Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
A lot of the posts here end with the suggestion that by turning to Jesus everything will be ok; and it will…sort of. When you take Jesus as your Lord and Savior, everything changes, you lose your place in hell and gain your seat in heaven, your life is no longer cursed but blessed, and even your own countenance will automatically change as you come nearer and nearer to the Lord. However, the Christian walk is not necessarily an easy one. Before he was captured and crucified, Jesus even told his disciples, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy” (John 16:20). I think a lot of people assume that when Jesus says this, he was telling the disciples that they were in for a rough few days until the resurrection, but the Holy Spirit reminded me that shortly after in John 16:33, Jesus continues and says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” With this there is no doubt that Jesus is talking not just about his three days in the grave, but the rest of his disciples’ (then and now) lives. And sadly, a lot of those awesome promises you hear from preachers, well they don’t come overnight (at least not all the time). Sure, some things will change right away, maybe you’ll be instantly cured of an addiction, or healed physically, or feel a giant weight lifted; but if we were made perfect right away, then God wouldn’t leave us on earth to keep learning and growing. Our walk with Christ after salvation is just that, a walk, and sometimes one through rough terrain.
Now I am probably not the guy to ask about persecution or any sort of physical hardships after accepting Christ into my life. However, the Lord has given me quite a bit of experience with the inner struggle of fighting sin in my life. “Wait, what? After salvation there is still sin in me!?” Oh yeah, and likely lots of it. Just because you’ve been made clean in the sight of God doesn’t mean that we immediately become saints inside; instead, after being saved, an all out war opens up inside your heart as the Spirit of God fights against your flesh to clean you up, inside and out. Paul wrote a lot on the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit in his letters. He notes, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). One of the great things about this quote is that it illustrates just how double-minded a Christian often is. Notice he doesn’t say which side wants; but rather he notes that no matter what, you don’t do what you want. When you want to sin, God is there guiding your life and trying to stop you, when you want to do good…well, we read “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (Romans 7:21). Therefore we find out how true it is when Paul writes in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Again, Paul doesn’t make it clear which side is being denied because the battle is painful on both sides. When I want to do good, I find temptation to be overpowering, and yet when I want to sin, the Spirit is louder than ever. Therefore Christians are stuck in this continual war with themselves all the time. This leads many Christians to think they are doing their walk with Christ wrong, or that they are failures in all they try to do. Many, like Paul in Romans 7:24 find themselves saying, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
After coming to Christ, a new Christian often finds it easy to overcome old sins. A drug addict may actually be cured overnight (though not always). But what I’ve seen plague the church more than old sins, are new sins. For example, many Christians (who may have been very easy-going as non-believers), suddenly find themselves very easily angered. One supposes this is to be expected as a person who may not have had hate before is now encouraged to hate sin. For the Bible says,
Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
For he guards the lives of his faithful ones
And delivers them from the hand of the wicked (Psalms 97:10)
Considering that we’re called to hate evil and often the Holy Spirit gives the believer sin-O-vision (that is that it’s easier to see when sin is happening), is it any surprise that some people make angry signs with Bible verses and use them against others? Or that you might hear among believers very strong words about certain life choices that others make? Or why shouldn’t their children be intolerant towards others? After all, we’re supposed to be intolerant of sin, aren’t we? Ah, but this is where Jesus tells us to check ourselves. For he said in John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus wasn’t just talking about love within the church, he was talking about loving everyone, for that’s what he did, he loved those who did not love him and he even died for them. Remember that
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:7-8).
Are you willing to die for the sinful? Probably not- nor are you expected to- but the Bible suggests that your anger may not be as holy as you think.
Another common sin that can creep into the believer’s life is that of bitterness. I mean come on, when you join the body of Christ there are rules and regulations and certain practices which are not acceptable for you to continue doing. A believer shouldn’t be doing drugs, drinking heavily, partying (since that comes with drinking usually), watching porn, having wild sex outside of the covenant of marriage, having any sex outside of marriage, participating in orgies, cursing, lying, listening to hard rock or risqué rap, celebrating non-Christian (and likely pagan) holidays, wearing revealing clothing, getting into fistfights, enjoying violence, and a whole list of stuff that is frowned upon in the church (some churches even speak against Harry Potter and Pokemon- I mean, c’mon!). When it comes down to it, a person who was deep in sin in multiple places finds the life of a believer to be a life of asceticism (that is, a life of abstinence from many different worldly pleasures). This, for those who come from the world of sin, means living a loser life. Not only that, but many pastors preach prosperity and non-stop wins after coming to Christ and I think most people in the church will be quick to agree that this is not entirely accurate. So a person finds themselves having become losers without getting any of the promised benefits thereof. Is it any surprise that bitterness follows? And yet we’re told, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15). Now we find ourselves back with Paul, throwing up our hands not knowing what to do. But this verse does give a little hint, seek the grace of God. He understands your plight and that you want to be good and that you’re seeking all that you’re promised. To this Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Don’t focus on what you’re not able to do anymore, instead focus on God, and he’ll give you all he promised (in his time of course). I know it doesn’t seem like a perfect solution, but technically it is, since God came up with it.
A major problem that crops up among believers is that of pride. After overcoming most of their inner demons, a Christian starts getting puffed up or “holier-than-thou.” Jesus talked about this in one of his parables. In it he described the prayer of the Pharisee,
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men- robbers, evildoers, adulterers- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Matthew 18:11-12).
This is a really hard one to fight. “I mean, c’mon, I stopped doing all the things I want to do, I’m doing stuff I never thought I’d do…AND I CAN’T TAKE ANY CREDIT FOR IT!?” That is correct; for the Word says,
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
We all shrivel up like a leaf,
And like the wind our sins sweep us away (Isaiah 64:4).
Since nothing on earth can compare to the righteousness of God, every good thing we do is about as good as a filthy rag. Here comes that bitterness creeping in again… But really, we do need to be careful about getting prideful in our walk with God. For one, he’s probably carrying us most of the way (I wouldn’t have been able to conquer any of my temptations without him, nor would I have done anything righteous without his help). And secondly, there’s a direct warning in the Bible about pride. We read,
Pride goes before destruction,
A haughty spirit before a fall.
Better to be lowly in spirit among the oppressed
Than to share plunder with the proud (Proverbs 16:18-19).
Yeah, better to live the sad ascetic life than to be proud and rich. If you feel that bitterness coming back again, I suggest you check out Job and the Psalms, it comes up a lot there too- you’re not alone.
As a saved person in Christ, you are (or will be) under constant attack by the devil in order to undermine Jesus. I don’t have the all the answers on how to cope with the internal war that rages within you- because I’m fighting it too. However, the Holy Spirit has directed me to a number of verses that we need to hold on to in this fight. We’re told by James,
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:7-8).
I like this passage because not only does it suggest that we can chase off the devil through resisting him, but also it takes the assumption that we’ve already sinned by time we read it (which is likely). And what does James tell us? Wash your hands, try again, ask for forgiveness and give it another go. Though, for some, it’s hard to keep one’s hands clean after washing them. God understands. In fact, not only does God understand, but even Paul dealt with sin on a daily basis (as we already read). What did he do? Check out what he says in 1 Corinthians 9:26-27,
Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Now I don’t want you to think that Paul is encouraging self-abuse or something like that. Rather, what he is saying is that he trained himself in denial and rejection of sin. He explains it this way to us in 1 Timothy 4:8, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Think of a body builder, in the beginning he was as weak as anyone else, but through training he became the muscular man he is today. So it is with righteousness, we all start off at Zacchaeus and have to work our way up to Paul- so to speak. However, Paul did make sure to leave us a training program- and it isn’t just denying the sins that we want to do. Instead, as we focus on Christ, Paul tells us to instead work at the good. He writes,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).
Paul suggests that instead of pumping irons of not-sinning, we work on our muscle mass of peace, love, joy, and gentleness. Perhaps by excelling in one of these areas, you might not have time for (or altogether forget) the sin you once longed to commit.
As you find yourself in the struggle against sin, even after salvation, don’t freak out. You’re not alone, every other Christian on the planet (pastors included) are going through the same war to some extent. There’s a whole Psalm about it. For we find that David messed up and had to try again. And so he asked for forgiveness,
Have mercy on me, O God,
According to your unfailing love;
According to your great compassion
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
And done what is evil in your sight,
So that you are proved right when you speak
And justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
Sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Psalms 51:1-5).
I think we’ve all been there with Dave after sinning, be it a big sin or a small sin. And when the Holy Spirit lets us know about it (or we already know while we’re sinning), it’s like “Ah! I did it again! Please forgive me God!” But there’s more to David’s prayer than just forgiveness, there’s the plea for restoration,
Hide your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit in me.
Do not cast me from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
And sinners will turn back to you (Psalms 51:9-13).
God will listen to your prayers, and he will restore you, clean you, and strengthen you. Sanctification is the word used for the struggle, as we are molded towards perfection in the image of God’s son. We all go through it, and God understands when we slip. And when we do slip, he’s there to help us up, dust us off, and keep us going in the right direction.
Forgive me, O Lord,
Because I’m pretty sure I’m doing this wrong.
I am actively disobeying you,
And probably messing up when I’m not paying attention.
Don’t give up on me,
Strengthen the Spirit within me.
I want to do good, God, I really do.
Help me in my daily struggles, Lord,
And mold me in your image.
And dear God, don’t take away your blessings,
I’ll get it right- but I need your help.
Heal me and help me, please.
In Jesus name I pray,