“I’m so angry with my boss I’d love to burn down his office and watch him suffer. Damn! What am I saying? This has gotta’ stop. I’m hopeless. I need to get out of the way and let God do his thing in me,” Eric explained to Tom as they enjoyed his new boat while fishing on Lake Jasper. Tom was silent. He didn’t want to argue with Eric. But, he couldn’t help himself. “I think it’s just the opposite, Eric. To get a handle on your anger you’ve got to get more active, do more – get to church more often, really pray, memorize some key verses on anger. Be proactive, man! Don’t let this thing get to you. Register for the “New Life” retreat happening in a couple weeks. There’s a great book I just finished called “30 Days to Spiritual Maturity” that would be perfect for your situation.” Whew! That felt good. I hope Eric is listening cuz’ I know what I’m talking about.
What is a person to do? What is an effective way to deal with our often out-of-control passions like anger, greed, or despair? The big answer is that we need to become the kind of person, in active union with the Trinity, who is transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ so that our passions don’t control us.
That’s a mouthful. But it also raises the questions of Why, What if, and HOW that kind of transformation happens. No one has all the answers. However, two certainties about transformation arise: 1) We need help from others and 2) We must be involved in the process. God doesn’t pick us up by the seat of our pants and throw us into holiness. We train ourselves.
There’s a couple theological walls that may need to be dismantled before some of you accept the idea of training as a means to holiness. If you accept the notions of positional sanctification and imputed righteousness – because God sees you as perfect in Christ already – then you’ll struggle with any “means” for Christlikeness. You may ask, “Why do I need to make effort to be perfect when I’m perfect already in Christ?” “God does whatever He wants. Does He really need to use any means to accomplish His will?”
It’s true, Jesus could have “miraculously” made 5000 people full by declaring it to be so. But instead, He used a small boy with five loaves and two fishes, obedient disciples, some inanimate baskets, and at least 5000 people who willingly received the food as means to accomplish His will. There was work involved. Everyone needed to cooperate and participate in Jesus’ plan or they would remain hungry. This is how God normally works.
Jesus didn’t stand before them and tell them to “name it and claim it” in order to be filled. “My hungry friends, in faith believe you shall be filled with delicious and nourishing Musht from the Sea of Galilee and fresh barley rolls from the ovens of Bethsaida. Speak sincerely in faith and thou shalt be filled. Hallelujah!”
Without an understanding of God’s use of means, this kind of thinking can make Christians apathetic, lazy, passive, heady, sinful, judgmental, and dangerous. I know. I’ve been there.
Why should you train yourself? Because God – the Father and the Son – sets the standard and asks that we reach it. The goal is worth our efforts.
Be holy for I (God) am holy (Leviticus 11.44,45; 19.2, 20.7, 20.26, 21.8; 1 Peter 1.15).
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5.48). It is Jesus’ teaching.
Be merciful as your Father is merciful (Luke 6.36).
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me (Mathew 10.38, 16.24, Mark 8.34; Luke 9.23, 14.27). We do this. It is not done for us.
C. S. Lewis writes:
The command “Be ye perfect” is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command.
It’s the “going to make us” in which you and I cooperate and participate. God does not force us to go a certain direction like a rudder on a ship nor does He program us to obey like a robot. He works within our own being in a relationship of love and mercy to transform us to be obedient.
This synergistic work includes training. We don’t automatically become like Jesus just because we call ourselves Christian.
A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6.40). Then Jesus teaches about our logs and others’ specks. Powerful stuff!
train yourself for godliness or discipline yourself unto godliness (1 Timothy 4.7).
Every scripture is God-breathed and profitable for…training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3.16).
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men disciplining (training) us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age (Titus 2.11-12).
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you (Philippians 2.12-13).
But solid food is for the mature, who by practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5.14).
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons (his children). For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12.7-11).
There is so much you and I are to do to be Christians – from putting on the whole armor of God to loving our neighbors; from seeking first the kingdom to setting our minds on heavenly things, from denying ungodliness to participating in God’s discipline.
How can we ever believe that these are already accomplished in us in Christ? Let’s be honest with ourselves. Though we honor these exhortative truths in scripture, actually living them consistently alludes us.
Those of us raised in fundamentalist settings need to be careful not to resist the idea of effort because we’ve seen disturbing legalistic attempts at spiritual growth from others. Striving to be like God does not need to be legalistic. It can be a loving devotion to know God experientially and more intimately.
Those raised in a more antinomian (“against law”) environment need to be careful not to throw off efforts of discipline in the name of freedom. Actually, it’s in abiding within time-tested, spiritually-effective parameters that true freedom is realized.
Means are Needed
The dictionary describes a “means” as “an action or system by which a result is brought about; a method. Synonyms are: method, way, technique, manner, instrument, channel, course, process, or vehicle.
Now get this – if you miss everything else in this post, don’t miss this. For the Christian, our primary means for being a Christian – living the Christian life – is Jesus Himself. He describes himself as “THE WAY.” He is the MEANS – the manner, process, vehicle, instrument, method – for our becoming like him. Apart from him, we are nothing. (He is also “Life,” and “Truth.” We don’t have those without him, either.) He is how we battle our passions and become like Jesus.
The great saint, the Apostle Paul, gives testimony to this reality.
According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1.20). Because St. Paul intensely focuses himself in Christ, ignoring other interests and strains forward to Jesus (that’s the meaning of “my earnest expectation and hope”), Christ is enlarged in St. Paul’s physical body. Wow!
Or, Galatians 2.20: 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. St. Paul physically lived in Christ and Christ lived in Him as a result of being crucified with Christ (at his baptism; see Romans 6).
God usually acts through means to accomplish his will. We need to see what can result from the means (ex. be transformed into Christlikeness), intentionally decide to act and then do what’s necessary, and finally use the proper means to get us there.
Rich resources are available in the person, example and teachings of Jesus, in scripture, in the wisdom of godly men and women, in the Church, and in creation to help us become the kind of person who can defeat our passions and become like Jesus Christ. We simply need to take advantage of them, learning to use them in practical ways.
The way this usually works is that we train (or retrain) ourselves when not “on the spot” so that when face-to-face with real inner and exterior challenges, we’re prepared. For example, we go into our closet (a place of solitude and silence) and commune with the Trinity as Jesus teaches us to do. From those ongoing experiences, we train ourselves to commune with God during a chaotic and busy day.
We fast (learn to say “no,” let go or deny ourselves) in obedience to Jesus’ discipleship invitation so that when we face the desire to overeat or get greedy with our finances we know from experience to say “no.” We become a person who is actually living out Jesus’ teaching and following his example.
Effort is Needed
What comes to mind when you hear the word “training?” You might think about sitting at a desk in a conference room listening to a lecture on how to be sensitive to your fellow employees (“sensitivity training”). Passively sitting and listening is not at all what I have in mind. (Sadly, that’s how most Christians are “trained” in churches these days – think sermons, conferences, retreats, or small group discussions.)
I am amazed at the intense effort and dedication given by men and women to prepare themselves for demanding and/or dangerous activities – climbing Mt. Everest, becoming a Navy SEAL or Green Beret, participating in a triathlon or ironman competition, or living as an ascetic in isolation or community.
The discipline to learn to fluently speak Taiwanese, to play Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 (from memory no less!?!), or to understand quantum physics (that’s what I’m told) astonishes us. These activities only come about by:
1. Envisioning the end result.
2. Deciding to do what’s necessary to accomplish them and intentionally following through.
3. Using means to accomplish them including good practice, disciplined practice, supported practice.
(Thanks to Dallas Willard for his VIM (Vision, Intention, and Means) model giving clarity to this process.)
In these activities, and dozens more like them, there is the need of training for stamina, strength, attentiveness, intuitiveness, focus, solid decision-making, and clear thinking. Truth is, these attributes are needed as well for our day-to-day activities…like driving.
“People don’t generally think of driving as a risky task,”says Russ Rader, of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “They think that crashes happen to other people, not themselves. There is a researcher who calls it the illusory zone of immunity — when we do things day after day that are routine, we don’t think of them as being particularly dangerous.”
“But of course the statistics show that getting behind the wheel of a car is probably the riskiest thing any of us do on any given day.”
Nationwide, an average of more than 41,000 have died in accidents each year over the past decade.
The day-to-day “risky” activity of marriage and family also requires ongoing training. How many divorces take place because a spouse puts the relationship on “cruise control,” falls asleep at the wheel, or gets distracted or preoccupied by something or someone destructive to their own life, their marriage or their family?
Training to become a person living fully in the Trinity is appropriate for all activities of our life and necessary to being a Christian.
God and Us
God places us in the “heavenlies” (Ephesians 2.6), enables us to “partake in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.3-4), unites us in Christ freeing us from sin’s dominion (Romans 6.1-14), adopts us as his own children (Ephesians 1.5, Romans 8.17), and makes us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5.17).
And yet we sin, live for ourselves, ignore God’s will, disobey Christ’s teachings, succumb to the world, our flesh, and demons, defend our pride, and refuse correction while still calling ourselves Christian.
Secure in our ignorance, we’re happily dancing on the Titanic.
C. S. Lewis weighs in:
When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man thinks he is right. This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. You can see mistakes in arithmetic when your mind is working properly; while you are making them you can’t see them. Good people know about both bad and evil; bad people do not know about either.
We need to wake up to the reality of our situation and take real, concrete steps to pursue God with our whole being so that we can be transformed into Christ’s likeness.
This involves training ourselves by the grace of God:
- Training our mind to have the mind of Christ.
- Training our body for the rigors of life with Christ.
- Training our soul for the challenges of relating to the Triune God.
- Training our heart (will) to know God and do His will.
- Training our relationships for edification towards Christlikeness.
The WOW experience includes the means of training. You can become a person able to successfully battle your passions and become more like Christ by following a way that actually helps you. The Way of the Warrior will be designed for the purpose of helping you become this kind of person.
Are you curious about what this training might look like? I hope so.
Are you wondering how the heart or soul can be trained at all? I’ll be exploring this topic along with other related topics in the weeks to come.
In the meantime. examine your own beliefs and theological notions which might prevent you from accepting the reality that there are “means” available and necessary to become God-like…including training in godliness.