In our last lesson, we talked about how a person who has put their faith and trust in Jesus has been made an entirely new creation. The shame, guilt, pain, and fear that we feel has been removed, and the Holy Spirit has entered our bodies, creating something new in us that transforms us away from the things that have often left us debilitated in some way or another.
That should be what happens when we put our trust in Christ. We should be transformed away from the things that cause us to be fearful and bitter and, instead, be renewed in our thinking so that we can have the peace and joy that comes through our Lord and Savior.
The Spies Within Convince Us Otherwise
The problem for all of us is that we allow our own inner fears to stand in the way of our ability to be renewed. We believe that Jesus saved us from our sins, but we rarely, if ever, believe that the Holy Spirit is able to transform us into something new. This is a story that is frequently told in the Bible.
One of the greatest allegories for the Christian life is the story of the Israelite people and their march toward the Promised Land. To more fully understand this, one must get a full grasp of what perfection is in the eyes of God. We think of perfection as being completely sinless, but that is not the definition that Jesus provides to us. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus is telling his followers that they must love their enemies. This passage begins,
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Notice that Jesus ends this section on love by commanding his disciples to be perfect as their Father in heaven is perfect. This then begs the question, how is the Father perfect?
Jesus tells us that God acts lovingly to those who hate him as well as those who love him. This is not an emotional response from God, but is one that is action based. Despite the fact that there are those out there who openly hate and despise God, who He would consider to be His enemies, He still provides for them through the same loving actions that He would for those who love Him.
Why this is important for you to understand is that reaching the “Promised Land” in our own lives is not about reaching a sinless perfection. Instead, it is about reaching a point in our lives where we can be just as loving towards everyone as our Father in heaven. Where we can embrace the ideal of showing loving actions toward those who would slap us across the face, steal our coat, or speak horrific lies about us.
To be honest, a person who would achieve this level would be bothered by very little, if anything at all. Things would not anger or irritate you because you have so much joy and love in your heart that they would be unable to do so. You would not be bothered by people speaking ill of you, because God’s love would be permeating through and in you. This is the ultimate level of perfection, and is the true “Promised Land” that each of us should be trying to attain.
When we accept Christ and we are in Him, this is supposed to be the new creation that develops in each one of us. One where the cares of the world, the fears of the past, the bitterness, hatred, and depression that we have endured through our lives are gone. They simply don’t matter, because we have become perfect.
The problem is that we fear the promise that God has provided to us.
In Numbers 13, the Bible tells us of the story of 12 spies that are sent out by Moses to explore the Promised Land and who are to return to report as to what they have seen. Keep in mind that God has promised this land to His people. He has assured them that He will give them everything that He has promised, and that nothing can stand in their way.
When the spies return both Caleb and Joshua assure the people that, because God is with them, they will win. However, 10 spies report that the people are too big and powerful, their fortifications are too strong and, if they attack, they will be defeated. In response to the reports, the people refuse to enter.
As a result, they did not enter into the Promised Land and are forced to wander the desert for a total of 40 years, so that the generation that had refused to enter would never see the promise of God. Their descendants did receive the promise, but they did not.
The Spies in Your Life
Understand that this is the tale each of us could tell. When we accepted Christ and the Holy Spirit came to dwell inside of each one of us, we were assured by God that he had removed all fear, bitterness, pain, and anger in our hearts. He had brought us love, and showed us an entirely different way to think so that we could be joyful no matter what was happening around us.
However, we chose to believe the spies. We chose to believe the thoughts in our mind, the little voices in our head, and our past experiences, convincing ourselves that the things we have been fearful about we should remain fearful of, the things that we have been bitter or angry about, we need to remain angry and bitter about, and that the things that we have hated still need to be hated.
We have decided that perfection is not attainable. We have believed the false reports about ourselves. That our enemies within are too strong for us to be able to overcome, so we are left to be less than what God has in mind for our lives.
The Apostle Paul has a word for this way of thinking. He refers to it as “strongholds.” The dictionary tells us that a stronghold is a place of security and survival. The saddest part of this entire journey for us as Christians is that we choose to place our security and our survival in the things that have most often done us the most harm.
Think about that for one moment. Your pain, anger, hatred, depression, and bitterness are the things that you have chosen to believe are necessary for you to feel secure. Without them, you feel that you can no longer survive.
This is not a new revelation. In John 5, Jesus comes upon a man who has been invalid for the vast majority of his life. Each day, he is brought out by a pool where people are freed from their disabilities. The Holy Spirit comes upon the water and removes the affliction of the very first person who is able to enter into the pool. Each day this man has been brought to this pool, yet he has never been healed.
When Jesus approaches the man, He asks him, “Do you want to get well?” This seems like the most ridiculous question that anyone could ask. Who doesn’t want to get well when they are an invalid? What is missed in the translation is that this question is in the emphatic form. What Jesus is asking him is, “Do you REALLY want to get well?’
The answer to this question is, “No.” The reason this man is still invalid is because he has no desire to be well. That may seem completely absurd to most of us, but the reality is that there is security for many in their pain and illness. They are cared for, they are taken care of, and they are responsible for virtually nothing. In this case, the man had chosen the security and safety of his disability for survival.
Is this where you’re at? When you look at perfection, the ability to love and be joyful in all situations, are you so fearful of that that you believe the spies. You believe that to give away your fear, your bitterness, your hatred, and your anger would be, in essence, to give up yourself? That you would be putting your own survival at risk?
If you answered yes, you are not alone. There is not a single person reading this who cannot honestly examine themselves and say they are choosing the stronghold. The question is whether you are ready to live like you are a new creation or are you satisfied in just surviving?
By Robert Pannier