Saints and Sinners
All Christians are all given the appellation "saint" in the letters of Paul. But late in his life the Apostle Paul said that he was "foremost among sinners." So are the followers of Jesus Christ saints, or sinners?
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15,16)
My mentor, Ray Stedman once said, "When a person becomes a Christian everything is changed, but nothing is changed." That is, there is a life-long paradox Christians live with. We are saints and sinners at the same time until we go home to be with the Lord. In regard to Romans 12:3 Ray once reminded a group of us that just as we needed to avoid the obvious pride in thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, so also it was wrong to think too little of oneself either!
"For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him."
One of the disconcerting facts of Christian life is the discovery that simply receiving Jesus Christ into one's life as Lord and Master does not instantly lead to wholeness and an entirely new life overnight. In the eyes of God we are new--and already made perfect and complete, but that is from the vantage point of eternity, not as we see it and must live it out in our time frame of history. Paul in the new Testament teaches that our justification, sanctification and glorification can be thought of as already completed as far as God is concerned (Romans 8:30,1 Corinthians 6:11). It is up to us to "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12,13)
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
The progress of Christian life, (our pilgrim journey) follows a pattern exactly laid out in the books of the Old Testament concerning the history of God's representative nation, Israel. That is, (a) there is a new beginning, (b) a time of deliverance from the world, (c) a wandering in the wilderness, (d) a time for conquest of the land, (e) times of testing because of past incomplete obedience, (f) times of refreshing, and so on. The outworking of this our inheritance from God requires a lifetime of hard work and diligence on our part.
What Jesus accomplished for mankind on the cross is so all-encompassing in its possibilities that Paul urges us to persuade all men to avail themselves of God's solution to their deepest needs for healing and wholeness. There is hope for anyone!
"For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
Many healthy changes follow a real surrender to Christ as Lord, and it is quite common for God to give new Christians lots of personal support in terms of a very real and constant sense of his presence for a season. In spite of the difficulties an individual may have come out of in terms of an adverse family background, or exceptionally sinful life-style, many believers continue to grow to maturity in Christ if all they do is follow basic instructions for Christian living.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
This "normal Christian life" should include regular time in the scriptures, adequate prayer time alone with God, prayer with other Christians, participation in public worship and getting together with other Christians. Instruction by gifted teachers, and fellowship (body-life) are part and parcel of Christian experience. Christians never do well in isolation. As members of the family of God, as "members one of another" and "members of the Body of Christ" it is only logical that we should develop close and intimate friendships within the household of faith. Ordinarily, following these basic instructions taken together with our personal obedience to Jesus will produce maturity and wholeness in Christ. Jesus told us to continue in His word in order to become trained by Him, and so that then, as a long term result, full freedom could follow.
"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. They answered him, 'We are descendants of Abraham, and have never been in bondage to any one. How is it that you say "You will make us free"? Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you. Everyone who commits sins is a slave to sin. The slave does not continue in the house forever. So if the Son makes you free you are free indeed.'" (John 8:31-36)
Once Dead in Sin--Now Alive in Christ
Prior to becoming Christians, all of us are described as being "dead in sin." This means we are unresponsive to God and can not be really free not to sin--we can only manage the evil in our lives within certain limits. We lack the power to be free.
"And you God made alive, when you were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. Among these we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of body and mind, and so we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)
Spiritual regeneration brings with it freedom for us to choose between God and self, but this involves a struggle (Romans 7) Christians can and do sin after they become believers, inadvertently as well as by choice. Choosing sin after one comes to know the Lord brings temporary slavery to sin. We escape from this temporary bondage not by our own efforts, but by calling on the name of the Lord for restoration , forgiveness, and cleansing. Jesus sets us free so that we can obtain "the perfect liberty of the sons of God." When a Christian does sin, his or her failures leave stains which take time to heal. We retain vulnerability to fail again especially in areas of past failure. (See The Scars of Sin by Ray C. Stedman). Conversely, every time we say "no" to temptation we gain strength against evil.
...we are writing this that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 1:4-2:2)
The Role of the Law
The Law of Moses, given to Israel as part of God's Old Covenant with that nation, was not intended to produce good moral behavior--it can not do that. The Law reveals the character and standards of God and diagnoses our failures. The Law proves us guilty, weak, and helpless. Only when we learn to call on Jesus out of helplessness and inadequacy do we find His adequacy--His resurrection power--at work within us. The New Covenant works by changing our hearts so that we lose interest in sin, and decide to trust Jesus to an ever-increasing degree because we grow to love Him for who He is. As we act on the truth that we have been given, we grow. With growth comes more light on our motives and a better understanding of himself and others. God's goal is to conform us to the likeness of His Son and this involves a radical reconstruction from self-centered to self-giving. It is not minor surgery.
Generational sin is recognized by many Christian counselors as special sets of problems that can be "inherited" from our parents or their parents before them, "to the third and fourth generation." Exodus 34:4-7 records,
"So Moses cut two tables of stone like the first; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tables of stone. And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."
Note that the "sins of the fathers"--which are said to be passed down to subsequent generations--applies to the guilty, i.e., to non-believers. When a person becomes a Christian that whole chain of the past is cut off in the circumcision of the cross. We are under the "steadfast love" (hesed) part of this statement by the Lord to Moses. So as Christians we must be careful not to blame our parents for our basic fallen nature and on-going failures in life. God's grace is always enough for each of us, not matter what the handicaps may be.
Regardless of one's background, what happens to us when we are born again is very radical. We are taken out of Adam and baptized into Christ. We are removed from the "kingdom of this world," and translated into the "kingdom of the Son of God's love." We are circumcised "in the circumcision of Christ."
From the sermons of Ray C. Stedman:
That is an astonishing statement. Many scholars equate circumcision with baptism, holding that Christian baptism has taken the place of the Old Testament rite of circumcision. But if you look carefully at this verse it is clear that this is not true. If we are Christians, says Paul, we have been both circumcised and baptized. Thus, they are not the same thing...Thus when our Lord was crucified, the sin that he assumed on our behalf was removed---that is the point. It is what Scripture calls the "circumcision of the heart." Observe how Paul explains that here: "In him you were circumcised in the putting off of your sinful nature." The foreskin of the flesh is a symbol of the fallen nature, the flesh, within us. When we become a Christian it is revealed for what it truly is, worthless in God's sight! It does not advance us or help us in any way in his sight. To be proud and independent and sinfully selfish will never help us or find value in God's sight. That is why Scripture says plainly, "They that are in the flesh cannot please God." Jesus himself said, "Without me, you can do nothing." The natural life, the old Adamic nature, is of no value any more. Then Paul moves to the next step, which is baptism. In baptism, he declares, you were:
That is what baptism means. Circumcision symbolizes the death of Jesus and our death with him, our dying to sin, as Romans 5 and 6 argues. But baptism stands for our new life with him. When someone is immersed in the waters of baptism he is not left there, he is brought out again to a new life. That is what baptism reflects: the work of the Spirit in imparting new life from Christ, a new humanity, the human spirit made alive. It is the difference between a true Christian and a merely professing Christian. The true Christian has been made alive in Christ. He has a whole new basis for living. The third step in this process of sharing in Christ is given next.
Here Paul declares the forgiveness of sins for which the law, the "written code with its regulations," condemned us. That condemnation is now removed by the death of Christ on our behalf. He paid for all our sins, the sins we committed in the past, the sins we are going to commit today, and the sins we shall commit in the future. Sin is no longer an issue in our relationship with God. It affects our fellowship but not our relationship. He has fully dealt with it. We need to acknowledge our sin in order to enter into the benefit of that forgiveness, but forgiveness is already there in the heart of God. What a wonderful truth! I do not think I rejoice in anything more than the fact that my sins, my mistakes, my failures, my unloving words, my unkind attitudes and my selfish actions have been forgiven. Every day God gives me a new slate, a new unspoiled day, to live through by his grace. Our sins have been forgiven. Paul sees them as "nailed to the cross," so they no longer can condemn us. The law is not done away with, but the condemnation of it is. We are made free and told "Go, and sin no more." The last step is, we are freed from the power of these evil beings: Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. --Colossians Series
A major task in the Christian life is for us to learn to identify and renounce our three enemies: the flesh, the world, and the devil. This article is about the flesh. Because the flesh comes before us daily as a familiar friend we easily think that the flesh is who we really are. Herein lies the deception of the enemy.
...For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:5-17)
What happens in our formative years is that each of us responds to his or her environment in specific ways. Children are clever in learning to get what they want and to avoid harm and punishment. This means that what the Bible calls "the flesh" in each of us is individually choreographed. How did our parents deal with us, and how did we respond? When did our responses to the outside world become basically self-centered? When did we begin to exclude God from our awareness?
Because of this individual choreography in childhood of what will later be "the flesh" my weaknesses as an adult, my vulnerable areas are not necessarily identical to those of my neighbor. My flesh is as fallen as the next person's flesh--"I know that in me, that is in my flesh there dwells no good thing." The sum total of all that I was in Adam is worthless as far as God is concerned--both the "good" side of the flesh which looks moral, and the "bad" side of the flesh which everyone agrees is faulty. God's cure of my impossible fallenness consists of putting my flesh to death in Christ, and giving me an entirely new nature and new energy source.
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose. (Galatians 2:20, 21)
The Archetypes of the Flesh
Because each of grows up with fleshly responses to life that are unique and depend not only on heredity but also environment we all do inherit some of our weaknesses from our parents. It is, however, a mistake to label all of the familial patterns "generational sins." The flesh--our flesh--is with us until we die. The flesh presents itself to us as the sum total of what we were before we became Christians. That is, when we walk in the flesh we immediately revert back to what we were before we became Christians. The flesh does not get better nor is it subject to reform. It can only be put to death. Paul goes to great lengths to help us see these things in his letter to the Romans,
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6)
Sin as Sickness
It is proper for us to think of sin both in terms of behavior which displeases God and also as the underlying sickness of diseased state of being which produces the symptoms we call sin. The cure depends, first, on changing our behavior pattern, with God's help so that we stop sinning. Secondly, we all must address the underlying causes of sin--the diseased condition. In spite of the application of routine principles for spiritual growth, sooner or later every Christian usually becomes aware that there appear to exist in the inner kingdoms of their hearts certain enemy-held territories, or strongholds. These "fortified castles" remain unliberated, perhaps for years, and thus the emotional and spiritual resources in these "castles" (part of our inheritance in Christ)---remain unavailable to our conscious life.
These strongholds represent, in a sense, God-given assets that
can not be used because they are fortified and held by the enemy
of our souls. Liberation of these "Canaanite cities within"
(akin to what psychology calls "complexes") is part
of the spiritual warfare of the Christian for which special, unique
and effective weaponry has been given to us. Jesus spoke of these
interior regimes in our hearts when dealing with the Pharisees
on the subject of demons and the release of men from the grip
of death and sin for the kingdom of God:
"Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and house falls upon house And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. By whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace; but when one stronger than he assails him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoil. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." (Luke 11:17:23)
This is not to suggest that Christians can be demon obsessed or even that we need to go to unusual means to free ourselves from demons or evil spirits. These "strongholds" we perceive in ourselves may to some degree have been passed on to us in childhood, from our parents, or they may be the result of sinful life-style choices either before or after we become Christians. Involvement in occult practices is especially harmful, but the enemy "captures" or holds onto territory in the unconscious by means of many deceitful and crafty stratagems. Israel was to drive out and destroy the Canaanites from the promised land when they entered under Joshua. The Canaanites are types of the flesh and can not in experience be eradicated all at once in our lives,
"I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you are increased and possess the land." (Exodus 23:29, 30)
One example of this type of sin can be seen in Noah's "curse"
on his grandson Canaan associated with the sin of Canaan's father
Ham, (see Genesis 9:22-25). We do not know exactly what Ham's
sin involved when he saw his father naked and drunk in his tent,
and boasted to his older brothers, thus dishonoring his father.
What is surprising is that Noah's "curse" did not fall
on Ham but on one of Ham's sons, Canaan. (Canaan was not
a progenitor of the black race, by the way). What seems to have
happened was that Noah perceived that Ham had a lustful and perhaps
rebellious attitude in him, and Noah saw that this same weakness
had already made itself known in young Canaan. Noah simply predicted
that Canaan's would follow in his father's footsteps not for better
but for worse.
It should not be a surprise to us therefore if science discovers a genetic predisposition certain persons have towards overeating, homosexuality, alcoholism, adultery, or compulsive stealing, and so on---all of this is "original sin." How "original sin" expresses itself in our lives varies greatly from person to person, and even over time. Paul says, "The sins of some men are conspicuous, pointing to judgment, but the sins of others appear later." (1 Tim. 5:24).
Other people around us may become aware of the strongholds of evil within us before we ourselves realize they exist. At least we find it hard to believe that it is we who are crippled and others who have been set free. Psychologists call such mechanisms "denial." If the unresolved issues in the unconscious are strong, we fall into patterns in life called "acting out." When we are acting out to one degree or another our relationships with others and less than they ought to be. Friends who love us and care for us do us great service when they gently call our attention to areas in our lives where our actions and reactions give clues to our areas of secret bondage. After that we usually need the help of others to be set free as well. This is what the New Testament means when it talks about our building up the body of Christ by "speaking the truth in love," (Ephesians 4:15).
Some emotional problems we suffer from may be due to problems beyond our control in which God may or may not intervene. These include birth defects, brain damage, crippling diseases, blindness, deafness and the like. A second fact of life in Christ is that the presence of an unremoved "thorn in the flesh" may be helpful to keep us close to God, He sometimes allows inner defects in us to remain in spite of our persistent prayers to have them removed, (see 2 Cor. 12:7). If these "thorns" cause us to lean more heavily on Christ we are better off in the long run, limping and lame like Jacob.
|And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob's thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." And he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then he said, "Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed." Then Jacob asked him, "Tell me, I pray, your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh. (Genesis 32:24-31)|
As to how the strongholds of evil get into our lives in the first place, some are quite likely due to faulty childhood environments: traumas, rejections, hurts, anger and disappointments of early childhood long since forgotten by us consciously, but still active in the unconscious. To this we can add inherited psychological weaknesses and vulnerabilities that come down to us through our family tree from previous generations. Most of the strongholds of Satan in the inner kingdom of our lives come because of our own faulty choices to serve self-interest rather than God. Every wrong and selfish choice in fact strengthens the enemy's hold on portions of our kingdom within, decreasing the portion of the "promised land" we occupy in Christian freedom and liberty. We Christians are called to live out our entire lives in a war-zone, on the battle front and frequently in danger and distress. To sit back and watch life go by is to be counted as an automatic casualty of the war, by default. Paul writes to Timothy,
"No soldier on duty gets himself entangled in civilian pursuits since his aim is to please the one who recruited him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops." (2 Timothy 2:4-6)
Though unseen and mainly located in the unconscious, the strongholds-of-evil-within
betray their presence by giving rise to certain symptoms which
give the first and most important clues in dealing with them.
What is "unconscious" in us are those things that we
are almost totally unaware of (by definition), except that the
presence of these autonomous energy centers in the depths give
rise to symptoms that do, in time, surface. Some strongholds have
deep roots, some are near the surface and are more easily dealt
with. Many of our problems are repressed and will not surface
until we begin to deal with the outer layers of the walls of defense
around the strongholds which shield them from our conscious awareness.
Before dealing with the unconscious strongholds in ourselves,
it is taken for granted that we have yielded to Christ all areas
of our lives we are aware of, that we have confessed known sin,
that we are walking with God daily and otherwise living a normal
Both Freud and Jung build much of their models of human growth and development on the concept of "libido" or "life-force." For Freud this meant primarily our sexual instinctual desires and energies. Jung thought of libido in broader terms. Libido was more like the sap that grows a tree tall and straight, (Psalm 1). Or, libido was like a streaming river. Traumatic events in our lives, he proposed, diverted portions of this river so that some of our basic life-energy streamed back into the unconscious, in the direction of childhood, where it became bound up in energy-laden, emotionally-charged ("numinous") complexes. These neuroses were walled-in by ego-defense mechanisms---by denial, by fear and pride, so that we ordinarily defend ourselves from discovering the existence of these strongholds and recapturing their bound-up energy. Openness and transparency and the self-discovery that results from God will allow these buried complexes to move towards the surface where they begin to manifest symptoms and give us clues to their existence. When this happens we can begin our spiritual attack and capture these portions of enemy-held territory that rightfully belong to us.
However, there is not much point in dealing with deeper matters if we are walking in disobedience to God in areas of our lives where we are fully conscious of the will of God and of our actions. Hand in hand with the choice of allowing Jesus Lordship over all known areas of our lives must come a renunciation of our natural life and resources (that is, "the flesh."). We must be aware of the world's attractions as a deceptive attraction running counter to Christian living. These things are taken for granted in this discussion.
Healing of Memories
There is a popular movement among some Christian counselors which specializes in dealing with the past. If a person has come to Christ from a difficult past, there is value in praying in detail about events in the past when they are the source of present-day guilt, fear, bondage or temptation. The way to pray is to ask Jesus to walk back through those old events in our lives where we previously excluded Him. If we ask Jesus to cleanse, to "edit the records" and to help us see things from his point of view, it can make a liberating difference. For instance, for a man or woman who has previously lived a sexually immoral life style and who is now about to get married, cleaning up the past through confession and prayer will go along way to putting the new marriage on holy ground from the start. The last thing for a man or women to drag into a marriage with them is a closet full of old but still active fantasies and memories of past lovers. Breaking free from sexual addiction, such as pornography, usually requires this kind of deep prayer and confession of sin. God will not remove the memory of past sins, but he certainly disarms them so that they no longer cripple our current lives.
Any excessive preoccupation with self, even with spiritual growth in view, is always to be avoided. Far better to take up one's cross and serve others. This course of action also brings healing from God.
|And Jesus said to all, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26)|
There is yet another way to look at Christian growth, maturation and sanctification. We can think of it as an aspect of spiritual warfare. God's goal for us is individuation and wholeness. This comes about as we are separated from the collective milieu of family and culture. Spiritual warfare as described in the New Testament takes place not only "outside" ourselves while we are in the world, it is often an "inner space" battle as well. (Discussed more below).
The Priesthood of all Believers
Since all Christians are priests (counselors and healers) in the royal priesthood of which Jesus is our Great High Priest, we need one another in dealing with the strongholds in our lives. Not only do we usually not easily perceive the occupied territories in our hearts, we usually can't deal with them alone, without outside help from caring brothers and sisters in the Lord. The strongholds of evil in the unconscious are strongholds of darkness for which light, love, and truth are the cure. Of course it is God alone who sees us as we really are, even our best friends and life-partners never know all there is to know about us no matter how much we share. But to God "all things are open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."
Some Psychological Terms
Listed below some of the symptoms and behavior patterns that are good clues that there may exist within us strongholds of the enemy that rightfully belong to us in Christ and are thus in need of liberation. These include:
Phobias and Fears. Scripture says, "perfect love casts out fear and he who fears is not perfected in love." (I John 4:18) There are a thousand phobias and fears folks suffer from. Discovering what they are, where they came from, and why they haven't disappeared can lead to the surprising discovery that any one of us can be operating in a badly crippled life style because of deep seated strongholds of walled-off fear. Love is the cure, since love, properly administered, "casts out fear."
Extreme Self-centeredness. The Bible says none of us should "think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned to him." (Romans 12:3) The excessively self-centered person often has an exaggerated sense of his own self-importance. This in turn is usually a cover-up for low self-esteem and for a feeling of chronic failure in life. Self-centeredness is hard to recognize in oneself, easy to see in others, and of course something we often stubbornly hold onto thinking we are thereby safer and better off in life. The cure is to allow God to put to death the self-life in us, not just once, but daily.
Self Deception is a common human weakness by means of which we deny our sin, overlook our flaws and tend to think better of ourselves than we ought to think. The age we live in is one of extreme deception in religion, education, social affairs and philosophy. Unfortunately our hearts are susceptible to schemes and imaginations. Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (17:9)
Compulsive Behavior Patterns. The compulsion to steal, to lie or behave in accordance with superstitions (avoiding the number 13 for instance, or fearing the number 666) can hide strongholds that need attention.
Compulsive-Obsessive patterns are often strange, peculiar and frustrating, hence those so afflicted usually go out of the way to hide these failures from others to cover their embarrassment. A good part of the cure is always having at least one trusted friend who knows one's secrets no matter how bizarre they may seem to us. It is helpful to read about Jesus' tender concern for those who were social misfits or troubled with problems that opened them to ridicule by others.
Sexual Disorders. The Christian man or women who does not naturally move towards a normal heterosexual life style or contented celibacy, or who suffers from unresolved abnormal sexual desires---molestation, wife or child abuse, compulsive masturbation, or homosexual acting-out, etc.---has almost certainly strongholds that need attention. Since human sexuality encompasses body, soul and spirit these strongholds are among the deepest areas of distorted and self-centered behavior we face as Christians.
Repeated Intense Dreams, Sleeplessness. Dreams of unusual intensity, especially repeated dreams or prolonged periods of lack of sleep are warning signals that often call attention to activity springing from enemy-held territory within that needs redemption.
Anxiety Attacks. Anxiety attacks cripple conscious behavior and usually indicate that a previous buried neurotic "complex" is surfacing with resulting spill-over of excessive energy into conscious life. The "complexes" or "neuroses" familiar to the psychologist are known to be energy-laden to a greater or lesser extent depending on the intensity of the unresolved conflict and the degree of repression. Anxiety attacks are frightening because we fear loss of self-control and because the energy leaking up from the unconscious problem area provokes irrational fears. Many verses of scripture tells us how to directly deal with anxiety with guaranteed results.
"Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6, 7)
Acute Depression. Everyone gets depressed at times, however there are persons in our world who must be hospitalized because their depressions are so severe or prolonged. Depression is hard to deal with in many cases, and can have many causes but strongholds of the enemy should be suspected. Depression could be buried self-hatred in some instances, or guilt from unconfessed sin (Psalm 32), or a result of the loss of a loved-one or a personal tragedy in life beyond one's control. Modern medical research has shown that depressed persons show certain chemical imbalances in the brain and so sometimes doctors can prescribe medication to restore the brain's chemical balance until the root cause is discovered. Thus, we can at least begin to function again in society.
Arrested Development. Sinful behavior, especially in adolescence, tends to arrest normal emotional and spiritual maturation. This means a person can get "stuck" at a certain stage of growth towards adulthood and retain childish, immature, inappropriate ways of responding to life long after others have moved on. One example would be sexual promiscuity which opposes one's ability to form strong and lasting intimate relationships. When we deal with an area of disobedience or failure in our lives, spiritual and emotional growth resume.
Regression: When a person refuses the grace of God over time he or she will not only stop growing up emotionally, but may revert to the "safer" behavior patterns of childhood. It is always sad to see a person made in the image of God who reverts back to behaving like a dependent and helpless child long after they should be serving others as a mature adult and productive member of society.
Manic-depressive behavior. Extreme swings of emotion
from excessive elation to depression when there appear to be no
direct causal factors in the environment call attention to our
need (in most cases) to deal with personality roadblocks within.
Use of stimulating drugs like cocaine crack, or "speed"
produces elation and well-being that are unrelated to the real
circumstances of one's life. The price to be paid eventually is
a psychosis or at least a compensatory season of depression which
simply has to be endured until it has worked itself out. One form
of serious mental illness requiring a physician's care is a manic-depressive,
or bi-polar psychosis. Those afflicted can harm themselves and
others inadvertently so they may need protective hospitalization.
A host of effective anti-psychotic medications is now available
to the trained psychiatrist to help restore normal behavior.
Split-Personality. The famous fiction story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has made everyone aware that some individuals do suffer from the inability to be self-consistent. While all of us change our personas as we change our clothing (to suit the occasion), a rigid upbringing with much repression may force some people to "act-out" their repressed and unlived selves privately or secretly as a compensatory mechanism. Extreme personality changes resulting from perhaps only a couple of alcoholic drinks is a good sign of onset of the physiological disease of alcoholism for which the only cure is life long total abstinence from further drinking.
Multiple personality behavior, though rare, can be a sign of demon possession. After all other possibilities have been exhausted, experienced help should be sought and the demons cast out. Demon possession usually occurs because a person has deliberately involved himself or herself in the occult, witchcraft, Satan worship, or hard-core pornography.
Excessive day dreaming or fantasy life. A delightful movie made in the `40's, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was all about a quiet, shy, unassuming hen-pecked husband whose secret fantasy life was full of swash-buckling adventures in which he was hero extraordinary. Persons who fail to live out in real life who they really are in Christ may find that their unlived selves show up in excessive day dreaming and fantasies. Sexual fantasies usually reveal feelings of sexual incompleteness and are a special case. Those who feed on pornographic literature are letting the world know that they feel inadequate in interpersonal relationships and are virtual prisoners of destructive lusts and sensual desires.
Inferiority complex and low self-esteem. As mentioned above, low self-esteem may masquerade behind the person who is bold and self-confident or egotistical in real life. In other cases a person who is excessively shy may be a secret sufferer who hopes no one will notice but also longs for help and is afraid to ask for it. Unconfessed sin, uncleansed shame, and a sense of spiritual nakedness underlie many cases of personal low self-esteem.
Often we meet lonely people who simply need affirmation and someone to show an interest in them and to encourage them. Many friends I have met, who once were lonely and lacked a good opinion of themselves, have blossomed as a result of a little interest shown in them on behalf of God. All kinds of folks who have poor self-esteem are actually delightful persons and have much to offer. Since Jesus taught us that we would lose our own lives if we held onto them, and find our salvation if we gave ourselves away to others, I have found great value in asking God to bring into my life people who need a word of encouragement or some basic human acceptance, or a sympathetic listening friend. It is difficult enough to believe that God loves us, and often easier to believe another person cares. In any case, the incarnation of Christ obligates us to share His humanity with others through our actions.
Some people are naturally shy, or especially modest, or introspective. These are personality traits, not abnormalities!
Violent behavior. Any Christian under duress can lose his or her temper, or be subject to regrettable fits of anger, bitterness, or hatred from time to time in life. For others a strong temper is a personality weakness needing to be worked on for a life time. Most of these problems can be dealt with by confession and prayer. Wife-abuse, child-abuse, attempts at suicide, or various forms of self-destructive behavior are good indicators that the one whom Jesus called "the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning" has made his home somewhere in our hearts and needs to be dislodged and thrown out. Because the person who commits sin is temporarily not his own master any longer, but is controlled by another, he or she can not behave in the meek, gentle ways of Jesus until the control of the Holy Spirit is restored through confession and repentance.
Drug and alcohol abuse. Persons who drink too much or use illicit drugs to avoid coping with reality are often snared, not only by bad habits, but have been trapped into self-destructive behavior patterns that are the result of enemy activity in one's life. The Greek word pharmakeia, usually translated "sorcery" in the New Testament, implies bondage from seducing spirits than can occur because of abuse drugs or alcohol. The psychedelic drugs, and such as PCP, LSD, pot, Ecstasy, and the like open the mind to seducing spirits and interfere with the boundary-layer controls between the conscious and unconscious mind that God built into us for our own healthy self-regulation.
Excessive thrift, excessive spending. Men and women who chronically mismanage their worldly resources, either through not using then at all, or by spending sprees and living beyond their means usually have trouble within. Not only does money management require liberty and responsibility in Christ:
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the (Greek: "a", not "the") root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs." (I Timothy 6:9,10)
Compulsive eating or drinking. Not all fat persons are
signaling to the world that they need spiritual help, but it is
certainly true in many situations that those who over indulge
are trying to fill up unmet emotional needs in an inappropriate
way. Getting such people to lose weight may mean dealing with
a stronghold-within that resists discovery and change, surprising
though this may seem.
Excessive self-denial; work-alcoholics. Individuals who are overly legalistic and deny themselves all recreation and enjoyment of life are often broadcasting to the rest of us their need for inner liberation that they might find the freedom that God longs to give them. In other cases individuals have grown up in legalistic churches and need help in gaining the freedom Christ has earned for them. Since God has given us all things freely to enjoy, and Jesus said He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly, Christians who avoid the risks and adventures of living and enjoying real life may have inner bondage from which they can, and should be, set free. Individuals who are driven by insecurity, secret lust for power or excessive fear of failure have problems that need attention as well. Wholeness in Christ implies balanced living.
Excessive passivity. Just as certain persons are offensively rude, aggressive, pushy, so some people can be seen to be totally lacking in the ability to take the initiative, to pursue worthwhile goals or to venture forth into the world of relationships (in spite of hazards and fears). Quite a few men and women never grow up in today's world and expect someone else to feed and cloth them as mommy used to do. Jungian psychologists write books on young men whom they refer to as "Puer Aeternis" types. These tragic young men can be wonderfully charming, innocent-appearing, and loving, but most can not cope with the demands life makes on adult manhood; neither can they believe that bad things can happen to them. Many perfectly wonderful young women accept reclusive living, leading to "old-maidhood," not realizing that God would like to use them in wonderful ways even though they might prefer not to marry. Obviously there are underlying reasons for such cases of arrested development.
Difficulty in interpersonal relationships. In this category should be included fear of authority figures reflecting on poor childhood relationships with one's parents, fear of the opposite sex, and constant need for peer-group approval. Closely related are those relationships where one person finds he or she "can not live without the other." Something may be wrong in a person who can not hold a job very long or who moves constantly and never keeps friends very long. While we all need each other, we need God most of all, and to force us to grow up God may find it necessary to pry us loose from excessive dependence upon other people in some cases. Such dependent-relationships are usually two-way or they would be soon broken by the other party and ended. The test of healthy relationships is that they should overflow to the benefit of others and be outgoing rather than turned inward. Unfortunately many Christian marriages are turned inward to the detriment of all involved. Relationships based on the axioms, "I'll love you if you'll love me", "we both are lonely so we might as well be lonely together" may be better than no marriage at all, but they are certainly not very fulfilling relationships. It may be difficult to start over again after the failure of a marriage of many years, or to think of oneself as being useful to God or man after serious sin has befallen us, : but God is always ready to get us started forward again. On my kitchen wall is a plaque that means much to me, it simple says, "Prayer Changes Things".
The list could continue, but perhaps these few illustrations are enough to convince that we are all badly flawed, and that we are both weak and helpless before God, if we could but admit it to ourselves, to Him, and to each other. There is nothing wrong in being weak, in fact the Apostle Paul writes that Christ's strength is made perfect in our weakness. He speaks of us as earthen vessels with a treasure inside. What counts is the treasure not the container!
Yet we owe it to ourselves as redeemed men and women to vigorously devote time and energy to the conquest of the promised land of Canaan, to the redemption of the kingdom God within that has granted us as our inheritance in Christ. This "conquest of the land" is of course the theme of the book of Joshua. We Christians have no claims to a plot of land as the Jews do, nor even to any earthly inheritance, and we do not (usually) find our real enemies are other persons external to our lives. Neither do we claim our rightful inheritance in Christ by means of conventional warfare. Rather instead we must proceed by the ground rules laid down in the scripture for the conquest of the territory within.
The strongholds discussed thus far are those of the "personal unconscious" to use a term borrowed from modern analytic psychology. The largest problems we face as men and women coping with the problems of "this present evil age," are problems of the "collective unconscious." Social and political movements, cults and sects are examples of human organizations governed by collective forces that draw together more than one individual. Unless such groups or movements are grounded in scripture and in fellowship with God, they are bound to be deceptive stratagems of the god of this world. If so, they represent larger strongholds that need to be evaluated and aggressively addressed by Christians. Dealing with the collective strongholds in society is the subject of spiritual warfare proper, as discussed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians Chapter 6. However many of the same principles of general-spiritual-warfare apply to attacking and reclaiming the personal strongholds in ourselves as individuals. A very key passage is found in Paul's second letter to the Christians in Corinth:
"For though we live in the world, we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience when your obedience is complete" (II Corinthians 10:3-6)
What this passage reveals is that the strongholds of evil in ourselves (and in others) are buttressed and fortified with rationalizations and arguments, with defense mechanisms and illogical patterns of thought based on ignorance, tradition, or the false philosophies of this world. The core of the strongholds is always pride, whether it takes the form of arrogance, self-exaltation, or touchiness and resentment (pride turned inward). This passage is most helpful, for it shows us that the problems we deal with in our unconscious and in the lives of others are like castles built up and defended (by the "strong man") in a certain way. To successfully attack, invade, and destroy enemy-held strongholds is really not much different from storming a medieval castle, but in Christ we have been armed with a better set of weapons than the best knight in armor would wear:
"...be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:10-18)
If one keeps in mind that God's goal for us in life is that
we should become whole persons, and that the Enemy's intentions
are to destroy us, the nature of the war we are in can better
be kept in mind. While many believers content themselves with
second-best, there is no need for doing so, considering the unlimited
nature of the life God offers us in Christ and the mighty weapons
He gives us for helping one another to fullness of life now. (See
and The Biblical Concept of Wholeness, by Kenny Ammann).
In applying the above passages to our emotional and spiritual roadblocks, it is only necessary to note that all of us resist change and even cooperate most of the time with the enemy in his maintenance and preservation of the castles he has built within us. The on-going efforts of the enemy to keep us from giving over these areas to Christ are popularly known as "defense mechanisms", and, unfortunately we all have them and resent (at first) anyone interfering with what lies beneath them. Not only are we defensive when the outer periphery is approached, we often find a whole host of reasons, or "rationalizations" for not allowing Christ to penetrate more deeply or probe further into the heart of our problem - that is, we might decide it can wait for "another day." We all resist truth to some degree and we resist living in reality also, though the more reality that breaks in and the more truth we accept the more glorious is our freedom and joy in Christ! So it is true that "we are our own worst enemies." Even as Christians we must learn "that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil."
Pride, arrogance, and self-righteousness are not sins that once dealt with never recur. It is the testimony of the people of God in all ages that these root evils are at the heart of our constant resistance to growth. The weeds grow back in the garden faster than the flowers! But then who enjoys being humbled, or even humbling himself, though it is a fixed truth that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. So we ought to be willing to "Humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God so that in due time He may exalt us."
Of course we must move tactfully, lovingly, and patiently as we help each other recognize the strongholds of the enemy in one another's lives. Then it is up to us to give God permission to move in, to tear down and to redeem these areas of our lives that we have lost to ourselves through sin. God does not force Himself on us, neither should we force ourselves on another - even when we want to help meet what is an obvious need. In helping others we must not meddle or pry where we are not welcome, nor violate another's will or God-given "territorial boundaries". In helping others know themselves better we must realize that we too will be changed by the process. In life we have no mirror to see ourselves except through the scriptures, fellowship with God and learning how to see ourselves as others see us. We shall not succeed in helping another if we perceive of ourselves as superior to our friend, nor will we gain his trust and confidence if we harbor attitudes of judgment and condemnation in our hearts, however subtle:
"Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own Master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand." (Romans 14:4)
In dealing with the strongholds of the personal unconscious
it is well to keep in mind certain conditions of the inner man
that may need specific attention through prayer, instruction,
or changes in life-style before healing can set in. Some of the
these include: Ignorance of the Scriptures. It is useless to pray
for things God has already said "no" to in scripture.
Similarly many Christians stay defeated because they are unaware
of the hundreds of promises (conditional and unconditional) in
the Bible free for the claiming! There is real life changing power
in the Word of God, those who do not feed on the Word remain sickly
and anemic and can not expect to become whole except to an insignificant
degree, no matter how sincere their efforts. Especially in regard
to healing and wholeness the Psalms have always been of infinite
worth to the people of God down through the ages. In my darkest
hours I have turned to the Psalms and found them rich treasures
of encouragement, hope , comfort, and healing.
A sad commentary on many of our churches today is that they do not teach the scriptures or perhaps give only a verse or two when the congregation is starving for a decent meal. Other churches specialize in excessive emotionalism, charged appeals, and hours of chorus-singing. These worship activities provide a temporary lifting of the spirits but do not give us the "strong meat of the word" we all need to survive the rest of the week. In regard to worship Jesus said, "God is spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Obviously He wished us to strike a balance between music, prayer, testimony, open sharing and the preaching and teaching of "the whole counsel of God."
Conscience. The conscience can be "seared" so as to be grossly insensitive to right and wrong. Unless programmed with scripture our consciences can mislead us by making us feel guilty when we have not erred, or by allowing us to rationalize heinously wrong behavior without providing us with strong warnings:
"By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith..." (I Timothy 1:19)
"As I urged you...charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the diving training that is in faith; whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and sincere faith." (I Timothy 1:4, 5)
"...How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself to God without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God." (Hebrews 9:14)
"...Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness, and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (I Peter 3:15,15 )
Hardness of heart. It is useless to try to help people who are resistant to truth and change because of this common affliction. In such situations we need to ask God for humbling and breaking experiences, or for patient love to soften the heart so that it becomes receptive again. A related problem is stubbornness, a form of pride. God often sends us adverse, painful experiences to get our attention when all else fails.
"The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." (Psalm 51:17)
The will in bondage. Every wrong choice in life weakens
our ability to resist evil in a given area, every right choice
builds up the will. Many individuals have so little "will-power"
that they need lots of help to get back on their feet walking
with God. In recovering a will from bondage, the smallest initial
right choices are the place to start and repeated failures are
common even for long periods of time. Persons with broken-down
wills need especially close accountability to other members of
the Body of Christ. Frequently the Old Testament speaks of the
Jews as a "stubborn and stiff-necked people". The neck
is a symbol for the will, and a strong will (towards God) is called
a "strong tower" in the Song of Solomon.
Uncircumcised heart. Just as unconfessed sin festers in the unconscious causing all sorts of problems and subsequent defeat, so all Christians need to draw upon their circumcision in the cross of Christ, by faith, in order to experience the cutting off of the flesh and the old life. The figure of circumcision means that we need to deal radically with our consecration to God, especially in regard to sexuality, emotions and related affections. Physical circumcision is a vivid symbol given to show us that our sexual lives, which we would like to claim as our own to be controlled by no one else, are to be given to God for the purpose of serving both Him and our partner in marriage. One ancient legend is that wedding rings were first modeled from the circular ring of flesh removed from the male generative organ in circumcision.
"And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having canceled the (legal) bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them triumphing over them in the cross." (Colossians 2:13-15)
Backsliding. This old-fashioned term simply means persistent
disobedience or rebellion to the revealed will of God, and failure
to walk with God on a daily basis. Carnal Christian living guarantees
an inevitable harvest of death, since God is not mocked. In addition
our walking in the flesh increases the territory ruled over by
Satan in us and threatens the entire "kingdom within."
(A good illustration is Psalm 79). Though Abraham loved his nephew
Lot like a son, the latter was a compromised believer who was
saved "but only as through fire". I often wonder what
we can talk to Lot about in heaven. It would be indiscreet to
inquire about his daughters, and empty to ask him to describe
what life living in Sodom was like. Peter tells us that Lot was
vexed night and day by moral conditions in Sodom. Having been
justified by his faith along with the rest of us, he will arrive
in heaven without sin or blame remaining.
Seducing spirits. In an evil world, all of us are buffeted about by activity in the "heavenly places" which involves good and bad angels, and hosts of falling spirits: unclean spirits, lying spirits, deceiving spirits, impersonating spirits, and the like. Persons who have been involved in the occult, though now Christians, may find bondage from such spirits is hard to be freed from and that persistent efforts are required. I do not believe any Christian can be possessed by evil spirits since God is sovereign over the temple of our bodies, however Christians do from time to time need relief from the world of oppressing spirits. Such oppression should not be suspected until all other possible problem areas have been explored and eliminated. Deliverance from enemy oppression has been the experience of many of God's people through the centuries.
Pride. Pride is at the heart of all sin. Arrogance, haughtiness, egotism, and self-righteousness are her bed-fellows. Outward pride, showing up as self-exaltation, arrogance and egotism is easier to spot than stubbornness, touchiness, or resistance to change which can be signs of inward pride. It is important to always be aware that meekness, lowliness and humility mark the fruit of the spirit. God's work with us is not finished until we have been repeatedly broken, brought to the end of our own resources more than once, and until we have been made-over into the likeness of God's own Son. Only after knowing God twenty-five years did I realize that I would be increasingly humbled by God for the rest of my life, if I was willing to keep following Him! Since pride blinds, it is well to ask God to show us what He sees about us that we do not:
"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!" (Psalm 139).
The stages of Christian growth, theologically speaking are justification, sanctification and glorification. The above discussion has largely to do with our part in working towards sanctification. (Sanctification is another name for wholeness, spiritual maturity, well-roundedness).
Colossians 3 sums up this by showing us that our life in Christ involves daily choices in identifying fleshly responses in our life, and then dying to them. For an excellent commentary on this passage see Ray Stedman, --Colossians Series.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you once walked, when you lived in them. But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth'ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (3:2-17)
By David H. Roper
Your vanity and greed and lust
Are each your portion from the dust
Of those that died, and from the tomb
Made you what you must needs become.
--William Dean Howells
"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass, that as I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to throw down, to destroy, and to afflict, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the LORD. In those days they shall say no more: 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children's teeth are set on edge.' But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge. Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah--not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jeremiah 31:27-34)
Advances in the behavioral sciences suggest that there may be negative psychological traits that are genetically influenced. Individuals appear to be born with dispositions toward alcoholism, sexual aggression, erratic work habits and other personality disorders. 
Paul would agree: "Through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). Whether we go back to Adam or some other relative, whether we talk about major perversions or minor peccadilloes, it's all the same: every one of us has been cursed by some ancestor, handicapped by his wrong-doing, saddled with insecurities, insanities and sinful predilections. Wrong-doing resides in our DNA, without our creation or consent, demanding compliance, crying out like that malevolent plant in The Little Shop of Horrors: "Feed me!"
It's common these days to assume that wrong-doing includes only those behaviors that are voluntary and unforced. If it can be shown that some orientation is caused rather than chosen we render human choice irrelevant and remove that behavior from the realm of moral argument. Our ancestors made us what we "must needs become." "Our fathers have eaten sour grapes and our teeth have been set on edge." 
"No," Jeremiah would say, "Whoever eats sour grapes, his own teeth will be set on edge." Regardless of the roots of our behavior we are morally responsible for the wrong that we do.
But there's good news: we need not be stuck. The laws of heredity are not the highest laws. There is one higher. George MacDonald wrote, "Everyone is born nearer to God than to any ancestor and it rests with everyone to choose whether he will be of God, or of those who have gone before him...."
It does no good to excuse our sin, even our inherited predispositions. The only way to rid ourselves of an evil trait is to call it what God calls it--evil--and bring it to him for his healing. He can then begin to bring about a cure.
The decision to bring our failed and flawed temperaments to him may be nothing more than the end-product of a lifetime of failure. We may have struggled so long with our compulsions that we've given up in despair. But God does not despair of us even when we despair of ourselves. He assures us: "I will forgive your iniquity, and your sin I will remember no more."
Some of us are difficult cases. Flawed by environment and indulgence as well as heredity, our personalities resist change. We have a hard machine to drive, as C. S. Lewis would say. Yet God can take the most difficult and damaged life and gradually turn it into good. He does not leave us in ruins. He is watching over us "to build and to plant." 
The process is neither swift nor painless, but chaotic and subject to agonizing delay. Progress is seldom made by quantum leaps, but by tentative steps and a number of hard falls. It is a gradual thing, better seen in retrospect than in prospect. Yet, every day, as we bring ourselves to God and to his Word, he goes to work to put his law in our minds and write it on our hearts. 
For reasons God only knows, some of us may glorify him for a time through our compulsions. We're so damaged that total healing awaits heaven. If you're one of his children so afflicted, you can be assured of his promise: there will be progress. The God who started his great work in you "will keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the day Christ Jesus appears." 
Notes: 1. I have omitted homosexuality from this list
because no certain biological basis for sexual orientation has
been established. The most cited study is one published in
Science by gay activist, neurobiologist Simon LeVay. LeVay
noted a small difference between homosexual and heterosexual males
in a tiny area of the hypothalamus (INAH-3), but not all scientists
accept his conclusions. Drs. William Byne and Bruce Powers of
Columbia University examined the evidence and concluded: "There
is no evidence at present to substantiate a biologic theory of
homosexuality," though their study has never been reported
by the press. At the very most, LeVay's research may indicate
that some men have less "male typical hardwiring" which
may make them more susceptible to homosexual behavior, while
not causing it.
2. Jeremiah 31:29. 3. Jeremiah 31:28. 4. Jeremiah 31:33. 5. Philippians 1:6, The Message
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In helping men and women become whole persons we Christians need not rely too much on contemporary schools of psychology which are to some degree founded in atheism, behaviorism, humanism, or on a purely mechanistic view of life. There is also minimal value in many of the popular Christian "self-help" books which, claiming we ought to be successful, rich and happy, show how us to achieve goals that are in reality worldly and non-biblical.
There is today an "anti-psychology" school among some conservative Christians. They claim that modern psychology springs entirely from pagan and atheistic roots. I believe that God gives the world much valuable truth and insight through entirely secular sources. This is one of His channels of what is called "common grace." God has given us the Holy Spirit so that we might discern truth from error in daily life. Jesus is our Teacher whether we are studying rocket science or theology. I once met an older Christian youth leader whose library contained only a KJV Bible and a copy of Unger's Bible Dictionary. I can not help but feel that this dear brother had missed the point of being a Christian--which is to become a whole and well-rounded man. This can only come about because we undo the damage of original sin. We were born into the world already poisoned by the "knowing of good and evil" and it is through full knowledge of God (epignosis) that this is gradually undone in us.
Scriptural guidelines are usually sufficient to assist us,
but we do not need to throw out common sense or the valuable insights
God in common grace has given in secular sources of knowledge
about man and his behavior. I believe we owe a lot to the insights
of modern psychology. Below is a short lists of definitions* common in psychology that may be familiar
to some readers. This list is by no means exhaustive:
Repression: "A psychological process in which memories and motives are not permitted to enter consciousness but are operative at an unconscious level. Repression is one of the reactions to frustration and anxiety. It serves as a means of altering conscious motives and ideals."
Regression: "A retreat to earlier or more primitive forms of behavior frequently encountered in children and adults faced with frustration."
Scapegoating: "The displacement of aggression to a convenient group or class. It is a defense mechanism that operates as a prejudice against racial, religious or other groups."
Displacement: "The disguising of the goal of a motive by substituting another in place of it."
Sublimation: "The use of a substitute activity to gratify a frustrated motive. Freud believed for example, that a frustrated sex drive could be partially gratified by channeling it into some aesthetic activity."
Projection: "The disguising of a source of conflict by ascribing one's own motives to someone else; prominent in paranoia."
Defense Mechanism: "A reaction to frustration that defends the person against anxiety and serves to disguise his motives, so that he deceives himself about his real motives."
Reaction Formation: "The disguising of a motive so completely that it is expressed in a form that is directly opposite to its original intent."
Rationalization: "The interpretation of one's behavior so as to conceal the motive it expresses and to assign the behavior to some other motive."
Resistance: "A phenomenon observed in psychotherapy, exhibited as an inability to remember important events in one's past or to talk about certain anxiety-charged subjects. Resistance may be indicated by a blocking of free associations or by a person's steering away from certain subjects during free association."
Compulsion: "An irrational, useless act that constantly intrudes into a person's behavior."
Transference: "In psychotherapy and especially psychoanalysis, the re-enactment of previous relationships with people and especially of the parent-child relationship. In psychoanalysis, the therapist becomes the object of transference; the transference aids in the analysis because it permits the patient to express towards the therapist attitudes and feelings he has held towards other people."
Neurosis: "A mental or personality disorder, less severe than a psychosis, in which a person is unusually anxious, miserable, troubled, or incapacitated in his work and his relationships with other people."
Psychosis: "A mental or personality disorder more severe than a neurosis often requiring custodial care."
Unconscious Motivation: "Motivation that can be discerned in a person's behavior but that he cannot report and does not perceive."
Dissociative Reaction: "A neurotic reaction involving repression in which certain aspects of personality and memory are compartmentalized and function more or less independently, e.g., amnesia and multiple personality."
Depressive Disorder: "A mental disorder characterized by anxiety, guilt feelings, self-deprecation, or suicidal tendencies."
Conversion Reaction: "A neurotic reaction in which motivational conflict has been converted into physical symptoms, so that the person appears to have various ailments that have no physical basis."
Compensation: "A defense mechanism in which an individual substitutes one activity for another to satisfy frustrated motives. It usually implies failure or loss of self-esteem in one activity and the compensation of this loss in some other realm of endeavor."
* From Introduction to Psychology by Clifford T. Morgan of the University of Wisconsin, published by McGraw Hill of New York in 1961.
Originated1984. Revised April 28, 1996, June 10, 2001. November 20, 2003.