We all have hurts, habits and hang-ups…those things in our lives that are stumbling blocks to us following Jesus…those sticky points that can cause us to be spiritually stuck. And though we have learned to come to church and pretend everything is ok…we’ve gotten good at wearing masks…for fear that if we are found out, folks will not like us, church is the one place it should be ok not to be ok. Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” I think somehow we’ve forgotten that. We often think we can take care of our habits on our own…“It’s no big deal” “I can quit anytime I want” “I don’t need help with this hurt, I can deal with it in my own way.” But we all need help…only the Spirit can transform us to live and love like Jesus. He does that as we submit our lives to Him and spend time with God in His Word and in prayer. We also need other believers…Paul says the job’s not done until we all attain unto the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God…
As I thought about Paul’s challenge to offer myself to God as a living, holy sacrifice, something that Dallas Willard said in his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, that really struck me was the idea of training vs. trying as it relates to the spiritual life.
Trying is an experiment and implies an attempt, which, if unsuccessful, constitutes the end and sum total of the experiment. Training, on the other hand, is a lifestyle, which has built into it the expectation of failure…each time you fail, you learn something different that will help you succeed in the future.
One of my favorite quarterbacks of all-time was Brett Favre. I’ve seen Brett play a lot of football games. Let’s suppose I watched every game that he ever played…just suppose. Let’s suppose I had studied every aspect of his game…from the way he grips the ball, to the way he scrambles in the backfield, even to the way he celebrates an outstanding play. (All from the comfort of my couch, of course.) If I were to go out this afternoon and play a pick-up game of football, bringing all of my Brett Favre-ishness to bear, do you think that I could play like Brett Favre? Now that hurts. Why don’t you think I could play like him? Right. If I haven’t trained like him…if I haven’t spent the hours in the gym and on the practice field that he has (talent aside), I have no shot at playing the game with the same level of excellence as he did.
The same could be said of the Christian life. Believing that I can live and love like Jesus in a moment of crisis without the necessary spiritual training is no more ridiculous than me believing that I could walk out of this auditorium and play football like Brett Favre. When Paul asks us to present ourselves as living, holy sacrifices, he’s not saying, “Give the Christian life a try and see if it works for you”, implying an experiment that may or may not be successful. But “Train for the Christian life and it will work for you”, implying a lifestyle choice. (imagery he has used elsewhere in his letters…farmer, athlete, soldier) As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”
BTW do you know the difference between professional athletes and amateurs? Amateur athletes train until they get it right; professional athletes train until they can’t get it wrong. Paul knew this! He says in 1 Corinthians 9, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Please understand as we talk about training vs. trying that this does not in anyway imply that a person can make progress toward spiritual maturity apart from God’s work in his or her life. Nor does it imply that this is a solo gig. We need each other in the process. Becoming more like Jesus…sanctification…is a process…a lifelong process that will not be complete until we see Jesus face-to-face.
God used this passage in Romans to pry me loose from the spiritual quicksand that I found myself in a few years ago. Every now and again I have a tendency to wander towards the sand-trap…part of being a new creation in a fallen world I suppose, but as I’ve made the effort with God’s help to passionately pursue Jesus as a lifestyle rather than an experiment, and as I’ve surrounded myself with other believers who are pursuing Jesus too, I don’t find myself getting stuck quite as often.
Every moment of every day is a choice between being conformed to this world or being transformed…start the process today. Commit to offering yourself and renewing your mind.
Until next time…stay salty.
“May you be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding that you may walk in a manner worthy of Him, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
This post is based on a sermon from our Celebrate Recovery series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster