Monday, September 8, 2008

Pilgrim's Regress, Part 1 "Fight Death with Life"

In 1678 while in prison for preaching the gospel John Bunyan wrote what has become one of the most well known books in all of English literature, Pilgrim's Progress. Since the book's first edition was printed over 300 years ago there has never been a time that Pilgrim's Progress has not been in print. I heard somewhere that until recently it was the most widely owned book outside of the Bible until an adventurous magician named Harry Potter was published and outsold it. Pretty impressive credentials.

I picked up Bunyan's classic a couple of weeks ago and it did not take long for me to realize something seemingly contradictory. It was that as the main character, whose name is Christian, goes along on his allegorical pilgrimage towards the Celestial City there was not always progress. At one point on his journey he takes nap (symbolizing Christians' tendency to get complacent about the gospel), at another point he is deceived by Worldy Wiseman to try to climb Mount Sinai (which represent the law) to salvation, and there are other sidetracks along the way that seemingly don't always present Chirstian as progressing.

The past week for me has been such a case for myself. There have been those weeks in the past and there will be more in the future. The testimonies of struggling saints are saturated in Scripture, and nothing in Scripture indicates that pilgrims will never fall into sin (or be persecutad or get sick. And in some cases quite the opposite.).

Now I put forth question "What are we to do?". I say, "I have become a Christian, I have been born again, I have trusted Christ, the old is gone, the new has come, etc., etc., etc. But I still struggle with sin. My mind starts to lose control. My eyes and hands wander. My mouth blurts out. I still struggle with sin." And so I ask, "What am I to do?"

Before I make any attempt to answer this question I must say that others have already put forth better and definitely more complet answers. Namely: Future Grace by John Piper, Whiter Than Snow by Paul Tripp, and The Mortification of Sin by John Owen.

Here is my first submission for saints in the midst of their battle against their sin:

"Fight Death with Life"

"The wages of sin is death" Rom 6:23, "After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death." James 1:15, "You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." Gen 2:17. Simply put sin equals death.

Recently I have been meditating on the portion of Psalm 119 that contains these verses.

"[143]Trouble and anguish have exposed me, but in Your commandements I
[144]Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I
may live."

Did you catch that in verse 44? “Give me understanding that I may live.” So, there is an “understanding” that comes from God that causes us to “live” which is the opposite of death.

And elsewhere:

"[17]So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer
live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. [18]They
are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God
because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their
hearts." Ephesians 4:17-18
"Don't live like Gentiles (or unbelievers)," Paul says. What is wrong with unbelievers that they live as they do? "The futility of their thinking." He goes on to say their understanding is "darkened...and seperated from the life of God."

Darkened, futile thinking equals seperated from life. It equals death.

Let's see if Paul leaves us hanging.

"[19]Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to
sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for
more. [20]You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. [21]Surely you
heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in
[22]You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put
off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; [23]to
be made new in the attitude of your minds
" Ephesians 4:19-24

Paul mentions, "the truth that is in Jesus." And also he says, "to be made new in the attitude of our minds." I submit: this is what the psalmist spoke of when he begs of God, "Give me understanding that I may live."

"If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

Lord God, give us understanding that we may live. Understanding that will move us to delight in You and not deceitful desires. Have mercy and draw us near, Lord Jesus.


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