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The Enemy Within (3)

Malcolm C Davies, Leeds


Constant self-examination and self-judgment are necessary for all believers. 1 Corinthians 11.27-31 is essential reading in this connection. The apostle Paul warned the disorderly Corinthian saints, and through them all of us who are in fellowship, that, "Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord", and further asserted to the Corinthians at least that, "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep". Many of the believers had died physically by the Lord’s sovereign hand in judgment, as a necessary disciplinary measure to preserve the purity of the testimony. This act of judgment was inflicted because the saints had failed to discern the Lord’s body at His Supper as they should. The only way in which they could, and we ourselves can, avoid such judgment being meted out to us is given in the other two verses in the passage: "But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup" (v.28), and, "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged (v.31). A healthy self-examination that is not simply morbid introspection, and a regular exercise of self-judgment with a willingness to confess and forsake all sins that it reveals to us, will keep open the channels of fellowship between our Lord and ourselves. But, having honestly engaged in these exercises, we should not fear to participate in the Lord’s Supper, nor refrain from going to the meeting where it is celebrated because we never "feel worthy" to be present. This is a feeling that even the godliest saints always have throughout their converted lives, despite the assurance of full salvation that is ours on the basis of the very Lord’s death that we are to proclaim weekly at His Supper. There is much truth in the lines of the hymn that says, "And they who fain would serve Thee most, Are conscious most of wrong within". We cannot help still being sinners by nature; but we most certainly can help failing to take the precautions and provisions given to us in Scripture to deal with occasional acts of sin as and when they occur in our lives and give us bad consciences before the Lord.

The consequences of sin

Failure need not be final, but our sins always have permanent governmental consequences both for ourselves and others. This is true both in this life, even after we have repented, and in eternity. Paul states an invariable general principle of God’s moral government of the world, namely: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal 6.7-8).

To this rule Christian believers find that they are no exception. For example, a converted drunkard may well have continuing medical problems for the remainder of his life arising directly out of his bad drinking habits before conversion. Furthermore, the immoral brother of 1 Corinthians 5 did not lose his eternal salvation as a result of his sins, was forgiven later after he had repented, and was restored to the Lord and the fellowship of the assembly, but probably will be among those believers who fail to receive a full reward at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Even the apostle Paul himself was acutely aware that he needed to keep his body under close control, lest, after preaching to others, he himself became disqualified to receive the full reward and crowns that otherwise would have been his in that day of review (1 Cor 9.27). He warned those same saints of the sad possibility of ultimately being "saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Cor 3.15). King David was forgiven by God for his heinous sins of adultery with Bathsheba, and murder by proxy against her husband Uriah, but the sword never left his house ever afterwards, as Nathan had predicted, and the illegitimate child died (see 2 Samuel for the whole sad story). Even the patriarch Abraham, the prototype and pattern believer for all time, sometimes suffered as a result of lapses of faith, as when he went down to Egypt to escape hardship in the land of promise and lied about his wife Sarai; he received a stinging rebuke from Pharaoh and an order to leave Egypt. When he misguidedly followed his wife’s advice and took Hagar as his concubine to produce a son and heir by carnal means, he begot Ishmael, the ancestor of the Arab peoples, and so effectively gave the world the Arab-Israeli conflict that has troubled all nations ever since. Finally, Moses, the meekest man on earth, was not permitted to enter the Promised Land just because, in a moment of weakness, he lost his temper and disobeyed God. The lesson is thus plain for all believers today; our God cannot be trifled with, and, although there is forgiveness for the repentant, our sins will have governmental consequences.

God’s response

God takes more account of the general tenor of believers’ lives than of our occasional sins. We must, however, also take notice of the other side of the truth, namely, God’s grace as well as His government. For Scripture not only faithfully records the sins of His servants, but also His estimate of their usually godly character. In fact, God graciously sometimes omits to mention their failings where He might have reminded us of them. For instance, in Acts 13.22 God says that, "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will". Furthermore, the remainder of the Old Testament speaks mainly of David’s good traits of character and achievements: note, "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2 Sam 23.1); "David did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15.5); the omission of that matter entirely from the parallel history of his life in the Books of Chronicles. Abraham is held up to us as an example of faith in God, most notably in Hebrews 11.8-19, and as the father of the faithful in Romans 4.16; reference to the incident with Hagar and Ishmael is made only in Galatians 4.22-31. Moses, also, is only referred to in the New Testament in a very good light; see Hebrews 3.5 and 11.23-28, and his appearance with the Lord and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration within the Promised Land, from which one of his rare lapses in meekness and obedience had barred him during his earthly life. For our God is not only a God of righteousness and holiness, but also "the God of all grace"; His nature is not only Light, but also Love, and even the Old Testament says that judgment is His "strange work" (Is 28.21).

Believers free from sin

Believers will become entirely free from sin only at the second coming of Christ. Romans foretells "the redemption of our body" (Rom 8.23), that is the future, full, and final stage of our salvation from indwelling sin, which causes us now to groan along with the rest of creation, and states that this will occur at "the manifestation of the sons of God" (Rom 8.19), that is, at the Second Coming of Christ. Philippians 3.20-21 likewise states that "we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory" (RV), which we know to be a sinless body. 1 Corinthians 15.51-54 confirms that this total transformation will take place at the Rapture of the Church for believers of this age of grace. What a glorious prospect this is, and what a relief from the downward pull of indwelling sin that we war with today! This will be the full and final triumph of God’s grace in Christ. Praise His Name!

Since even the greatest believers of Scripture failed sometimes, we can be encouraged not to give up in our own "striving against sin". But we need humility in this warfare, and constant vigilance, heeding the warning of Paul: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10.12). Although we have a great Saviour and the power to live a holy life in the Person of the Holy Spirit indwelling all true believers today, we should never become complacent about indwelling sin. For the flesh will never improve; it simply needs to be rendered inactive by the Spirit’s power until it is eradicated from our lives forever. Let us then be prepared to "keep short accounts" with God our Father daily, and to live constantly before Him, our fellow-saints, and our fellowmen, in the light of our appearing before the Judgment Seat of Christ.



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