"But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding."
Job 32:8

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Stand firm, not still

Today, I want to share something with you that, as it was introduced to me, is strongly linked to sexual purity but can be incorporated into other aspects of the Christian walk. This has to do with standing firm in the faith and what this means to us in our everyday lives.

Now, we know from the Scriptures that we, as Christians, are taught to stand firm in our faith.

Exodus 14:13 NIV says, "Moses answered the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today."

Isaiah 7:9b NLT says, "Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm."

Mark 13:13 NIV says, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."

1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV says, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong."

And Scriptures goes on with many other verses on the topic of standing firm. So, it is clear that this is important to us in our Christian walk. 

But what does this mean? What does it mean to 'stand firm' and why are we called to do this? 

A lot of imagery in Scripture concerning the nature of God and our faith is that of things which are constant, which cannot be moved.

Take, for example, how our God is called our Rock (Psalm 18:2) and how He never changes.

Or the faith of the man in James 1 when James talks about asking and receiving in faith without wavering.

Or consider the parable of the two houses built in Matthew 7, one on sand and the other on rock.

This last example paints a good picture of the reason for us to stand firm.

Storms. Why? Because they are not only common in the Christian walk, but they can either break or strengthen our faith making them essential for spiritual growth.

I once heard someone say that some of the prayers that God cherishes the most from His children are ones cried out in times of suffering, turmoil and challenge because its in those moments when it becomes clear we are not worshiping God because He gave us a good life, but because we trust in His promises to sustain and provide for us in the midst of our circumstances.

And His promises are essential to standing firm because Scripture is marked with them. From Genesis to Revelation, God's promises are listed for those who love Him.

But here is the thing. Not only are His promises in Scripture, but again and again, throughout the Old Testament, God told the Israelites to remember.

To remember Him, His promises and all He has done. To recall again and again from the Scriptures the work of His hands because it is in the Scriptures we can find refuge during our troubles. It is truly amazing how worship and His Word can bring peace to the soul when there is nothing left to do but trust in God.

Now, sure, it can definitely be a challenge to pick up our Bibles in the first place with all the lies Satan will whisper in our ears but as soon as we begin to read, those lies quickly vanish to be replaced by the promises and goodness of God.

The picture that is painted before us in Scripture is of steadfastness. Of keeping our focus on God. And God, through Scripture, shows us how to to do that by commanding us to remember.

In the New Testament, Paul compares Christians to both race runners and soldiers, two professions which require a great deal of focus needed for the goal set before them.

But there is something in particular I want to raise about the analogy of the runners in a race that is one of the central themes of this week's message.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 NIV says, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

Within context, Paul here is discussing the discipline that we, as Christians, must undergo in order receive 'a crown that will last forever'.

Now, this is quite an interesting passage because we know that Scripture teaches that we are saved by faith and grace alone, not by works so that no one can boast. However, some may wonder whether this passage in 1 Corinthians 9 hints towards that. This is not the case and, in light of other Scripture, this passage becomes very clear.

James 2:18 NIV says, "But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds."

There is an undeniable relationship between our faith and our deeds. Christ said you will know a Christian by their fruit (their actions) and the gist of it is this: if Christ is not known through one's actions, there is need for concern as to the validity of one's faith.

1 Corinthians 13 tells us that deeds and faith without love are dead. Since Scripture makes it clear that love from God is sacrificial meaning it would require action, is it not safe to say faith without works is dead?

Works do not save, but come as a result of our faith and are necessary for our faith after coming to Christ.

Now, I know that was off track from what I was trying to share with you from 1 Corinthians 9, but it is essential to the Christian understanding of salvation.

Hence, in light of this, what Paul is expressing in this passage is the vigorous discipline a Christian must go through in order to be transformed into the likeness of God. Though He gives us strength to undertake this, He will not do it for us. Romans 5:3-5 tells us that hope begins with suffering and it is through this that we can learn and be used for God's glory as He intends.

But there is another point that Paul makes in this passage that is worthy of teaching.

Verse 26 says"Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly"

Paul raises several points here; the first by indirectly acknowledging that a runner does not stand still.

Though we are called to stand firm, we are not to stand still. When I think about this, I think of it in context of temptation.

We remember that story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers and became the head servant of the household in which he worked and life was looking good until the master's wife began to try and seduce him.

And what was his response? Did he stand there and try to resist the temptation that was before him? No.

He ran.

After reading several books on purity, I have learnt that often, sexual purity is treated as the idea of setting boundaries in relationships. Unfortunately  that is soon followed by people getting as close to that boundary as they can without crossing it. This is not purity.

Ephesians 5:3 makes it clear that there must not be even a hint of sexual impurity among His children and how can this be done when we are sitting as close to the boundary as we can get?

Purity is not just about setting boundaries, but about turning the other way (repentance) and walking away from the boundary towards Christ.

So, we begin to see that though we are to stand firm in our faith, standing still is a whole other topic and something that could be considered as foolishness.

This issue of moving towards Christ rather than standing still is not only with regards to temptation but in being transformed into His likeness.

Returning back to verse 26, Paul says that not only does the runner run (obviously), but he does not run aimlessly. He is constantly fixed on the goal before him, the eternal prize. Does he stand still hoping to get it? No, of course not.

He is constantly moving towards Christ and the eternal prize while being transformed into His likeness.

And so should we. The Christian walk is called a walk for a reason. Though Paul talks about running, sometimes running isn't an option. Sometimes it feels like we're barely moving, but keep your eyes focused on God and He won't let you remain stagnant.

No one can be moved by the Almighty and remain the same. As a preacher named Paul Washer once pointed out, if he showed up at church late claiming he was hit by a bus but remained unchanged, people would be awfully skeptical of his claim and would pass him off as a liar for having shown up at church late.

God is much bigger than a bus.

Stand firm, brothers and sisters, not still.

May you all have a blessed Christmas wherever you are and with whomever you spend it with. Christmas is one of the best times of the year to preach Christ. Don't miss the opportunities God gives you.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13 NIV) 

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