By Bob Stacy
“I wish I could experience the Christian life as others do.” “Why can’t I get excited about living for Jesus?” “I pray that someday I’ll have the joy that I see in others.” “Jesus promised abundant life, but I don’t feel like I’m living an abundant life.”
I’ve heard statements like these throughout my ministry—especially during the years I worked with young people through Christ In Youth and in Christian colleges. I’ve seen bitter tears shed. I’ve heard tragic stories of defeat. I’ve known those who have just given up trying.
And I’ve been led personally to study just what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). What Christian does not want to experience the abundant life or as some might say, “the thrill of victory“?
The abundant life begins when our sins are forgiven, but many children of God have never known that forgiveness—at least not as our heavenly Father meant for us to know it. I remember a student who asked to speak to me one evening after class. It was not difficult to detect the agony in his voice as he said, “I pray for forgiveness, but I never feel forgiven. My sins haunt me, and I can’t seem to shake the feeling. What should I do? I know it shouldn‘t be this way.“
I told him that I agreed with him that it shouldn’t be that way. As we sat down together, I turned to 1 John 1:9 and read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
“Do you believe those words?” I asked.
“I do. I really do,” he assured me.
“And if you believe those words, then you believe your sins are forgiven. Right?”
“Right,” he replied.
“Then why not live as if you believe that?” I asked.
And there lies the problem that prevents many Christians from living a joyful life in Christ. To believe we’ve been forgiven of sin without feeling and living as if we’ve been forgiven is somewhat like being cured of a disease and yet continuing to live and act as if we still suffer its dire effects.
When a Christian prays for the forgiveness of sins, he should, in the same breath, thank God for the forgiveness he has received. God promised it, and God keeps his promises. That is not to say that the scars of sin will not hurt and may even hurt into the future. They will, even as scars on our bodies remind us of old wounds. In certain conditions we may be reminded of our past, but even as the scars on our bodies mean that our wounds have been healed, so reminders of past sin should remind us of the glorious forgiveness and healing we’ve received in Christ Jesus. And that’s just the beginning of living a victorious life in Jesus—a life we’ll never experience until we believe that, by God’s grace, we’ve been forgiven and will continue to be forgiven.
Knowing What to Love
But what about the world, the world that continually fights to defeat us and bring us down? As far as I’ve determined in my study, there is only one time that God commands us not to love. And that command not to love is found in 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Fatheris not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
Do you ever crave the pleasures of the world? I wonder who hasn’t. And yet God makes clear in the message of 1 John that we’ll experience victory only if we learn to shun the things of this world. Many believe that such a command is too burdensome to keep. On the other hand, those who are caught up in the pleasures of the world are the ones who find themselves burdened and questioning whether or not they’ll ever know the joy of living for Jesus. If that’s you, then examine the things that attract you. Examine the things that your mind tends to dwell on. And begin to find enjoyment daily in the things that are above rather than the things that are on this earth (Colossians 3:1-4).
John writes, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:3-5). Victory in the Christian life will become more real as we learn not to love the world but instead to trust the Lord Jesus Christ.
“But,” you say, “the temptations I’m facing are so strong!” No one would deny that. In fact, we’ve all faced such temptations, and at times we’ve all succumbed to them. But praise God, we don’t need to. The apostle Paul explained it this way: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13).
What a promise! And yet when temptation seeks to undo us, we sometimes forget there is a way out.
Remember that the temptations we face are common to all. When I taught at Christian colleges and universities, students often scheduled appointments with me. A student would walk into my office, sit down, and the conversation would begin something like this: “Mr. Stacy, I need to talk to you about a temptation, a sin really, that’s been bothering me, but I don’t know how to tell you.” Then he’d hang his head, or tears might even come to his eyes.
“I just don’t know how to tell you,“ he’d say again. I’d gently remind him that since we were both men, we’d probably both suffered the same temptations in life. And I’d say, “So just go ahead and get it off your heart and mind, and then we’ll be able to seek God’s help in this matter.”
Since most of us experience temptations that are no different from what others experience, seeking the help of a fellow struggler can often lead to victory over the sin and victorious living in Christ. Notice the promise: “He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” This reveals a problem many Christians have. They don’t look for a way out. Instead, it often takes devastating defeat before we’ll look to see the way out. But God has made the promise, and he is always faithful to fulfill his promises. When tempted, look. Look for the way out. Taking the way out leads to victorious living.
Relishing the Victory
Nothing is sweeter, more exhilarating, and more satisfying than victory— whether in a board game, an athletic contest, a military conflict, or a personal struggle. Nothing does more to encourage us than victory. And when the day comes that we cross life’s finish line, victory will be ours by the grace and mercy of God.
Don’t fail to experience victory as you run the race. Enjoy the sweet assurance of forgiveness. Savor the fragrance of loving only those things that are eternal. Enjoy winning the war with temptation. And then look to the final and most exciting victory of all as you hear the Savior say, “Welcome home, my servant. You have been victorious. And now I have for you the crown of life.” That’s victory. The final victory. The real victory.
Bob Stacy, founder of Christ in Youth, is a minister and freelance writer in Middletown, Ohio.
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