Monday, June 23, 2008

What does your conscience say?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the first way to tell if you are sanctified or what I am calling evidences. The first question to answer was whether or not you had truly made a total surrender to God. Now that we have answered that let us find the next place to look for evidence.
According to Steve DeNeff the conscience is a good place for a believer to look. In Whatever Became of Holiness he asks, “So is there any friction against the will of God within me?”[i] Our conscience is kind of like an internal moral compass which God has placed inside of us. If we have been ignoring our conscience for years we may think there is no rub in our conscience but we know if we have been doing this or not. If our conscience has not been distorted by years of neglect it will give us an honest answer, if we are willing to look in it and listen to it.
Christian/country comic Jerry Clower was famous for saying of the conscience, “If you are arguing with yourself about whether or not to do something, and you have to talk yourself into doing it; you are fixin’ to mess up!” This is a very simplistic way to approach life but sometimes simple is better. God gave you a conscience. He gave it to you to help you know the difference between right and wrong. Some old-timers including myself even though I am not old I was raised by two old-schoolers, would describe the conscience by saying that what ever you do today you have to sleep with it tonight and if you can do this and still sleep well tonight then your conscience is okay with it.
You may say, “Well, what about those who seem to do bad things with no remorse? Is their conscience leading them astray?” I would probably say yes. Consciences will usually lead us well if it has been properly programmed. Consciences will always lead us the way it has been set to lead us. There are no bad consciences, just bad programmers. There are some who have no conscience and do not ask me why. Some of the mysteries of the human brain are unexplainable even by the most educated experts amongst, us of which I am not one.
So back to the question at hand; is there any friction against the will of God with your conscience? If there is none then your can answer yes to this question and move on to next week’s evidence. If not you need to camp-out here before moving on and deal with whatever the rub or rubs may be. HOLD UP; WAIT A MNUTE! Before you answer yes to this and move on there is one more layer to this onion that needs to be peeled away. I mentioned earlier that if there have been years of ignoring your conscience you may not feel that there is any rub. What this means is that you have conditioned your conscience to accept whatever it may be that you have been ignoring as acceptable behavior even though it is not. Truth does not change just because you have reprogrammed your conscience. Just because a car is engineered and programmed to go 150 MPH does not change the speed laws in this country.
You can however get around this glitch in the circuit. Your brain remembers if you have been doing this or not. So before you move on, dig deep into your memory. If your brain tells you that you have been doing this, then you need to take a much deeper and more honest look into your conscience. Many are afraid to honestly look because they are afraid of what they may find; afraid that it may count them out as being sanctified or even saved. I ask you, “What is the first step of salvation?” No, before asking forgiveness. No, before repentance. No, even before confession of sins. Hopefully you settle on this; admitting that there is a problem. First you have to admit that there is a problem that needs confessing before you can or will confess it, repent of it, and then ask forgiveness for it. First you must admit that there is an issue. So now I ask you, “Do you really think God is going to punish or demote you for doing exactly what He tells you to do?” He ain’t cruel like that. The fact of the matter is that the issue(s) are there whether we look for them or not. Finding them is not the issue that would count us out of holiness; those issues being there and our not doing anything about them is the issue that would count us out.
So one more time, “How’s your conscience? What is it telling you about your faithfulness to God’s will?” Talk to me,

[i] Steve Deneff, Whatever Became of Holiness, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1996, pg. 142

Monday, June 9, 2008

Today let's talk about how to know if you have made it. How to know if you are sanctified or if you have achieved holiness. This is a tough question to answer and can even be a dangerous one; tough because there are so many aspects of the holy life to consider that we can not be totally sure that we are answering all of them. It can be a dangerous question to answer because it is a tough level to achieve and relatively few people attain it; and if you claim it, you had better live it. Claiming it and not living it makes you a hypocrite which damages the Church more than anything else.
Holiness is attainable. Very few actually attain it, but it can be done. Let me clear up something. Holiness is not cause for spiritual arrogance. In fact, spiritual arrogance is a sign that one is not holy. Achieving it does not make one a ‘first-class’ Christian and not achieving it does not make one ‘second-class.’ I had the honor recently to participate in an Eagle Scout ceremony for a teen in my congregation. I realized something there; even though Eagle is the ultimate goal of every Boy Scout and it is achievable, very few actually make it. A lot of very good Scouts do not make Eagle for whatever reason. Now, holiness is not exactly like Eagle Scout, but it is similar in that there are a lot of very good Christians that do not achieve it for whatever reason. Also similar to the Eagle Scout; it is not the award at the end that makes the person what they are; it is what they went through in the pursuit of it that makes them who they are.
So what do you need to know to know if you are holy? To the best of my knowledge there are seven questions to answer before answering the big question. I can not promise that answering yes to all of these guarantees that you are holy, but I can say with certainty that if you answer no to any one of these then you have not achieved it. I will call these evidences. I will cover one maybe two per week.
The evidences of a holy life begin with a question, “Has the believer made a total consecration to Christ? A total one?” Keith Drury asks, “Was there a time when you settled, once and for all, the question of who would be boss in your life?”[1] It is simple really; if God will only sanctify one whom has given everything to Him then one absolutely has to be able to honestly answer yes to this question before they can hope to be sanctified. So, let’s start with this question as to save time answering the rest of them. This has to come first, that the believer determines that they hold nothing back from God.
This sounds like an elementary question. You may respond to this with, “Isn’t that what I did the day I asked the Lord into my heart?” I would answer, probably not. Let’s think of it like your house; when you got saved you asked Jesus over to your house for coffee. Let’s say that when He arrived Jesus helped you cleaned up your living room where you wanted to have coffee with Him. It was clean and you knew He would be happy and impressed with it. You invite Him to take a break and have a drink, but all He wants to do is move on to the next room. You try to convince Him otherwise but He moves on anyway. From room to room you follow Jesus, totally embarrassed at the mess He finds in each room, but He lovingly helps you clean each one. Just when you think He would be satisfied and take that break He moves upstairs. Now you are getting upset and worried. Finally you come to one last closet. What is in that closet is the very last vestige of your former life. It is who you had always been until this visitor came and cleaned up your entire house, well almost your entire house. You beg Him, “Please can’t we just leave this one alone, go downstairs, and have the coffee now?” But instead He waits while you hide inside the closet not wanting to give up what is inside and embarrassed for Him to see it. He waits and He waits. He does not force this one on you. You have to make this decision. After a long wait, when you’re sure He has given up on you and left, you open the door to find Him still standing there with a loving smile on His face, just waiting for you to give the last little bit of yourself to Him.[2] At that moment you stand at the point of difference between salvation and holiness. “Do I give it all to Him, or hold on to this last little bit?” If you say no then He will not sanctify you yet. You have just counted yourself out of the possibility.
So today’s evidence, “Have you given it all, and I mean all, to God?” Talk to me;

[1] Keith Drury, Holiness for Ordinary People, Wesleyan Publishing House, 1983, pg. 115

[2] ‘House’ illustration also based on Drury’s book, Holiness for Ordinary People

Thursday, June 5, 2008

New Growth Potential

Okay, why should we talk about holiness or sanctification or whatever you want to call it? Let us spend the next couple of weeks or so talking about the difference it can make in your life. Let us discuss one difference per week. This week I would like to expound on a comment I wrote in an earlier article, “opened up to a growth potential that never before seemed possible.” Please allow me to use a story from my military days to illustrate this idea.
Part of my job in the Marines was to off-load civilian ships that carried equipment and gear to sustain a battalion for thirty days in the event of an outbreak in fighting. These ships floated in strategic locations around the globe so that a rapidly deployed battalion could meet their gear there without having to load up before leaving home. These ships need to come in periodically for routine maintenance. Part of my unit’s job was to off-load these ships for this servicing. My first operation like this was also the first time for most of our unit. My team was sent below the deck to unchain vehicles from the deck. They had to be chained down to prevent them from shifting while the ship was floating around in the ocean. That kind of weight moving around could prove deadly to a ship even on a calm day at sea! These vehicles had been chained down for two to three years. The room we went to was about 100 feet wide by 100 feet long. We tore through this room unchaining jeeps, hummers, trailers, etc. and were finished in about two hours. We were so happy. We wondered why there were so few vehicles for thirty days of war but, we celebrated a job well done anyway. Just then one bulkhead (wall) of that room opened up and beyond it was a room ten or twenty times the size of the one we had just finished, full of more vehicles such as five-ton trucks, howitzer missile launchers, tanks, hummers, you name it and it was in there. That rained on our parade pretty hard because we thought we were done, even though we knew there must be more vehicles than this. So we just buckled down and got to work on that room. Then we discovered that there were many more rooms just like this one that we still had to conquer!
The Christian life is kind of like this story. Salvation happens when we learn of the job that needs to be done and we arrive at the room to do the job. In our initial sanctification we begin to unchain things that hold us down and are dangerous to our lives and we remove them. However we come to a point where we realize there are more things to unchain but we can not quite seem to get to them se we can get them loose and out of our lives. Entire Sanctification happens when we cry out to God, give it over to Him and He opens the wall that has kept us from growing beyond that point thereby opening up a whole new realm of growth opportunity to us. Now providing we truly love God and buy totally into the mission He has for our lives, we will unchain and clean out everything in our lives that should not be there. If we do run into another wall that seems to hinder us we are equipped with the knowledge and power to get past that wall and keep growing.
If someone has been struggling with a particular sin or sins I challenge and encourage them to give it all over to the Lord. I challenge them to stop trying to do it themselves and to truly give it over to Him. All the spiritual disciplines are great if they are not simply another attempt at doing it on their own. Believing God can sanctify is also great, but when do we stop believing God can do it and start believing that He will do it?”
If one says that they have already done all this yet still struggle with a particular issue, the question then becomes are they talking about sin or the temptation to sin? The difference is that temptation is being tempted to do the sin and sinning is actually giving into that temptation. Sanctification does not stop temptation it simply makes it possible to resist it. If they are still committing these willful sins then, have they truly given it all to God? Hebrews 5:11-14 says if we are going to grow then we have to stop eating baby food over and over and begin to eat solid food. People will stop themselves from growing but God will not. If they have truly given it all to God, stopped trying to handle it themselves and if God had truly sanctified them then they would be past the point of being held back by it. I encourage you to continue in your pursuit of Holiness. It is a tough row to hoe and at times seems impossible. Even still, the opportunity to be opened up to unimaginable growth in Christ makes it worth all the trying.