lied to my parents, came dangerously close many other things that I would have regretted for the rest of my life. All of these were sins. Yet, before any of the actions were sins, the mindset was a sin. A small sin, perhaps, it didn't hurt anyone, it was only performed in my mind... I didn't trust God's plan would have the experiences I needed, and that he would take me when he was ready and when everything I needed to have happen in my life happened. This small, little sin led to a slew of, what we perceive to be, grievous sins.

This is not just my own personal experience. I have seen this pattern repeated time, after time, after time, in the lives of young Christians (especially those in high school and college) everywhere. When those little sins become a norm, unchecked and acceptable in our lives, then what used to be big sins are now our little sins, and so forth and so on.

The funny thing is, we don't even realize this re-evaluation of sin is going on in our heads. I certainly didn't. I still considered myself a good christian, with good morals, who didn't need a lot of forgiveness. I am a fairly arrogant sinner if you cannot tell.

Thank God, He stepped into my and put His foot down when He did. He finally, after trying in many kinder and gentler ways first, showed me how far I had fallen. It was then that He showed me one of the most important things I have ever learned. He showed me that just because you may grow up in a Christian home and choosing to say some prayer when your five, means nothing.

Being a Christian means making a choice every single day. It means having to put forth your entire being and energy into living a Christian lifestyle every single day. It means begging God for help, because you know you cannot accomplish this on your own, every single day. It means choosing to make Christ the first and foremost desire in your heart, above everything else, every single day.

It means making "The Choice" to live for God, every single day. It means owning your faith, not just dragging it along behind you. That is what "The Choice" is. It is in no way easy. Many times, it is one of the hardest things to do. It means giving up your anger, your dreams, your desires, your frustrations, your worries.

I cannot even begin to explain how important this choice is. Its easy to look at our lives and see if we've made that choice or not. When I look back at how I was living, I have no misconceptions about the choice I was NOT making. I was living, wallowing, in sin, and not bothered by it in the least. YET, this choice is important for more than just that reason.

It is important because a person is not a Christian simply because they were raised in a christian home. You are a Christian when you make the choice to own your faith. This is not an “oh yeah, well sure" acknowledgment. Its not a "I'm going to believe in Christ so that when I die I'll go to heaven, but I'm going to live the way I want" (a safety net). It’s a well thought about, life altering decision that you will work at. Its just what you’ve done wrong, but how you think about each and every day. When you wake up in the morning, what will your attitude be? When you do something, WHY are you doing it. Is it about you, or is it about God? Everything should be about God, even going to work each day. When you make "The Choice", when you own your faith, it will change your life. Your actions and your life will show you where you stand.

As consider all of this, or after you do, read these excerpts from Hebrews which make my point far clearer than I could ever say.

Hebrews 3:7-11 says, 4:1,2,12,13 , 10:26-31

"So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, 'their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.' I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'...

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith...

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account...

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. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,"[d] and again, "The Lord will judge his people."[e] It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

We cannot simply use the gift of salvation as a safety net, and live however we want. In order to really and truly be a christian and receive God's gift, we must CHOOSE to live the life God asks us to. That does not mean we must be perfect at it... no, simply that the desire to honestly try and fail, and try again is there in our hearts. For when that desire is there, it CAN be seen within your life.

James 2:14-18

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. "