|Figure #1 - Eye on Prize|
My teenage daughter one time asked "Grandpa", "Did Dad eve get into trouble?" Dad told the truth as he always did, but his mind failed him. He told her that I was never any trouble. I suppose that's partly true because I loved my parents! However, it only SEEMED that I was good because I never rebelled against my Dad. I was smart enough to remain respectful to my Dad while I was even disrespectful of my heavenly Father. As such my Dad gave me freedom. He was permissive because he trusted me to self-govern.
My Father in heaven is no different. Believe it or not, God is permissive! Whereas, other religions bind men with rules and regulations, with Christianity mankind binds himself with those. You see, it's the glasses with which commands are viewed! If we look at commands through coercive lenses, we cheat and rebel. If we look at the same commands through loving lenses, commands become a privilege! Christians have the liberty to sin, but because of their gratitude for the hope of salvation, Christians deny themselves and follow Jesus.
How are sinners and soon to be Christians to deny themselves? "I can't save myself. I need you Jesus!" With that realization the Light enlightens and we make our own living sacrifice - our self. Although by Dad's standards I was "good", but my "goodness" was laughable to God although he cried for me! I wasn't funny. I was pitiful! As others thought I was good, by God's standards I was a hateful infidel.
As Paul admitted, I also admit, in all my "good" behavior, my heart was evil! I was a thief, a liar, jealous of others, prideful. manipulative, lustful, and many other rotten fruits of the forbidden tree. I didn't DESERVE eternal life. No one does! So what did I do? I cleaned up my living to prepare myself for salvation. In essence I was my god still thinking that I could save myself!
We are to come to God just as we are for those who he forgives the most tend to love him the most. We don't have to clean up ourselves; it's Jesus who does the cleansing!
Albeit, I put on a moral and forceful façade of "goodness". I wasn't more "good" because it was for APPEARANCE sake. That's how we want others to see our idol.
God was neither fooled nor amused! Knowing I was living the lie, even I was not impressed! I felt guilty because I was so fake! Let me give an instance:
By my teenage years, now certainly at an accountable age, I attended The First Church of the Nazarene in Clayton, Indiana. Our services were long. Brother Enoch Ralph, an excellent righteous man and a loving person, would not dismiss service until all of us had time to consider our own condition and go to the altar as is the routine in that denomination. Because I was tired and wanted to go home, I would think "He wants me to go forward, and if I don't this service will never end!" Then, I would go forward and "pray through" so that I could go home. That is blasphemy and rebellion. My sin was worse than those alcoholics and wayward women at the bars who I criticized!
God looks at the heart and my heart was selfish. It's easy now for me to see that I was worshiping another god before him (or "in his face"). That God was me and my flesh was my idol. Before, I could be born-again, it was necessary that I die! That death is not a physical death, but when one spiritually dies to the world. Rather than appeasing me, I had to please God. His pleasure is when I sacrifice that hypocrite to him and let him do the saving, since my own god couldn't even get me out of church without deception! I was a fraud!
Even today, because of those memories I fear that I'm not being "true to God". It's God, after all, to whom we must be true. Being "true to self" is doing what is right in our own eyes, as is written in scripture. I confess though; I was being dishonest to God and even to myself.!
Satan still uses that against me. Even when I cry for his mercy, is it him to whom I'm crying or because it is my own idol I'm still trying to magnify in the eyes of others? Doubt is a slick maneuver and Satan places doubt along our path.
I don't remember when my guilt became excessive enough to humble me, but it was at the Nazarene Church when I was fourteen or fifteen. (No one advised me to write down my date of new birth).
At times Satan plants a thought, "Were you really sincere? I think not!" Satan wants me to believe that I'm not really born-again; that it' still all a façade as were my teenage years. Being born-again lightens the load for those heavy laden. God does that, but sometime, as you'll see, as we live, Satan has many burdens that he tricks us into carrying.
"Guilt" is the foremost tool of the Holy Spirit. It's a good thing. When one ceases to feel guilt their spiritual condition is "reprobate" and their psychological status is "psychopath". My guilt was tremendous. God's grace was still available! Guilt is an emotion driven by thoughts that we have violated acceptable standards. In morality it's what others deem is right. With God, it's driven by the thought that a sinner is unfaithful to God. Guilt for disobedience to God is induced by the Holy Spirit. I was feeling guilty a lot as the Holy Spirit drew me to repentance.
All the while God was drawing me, because the Holy Spirit is fully God, Satan had hold of my arm. As God was telling me the penalty of death, Satan was saying "You won't die!" (He used the same tactic on Eve). There was a battle going on for my soul. Satan wanted me to undermine Jesus and his very reason for existing, and Jesus wanted me because he loved me and still does!
I went to the altar several times seeking relief for my guilt. It took courage to go forward when I was serious unlike the cowardice I demonstrated when I faked it! However, even as I walked forward I could feel Satan saying "Look back,: while Jesus was advising "Don't look back!"
As I arrived at the altar seeking salvation, too many times I looked back. What I saw was pleasure. Satan said to my mind "You'll have to give up all this fun!" God countered "It's not true pleasure and it's something you'll not want to do any longer!" Those aren't exact quotes, but that's the gist of the war for my soul!
My enlightenment was gradual. Going forward was merely a first step. I wanted to please God and follow hem, but to follow one must accept Jesus as Lord, feel contrition and repent! The light came on, but Satan kept dimming the light. I wrestled with God (see Jacob's wrestle Genesis 32), but he could not overpower me. I had to submit voluntarily as I fought against him. Satan was my coach, but finally I realized that to be saved was more than belief! It was trust and the willingness to obey God's will! Only later did it occur to me that faith isn't a one time event. It's a lifetime commitment!
Ephesians 2:8 "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—"Salvation is not when you are born-again. It's when God grabs you from the burning bus to hell as you die and makes the last second rescue. Of course he provides a seat belt and an airbag (symbolically) to make your journey safe, and with that safety you have "the hope of salvation! Being a passenger with your own will, you are free to throw off that safety anytime. Therefore, faith must be enduring and steadfast. However, because of God's grace even a little faith will keep that safety intact!
One time, I listened to God! I quit looking back! Rather than envisioning what was going to be missed, I focused on my gain! God showed me "the prize". It was at the end of the race! Now follow me as I discuss Figure #1.
Paul likened salvation to a race. Of course this race has obstacles. They are the mountains and gullies put there by Satan. It's more of a Zombie Mud Run with the Grim Reaper tagging his prey. The runner must make it through to win the prize. There are just a few who run the race and many of those slip and slide in the mud until they're off the track. There is more than one winner, but they are few!
The race start is when those without hope finally see the light. The lightening bolt in the figure signifies the event of enlightenment. It's when the soon to be runner realizes that he can't get the prize without divine intervention and to obtain he must run the race. That intervention is fair and free! God's gift is the hope of winning the prize! Salvation is the prize and it's when one endures to the end. The track is paved by hope and the runner is fueled by faith!
The runner can't pass it off, but he has a baton. It's not a relay, but an endurance course and it's necessary that the baton cannot be dropped. It can be fumbled, but it must always be carried. That baton is the cross which you see in the hand of the runner in Figure #1. The cross is empty because the Tree of Life (Jesus) who was on it paid the price with his own sweat, tears, water and blood and although he died, he still lives. The baton indicates that you are a qualified runner because this gate to the race course is the only one. Like the Garden of Eden that gate is guarded and there is no back gate!
The baton is the qualification for running. Few seek to attain that. The runners are few.
The path is narrow, but with the baton for balance, it can be navigated without falling! Rich and Joe navigated the course and have the prize. At around 14 I started the race and I'm nearing the end now. I still carry my baton! Because the prize is in sight I am assured that I will carry it to the finish! The run is hard, but because I run with diligence, I get help! It's not cheating, but my help comes from an invisible person. The Holy Spirit catches me when I trip. However, only if my faith is strong does he prevent me from the constant tripping of Satan and his own invisible army!
Satan isn't allowed to kill me or force me to end the race. Everything else is fair game. He has scantily clad women, riches, power, and even false directions scattered all along the course. I am free to pick them up (as you are) and burden myself with much weight, even until I am heavy laden. I can even spend so much time acting like a good runner that I forget why I'm running. The prize has one contingency: I must love God and to demonstrate that I must also love my competition!
The latter love is so important! Because I was my own god, it's necessary that I quit appeasing my god and spend my time loving others. That's the hard part of the race; loving my own competition, but that's all I have to demonstrate to God that I love him, and the race must be run to God's rules!
The vertical scale on the graph is sin. It is divided all the way from "without sin" (no sin) to "unpardonable sin" (greatest sin). In between is "one sin" and "many sins". Forgiveness cancels out all previous sins! That's the rule! Any sins before the race are blotted out by God and the newly refreshed person can run carrying no weight. However, once the runner leaves the starting line, Satan's forces can start placing burdens on the runner. They can't burden the runner directly, but merely tempt the runner with the free stuff. Although the runner always carry the baton, remember it can be fumbled without disqualifying the runner.
On parts of the track are trees. They contain knowledge and that places a shadow over the track. It's when the light is concealed by the shadow that the temptations are placed on the track. In darkness the runner is free to take thereof! As they do, their load becomes greater and the run is more difficult!
As the runner is burdened his invisible partner turns on the guilt. He helps steady the baton and the runner is sorry that he is carrying that extra burden. He tosses off those things which handicap him and starts the race refreshed just as if he is a new runner! He's actually energized and runs with diligence and peace, He's enthused! "I'm going for the prize again, " he thinks! He is joyful that the prize is his!
One runner gets loaded down with pleasures placed on his shoulders. He keeps looking back at the fun and fame and stumbles often. The invisible empire places more and more worthless prizes along the route and the runner partakes of them. Sometimes he realizes "This load is getting heavy," and passes over some of those temptations. His path is erratic and his faith fails to be steadfast. Before long there are as many falls as steps and a trend develops. The runner keeps fumbling the baton, tires of it and puts it in his back pocket. "Oh!" he thinks. "It's so much easier to run without the baton!"
I can't show it on the graph, but the runner runs the wrong way. The prize is ahead, but he turns back. He may as well be a dead pillar without hope as a runner because running the wrong way is toward the desert. Some wondered there forty years before they met their fate. Others didn't last that long, and some might last slightly longer. The prize when looking backward is death (the skull) and the baton is broken because it fell from the pocket to the ground (the broken cross in the figure).
The runner didn't know it because of apathy, but sometime after that cross was put in his pocket, he became reprobate. His desire to carry the baton was lost because he was okay running by himself! Satan had his cheerleaders out there cheering because he had won those losers over. We don't know when, but when there is a trend in the sinning, always increasing, God gets the idea "This guy is not even running the race anymore. He doesn't care enough for me for the persistence to win the prize. He dropped the cross and now he's on his own." The confused "stumble-man" keeps running toward the shiny objects until he kills his own idol. He becomes reprobate and is damned! Jesus was crucified for him once... and he won't do it again!
Another runner is steady and persistent. Any sins are quickly repented of and his faith becomes steadfast. He keeps the eye on the prize and that baton is always held in his face. He sees Jesus on that baton because his Ghost is still there. However, the prize is held in fair hands. It's in the limbs of The Tree of Life. Along the way The Word silently speaks to him and the Holy Spirit shares his load. When the runner is tempted, sins and stumbles, the Spirit keeps him from falling. He says "Carry on runner. Your faith has made you safe!"
There is a trophy near the prize. The runner who perseveres until the end gets the prize (eternal life), and the trophy is a seat in the presence of God. The good runner dies at the end of the race, but it's not a sad race. It's not really death, but a transition from runner to winner! He gets a room in God's mansion and a glorified body for the eternal course. Sure, a faithful runner needs to replace that turmoil and pain. He's given a new perfect body, but in a short time. God gives all those who will, a chance to run the race before creating new persons in a new world (glorification)!
It's worth the wait. It's worth the race! I am nearing the finish line and the closer I get to the prize the better I see it in sight. I'm a tired runner. My flesh is weak still, but because I see the prize and know that it's real, my Spirit is willing! I WILL BE THERE! It will be mine! It's for free! "Run, Larry, Run!"
"Run, Jose run!"
"Run, Ahmed, Run!"
"Run, LaJames, Run!"
"Run, Ping, Run!"
"Run, Forrest, Run!"
The start of my race was hard. I was standing there at the starting line, but kept looking back. Once I start the race and because I want to win the prize, this runner must change. My regimen an diet have been rich. I must be sensible. As I run with the Light I am a new person. If I continue as that old man runner, I stand little chance of winning the prize. God wants me to change and change is hard! Satan still trips me up because the old Larry was his, he wants him back and will endeavor to do so at any cost!
Some give up on Christians when they sin, especially sins which are great by their own scale. Divorce is a great sin, even by my own metric. I've been there. It's a grievous sin to God and because of that, I too grieved because I failed God! However, divorce is not the unpardonable sin, thank you, Lord for your grace! I asked for a pardon and I've been reprieved.
Although I'm a Christian, I've done all manner of sins since I started the race. In the eyes of the unsaved, I'm a hypocrite. In my own eyes I failed God many times. However, many times I fumbled that baton, I never ever put it in my back pocket! I carry it in full view each day. When I fall, the Comforter's invisible footprints are there which showed me that God caught me.
With death eminent, maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, but sure for certain; I see the prize and am determined to get it. It's not deserved, but that prize was a gift and I want it!
I still stumble much with hate. No, I don't hate like you think I hate, but sometimes I don't show adequate love. I feel superior at times when unappealing people wander into my path. Rather than wait for fate to meet, God wants me to pursue those who seem lesser than me, Note that they are not lesser, but my other god still haunts me by wanting attention and validation.
I brag on my achievements when all that I have achieved is by God' grace. I am proud of my health although God supplies my good health. I can't seem to completely destroy my other god and we never will! However, God topples gods and he is the one who can destroy that idol. Until the race is done my idol will shudder and shake, but when I die that idol dies with me! He is not there when I shall win the prize, but that shining face of mine will smile at God when he says to my surprise "Well done, runner! You were persistent!" I will only say "Thank you, Lord. The glory goes to you because my other god is dead!"
I've spoken of my born-again experience using doctrine and illustrations. That seems impersonal, but I actually went through those processes, thoughts and behaviors. Actually, I cleaned "me " up quite a bit in this testimony! I have been so much worse than I will ever say in words! You have too!
I sometimes say when joking "If you could read my mind, you'd scream!" That may not be far from the truth. When I sin, Jesus cries. Thank you Jesus for your patience.
God is patient. I still commit some of the same sins that I did before I became a Christian. The difference is that I repent. I repent often because I sin often. If I say "I am without sin," I am a liar! If you say that you are, you are a liar! Fairness is using the same standard with others as with oneself.
I am hurt when I am wronged. I bet you are too! God has me give the benefit of the doubt. I would never want to offend a Christian brother! Even when someone sins greatly, I too am a great sinner. Part of loving others is using a fair standard. Jesus is wronged every day, He still forgives when the sinner asks! Not only does he forgive, but he puts his arms around his prodigal sons and says "Welcome home" because he loves us so! That's the type of love he seeks in us!
I am a prodigal son. You are a prodigal son or daughter. Just as your Father welcomes you home with open arms and love, we are to do the same as brothers and sisters.
Lack of true love is my stronghold. It's yours too! I can tell by how you treat others. You can tell with me because of how I treat others. I pray that I can please God. Others must too! That track on which we run in the figure above; it's paved with love and the faithful knows how to keep it paved. As he or she runs they sweat tears of love. Those tears come from the living water which God sheds for us1