Dealing with sin in our lives is a pursuit worthy of our careful attention, and yet it is invariably hard. On the one hand, we realize that we have no power over sin, in the ultimate sense. That’s what Christ died for. On the other hand, being conformed to Jesus involves the diminution of the power and effects of sin in our hearts. Often confusion over the process of how God sanctifies us is at the heart of the difficulty in our pursuit of holiness.
Anyone who has been on the Pacific Ocean knows that it is formidably awesome and beautiful. Seeing it from miles above gives us a perspective of its vastness and grandeur. But being on it during a ravenous storm gives us an entirely different experience. Beauty and awe are transformed into fear and dread. Both perspectives, from afar and up close, are views that are accurate and yet very different. For us to have a view of God that both sustains us in our weaknesses and trials, while also keeping us ever worshipful, obedient, and humble in our posture toward Him, we must be careful to balance God’s attributes of being personal with the fact that He is great and majestic, transcendent and sovereign. Our contemporary Christianity leans more toward an emphasis on God as personal—i.e., as Packer states, “not a mere cosmic principle, impersonal and indifferent, but a living Person, thinking, feeling, active, approving of good, disapproving of evil, and interested in His creatures all the time” (Knowing God, p. 74). To err in favor of God’s personal nature is to become overly comfortable with Him, familiar, and sloppy in our estimation of Him. In this tendency we see God as one who is concerned about ME and my needs rather than placing emphasis on the reality that He is transcendent, Lord, and worthy of my total devotion, and seeing myself as a bondservant for His glory.
As all biblical counselors know, getting people to do what they need to do to change is perhaps the greatest challenge in the counseling process. On the one hand, we all realize that ultimate change is the product of God’s sovereign work in the heart. Salvation is the result of God’s initiative and decisive calling, in which the blind eyes of the unbeliever are given sight and light comes into the soul (2 Corinthians 4:3-6). On the other hand, once light is in the heart by which the glory of Christ is seen and desired, the believer must grow by grace, sin must be mortified, and Christ-likeness pursued and realized. How is this accomplished? What is the role of God’s sovereign grace in this process and what is the role of the believer, and more particularly, in reference to this blog, the role of the counselor?
For Christians, the idea of self-denial is not the end goal of our lives. It is intended to produce something greater; something in alignment with our God-given desires. What are those desires that self-denial is intended to bring? While unselfishness connotes going without for the benefit of someone else, is self-denial then the ultimate expression of love? What then is the reward of love? And how is it the same as the reward of following Christ? Is it only in the hereafter, or is it part of our present experience? And if so, how?
As one who has dedicated my life to helping people grow through their life struggles, I often face the temptation to become weary. “Why do I do this?” I query within myself. A close examination of that question reveals that much of my motivation is driven by a sense of obligation—the sense that I “should” do this because of how good God has been to me—or fear—I mean, what else can I do, since this is where I have landed in my life pursuit.
I have found that the older I get (now 57!!), the more I come to realize the inexorable reality that things are just not getting better. Not in me and not in others. Yes, people change—profoundly at times. But for the most part, we trod through life, hoping for personal improvement that seems remote and frustrating. Fighting the spiritual wars of the heart is relentless and exhausting. Beyond that, the woes of life are frequent and profound. Daily encounters with our own sin and those of others, as well as the inescapable reality of our getting older, along with an assortment of other discouraging reminders of the brokenness of our world can be overpowering. The Christian life, though buttressed in great hope in God, is one of depletion and need of replenishing. Self-improvement and physical preservation are those things that we learn over time are slim possibilities. It is easy to become discouraged.