“so you seem to be saying that there are real, solid benefits to our redemption (specifically our sanctification) that we can’t always see or recognize, much less prove. well, shit! are you saying things won’t necessarily change for me? because i am, like, freaking out here! i desperately want deliverance, rescue, and hope. should i just lump it because change isn’t the crucial thing? i might start being nicer and more helpful to others because of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life, but are you saying he isn’t going to touch my promiscuity and my lust? and lastly (probably the thing that shocks me the most) are you saying i’m at fault for expecting change from God? that i’m coming for the wrong reasons and would be better off not wanting it easier, not dreaming, not hoping for healing, not asking for any gifts at all from my heavenly father? boo!”
of course, i’m fine. i don’t have any problems. but this is what i would say if i did.
(waiting for lightning to strike…)
I think the best place to start is to determine what the promises of God actually are. So often, our charismatic brethren are, interestingly enough, correct in pointing out that we must rely on the promises of God. Where I would take issue with such brethren is what the promise list actually involves. I am not equipped to give any sort of comprehensive list, but I think we should look at a few.
What has God promised His new covenant people? First, he has promised them redemption. So what is redemption as it relates to Christ? It is the purchase of our souls. We were once children of wrath, sons of disobedience, as Ephesians 2:1-3 points out. But God, being rich in mercy has brought us to himself, giving us salvation freely, without cost to us, so that no one could ever say “I’ve done this,” Ephesians 2:4-9. Our redemption frees us to do good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do, Ephesians 2:10.
Our redemption secures for us our slavery to Christ, not to sin, Romans 6. We owe no debt to sin and are debtors to mercy alone.
Is a removal of temptation promised in Scripture? No. Is power from the Holy Spirit to resist said temptation promised? Yes. As a Reformed Christian, I believe in the monergism of redemption…but in synergism of sanctification. The promise of God is that we would be given a new heart of flesh to replace our heart of stone, Ezekiel 36:25-26. Is true hope that we would be free from temptation of sin? No, it’s not. Hope is found in the freedom from the power of sin.
Far from dealing in semantics, this is a core understanding without which much frustration is encountered by the Church. Sin’s power, to us, often feels as if it is in the moment of temptation. This is not true, scripturally. Sin’s power lies in original sin. Paul tells us that in Adam, all men died. Original sin is not an Augustinian doctrine that the Church has projected back onto the Scriptures; it is indeed a Biblical teaching. Sin’s power is not in temptation; sin’s power is in the nature of its deep-rootedness in our bodies and souls. It is from this power that Christ has set us free.
This is not to say that Christ does not elect to deliver some from temptation altogether. However, God’s sovereign mercy being exercised in extraordinary ways for some does not indicate a promise for all and all time. The continued presence of temptation in someone’s life is not to be minimized; it can be devastating. But in terms of the long view of history, the troubles are, as Paul calls them, light and momentary. Perhaps that sounds cold to a person who is struggling in sin. I know it has sounded extremely cold to me at times.
But the long view is important to remember. We are being perfected to rule and reign with Christ. Our reward is not here and now, but we are equipped here and now to will and work according to His good pleasure, Phil. 2:13-14. Our strength comes from the Holy Spirit, who gives us the assurance that we are not working to please God. Rather we are working because God was pleased to look upon His Son, who has loved us and purchased us.
Something I have found useful in my life is meditating on the Gospel. Consider how Christ died for you, how He rejected temptation day after day, moment after moment, to secure your future. Consider that when He did this, you wanted nothing to do with Him at all. Consider that He knew and loved you before you were ever born. Consider that He endured suffering with much patience. Consider that He will never let you go. Consider that He has promised your endurance. Consider that He has promised to finish the work that He began in you. Consider that He is a tender shepherd of your soul. Consider that Christ Himself intercedes for you to the Father. Consider that the power of sin and death is broken and that you have been raised to new life.
When you consider such realities and implications of the Gospel, it is not simply a “replacement” of your worries, though it can be that. No, such consideration gives us something objective with which to view our lives. This is vital in our not being swayed by winds of emotion, change or doctrine. Our assurance is outside of us, not only of our salvation, but also our sanctification. Our assurance is our Surety, our Down-payment, Christ Himself.
Fighting sin seems like a lonely prospect, but we are not alone. Not by a long-shot. Christ died to win you. Repent, therefore, and believe. Your lust is not untouched by His hand. Christ does not leave you to your own devices to fight your promiscuity. Rather, He leaves you to His devices. He gives us the preached word to encourage us. He gives us songs to sing His truth. He gives us the bread & wine to eat of, to strengthen our faith. And He gives us baptism, the picture of our being dead to sin and alive in Him. [Note: I’m still working out what baptism is. Give me grace on this point.]
Be encouraged by the wonderful Gospel. He has died, but not to give you your best life now. He has risen, but not so that you can claim dominion. No, He has died to purchase you and to bring you to Himself. I am praying for you, brother. Take heart.