A Message to Defeated Christians
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AS I LOOK over this great audience of God’s people, and see the work of the Holy Spirit manifested in faces and in voices as we have been singing together, I would ask whether any of us has ever presumed on God’s grace to enable us to go on in sin? Because “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound,” have we consciously or unconsciously at times said to ourselves, “Yes, even if I do slip into this sin, God’s grace will take care of it?”
I am afraid we must all of us confess that we have done just that. After we have come to the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and yielded ourselves to Him as Lord, and then in one way or another have been tempted and have slipped into sin, the thought has come to us that after all, His grace will take care of it. Is it not a real peril in the Christian life that we may presume on God’s grace thus to go on sinning? May we be honest this afternoon and ask the Holy Spirit to speak plainly, and show us whether we have thus presumed on the grace of God.
It Is Not a New Question
At the beginning of the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul asked, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” And instantly he answered it, “God forbid”! This is the gospel to Christians. It is the same gospel as to the unsaved, for just as God says to the unsaved that the death of His Son paid the penalty of their sins and they may be saved by faith in Him, so He says to us in the fifth of Romans, “If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” That is the gospel to Christians — that the grace of God is offered to us, not to go on sinning, but to be kept from sinning.
And yet may we be clear as to this that God’s grace is not available for deliverance from the power of sin in those who are holding back something from God. We prayed in that hymn of Wesleys, that God might let the fire fall on us. But God never can set on fire the heart of any child of His if there is in that heart something held back. God does not set on fire unsurrendered Christians. I noticed in the prayer in which we were led a few moments ago, a request that we might glorify God in our bodies. O dear friends, we cannot glorify God in an unsurrendered body, and so it might be well to ask God to search and show us whether in our bodies, our lives, our hearts, there is anything withheld from Him.
What about that subtle sin of unbelief or of distrust? The sin of worry, the sin of anxiety? I wonder if anyone here, since he has been a Christian, has ever worried? If we have, we have sinned. “In nothing be careful but in everything … with thanksgiving ….” You can’t worry and give thanks at the same moment in the way God wants to be thanked. We can be kept from the sin of anxiety, the sin of irritability, of unthankfulness, of a harsh, unloving, critical spirit, as we yield our lives, our bodies, a living sacrifice to God.
Are any of us saying to ourselves just now, or even to the Lord, “Yes, I need to give up this sin. I have tried to, I have even given it up at times, but somehow I can’t seem to stop that failing.” Paul knew about that, too. In the seventh of Romans he said, “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do.” But then he came forever out of the seventh into the eighth chapter with the words, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
A Stowaway in Chains
I saw a newspaper item a while ago which told of a rather remarkable experience. A negro stowaway from West Africa got on a steamer to come to the United States, and after he was discovered he was put in irons. When the boat neared Brooklyn, he jumped overboard and swam to shore under water. Still in irons he crawled up on the shore, and there was rearrested. Why? Because he was still chained!
I could not help thinking of experiences of my own and many other Christians, who think they have made their escape and find they are still in the same old bondage. That is not the sort of gospel God has for us, but I am afraid it is the sort of experience that some of us have had. Of course there are some who have never come to the Lord Jesus Christ and who think they have made their escape, but sooner or later they find they are still chained.
My message today is to sinning Christians, defeated Christians, those who are saved by the death of Christ, but have not realized the deeper experience in which they are kept safe moment by moment in His life.
John, in his first epistle, says toward the end of the first chapter: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Then at the beginning of the second chapter he goes on: “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.”
A Bible teacher once said he was afraid a good many Christians read that last verse, “That ye sin less.” But John did not say that. He said practically what the angel said in announcing the birth of the Saviour to his legal father, Joseph, “And thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Sins here is in the plural, actual sins. There is the message of the victorious life in Christ — not after we get to heaven, but now and here in this present world, while we are on our way to the presence of the Lord.
Let us realize that it is just normal New Testament Christianity; not any unbalanced or fanatical or unscriptural teaching of sinless perfectionism or eradication, dear friends, but the blessed fact of which Colossians 2:6 speaks, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.” Just step by step — really trusting Him.
There are two simple but very definite conditions of this life of victory. One is that we shall surrender our lives to the Lord, the other that we shall trust the Lord.
Dr. Scofield’s Instruction
I had a blessed Bible lesson on the subject of surrender one time from Dr. C.I. Scofield. He had asked me to come to the Crescent City Conference in Florida and speak on the victorious life, and one day, when in his bungalow, he said to me, “Charles, I want to tell you what surrender is. Sit down there and take your Bible.” I did.
“Now,” he said, “open to the eighth chapter of Numbers.”
Then we read together a few verses beginning at the fifth. The Lord said to Moses, take the Levites and cleanse them, and pour the water of purifying upon them, and have them wash their clothes, and make themselves clean, and take a young bullock for a meat offering and another for a sin offering — and then,”Thou shalt bring the Levites before the tabernacle of the congregation: and thou shalt gather the whole assembly of the children of Israel together. . . . And Aaron shall offer the Levites before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel, that they may execute the service of the Lord.”
They did not serve in the tabernacle until this had been done, until they had been cleansed by water and by blood, and definitely offered to the Lord.
Then Dr. Scofield said, “Now turn over to the second chapter of Luke.” I did so and there, from the twenty-first verse on, we read what occurred to the infant Jesus:
“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.”
The word in Numbers is “offer,” here it is “present.” Even the Son of God Himself could not enter upon His earthly ministry until He had been presented to the Lord.
“Now,” said Dr. Scofield, “turn over to the twelfth of Romans.” I did, and we read that first verse:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
This is addressed to Christians, not to the unsaved — you who have received the mercy of God. “That ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
“And that,” said Dr. Scofield, that morning in Florida, “that is surrender.”
The Levites had to be offered to God before going on with their earthly service after being cleansed with water and with blood. The infant Jesus was presented to God even though He had been with God from all eternity, before He entered upon His earthly service. You and I cannot render reasonable service to the Lord until we have presented our bodies as living sacrifices.
The Young Men Who Did Not Worry
I was impressed a few years ago as I found almost verbatim the twelfth chapter of Romans in the third of Daniel. That third chapter of Daniel is the story of the three young Hebrews and the fiery furnace. Nebuchadnezzar had set up the golden image and commanded everyone in his empire to fall down and worship it, and these young men refused to do so. You remember he had established an edict that anyone who would not bow down and worship the image would be cast into a fiery furnace, and these three refused to do so. Then he sent for them in anger and said, “I will give you a second chance.” But they did not need a second chance.
I like their quiet reply, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter” — we are not worried — the word that occurs in the fourth of Philippians, the old English for “anxious.” “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he witl deliver us out of thine hand, 0 king. But if not” (if God docs not want to), “be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” Then the wonderful story goes on, how they were cast into the furnace and the men who cast them in were consumed, how the king looked in and saw four men walking about in the midst of the fire, and the form of the fourth was like unto the Son of God. And you remember he called to them, “Come forth,” and they did! “Nor was an hair of their head singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had passed 0n them.”
I tell you, dear friends, when God undertakes to do a thing, He does it. Then comes this remarkable statement by Nebuchadnezzar:
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God.”
There is Romans 12:1 in Daniel 3:28 — “yielded their bodies” that they might not serve nor worship any god except their own God. And it is not possible for us to serve and worship our God with the reasonable service which He asks unless we have yielded our bodies. And that means yielding to Him, presenting to Him, all that we are and all that we have.
At the victorious life conferences in America — Keswick and elsewhere — I have taken occasion to ask one and another attending whether they have settled the surrender question, and often they have answered: “I have tried to,” “I think I have,” “I am doing the best I know how.”
Dear friends, if someone should ask you this question, “Did you give a present last Christmas to the one you love most?” do you think you would say, “I tried to,” “Yes, I think I did,” “I did it the best I knew how” ; or would you say, “I certainly did”?
Surrendering to the Lord Jesus Christ, as Dr. Scofield showed me, is just making a present of ourselves to God. You do not have to try it. You either do it or you don’t do it. You may have been on the other side of the world last Christmas, but you know whether or not you gave that present. Surrender is just as simple as that.
Why Your Body?
Why the emphasis on body? Because it is God’s home. Know ye not that Christ dwelleth in you — Christ liveth in you, “except ye be reprobate”? Unless we have not received the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, He is saying to us, “My Father will come and abide … I and my Father are one.” We know the Holy Spirit makes the physical bodies of Christians His temple. And so the Godhead, Father, Son, and Spirit, are dwelling within every child of God. Think what a sorrow it must be to the Lord Jesus Christ to have to live in an unclean home, to have to dwell in a sinning Christian.
I remember Thomas E. Stephens, founder and director of the Great Commission Prayer League, after he had sent out appeal after appeal to pray for a revival in the whole body of Christ, one time said, “The Lord Jesus Christ is living in a half paralytic body today on earth.”
It was a shocking expression when I first heard it, but it is true. Speaking of the Church of Christ as His home, He longs to have that body thrilling, tingling with His own life, filled with all the fulness of God.
Oh, dear friends, if we are praying for a revival, let us remember the prayer, “Begin it, Lord, in me,” and let us present our bodies to Him. And as I said a few minutes ago, to surrender means all. It means our worst and our best.
I never noticed until last month when reading again the early chapters of Genesis, how there are two great surrenders of Abraham which in a sense should typify the two things included in the single surrender of ourselves to God. In Genesis 21, God tells Abraham to do what Sarah demands and send away Hagar and Ishmael. Now Ishmael was Abraham’s own son and he loved the boy. But he was a son that was born in sin and in violation of God’s will and in utter distrust of God, so we might say Ishmael was the worst thing in Abraham’s life; and God asked Abraham to surrender the worst thing, and he did. There is no record of his ever having seen Ishmael again. He surrendered his worst and it never came back. Then in chapter 22 God asked Abraham to surrender the best thing in his life — Isaac. And Abraham did, and God gave Isaac back.
Are we including in our surrender our worst and our best? Our worst, that God may take it and never have it come back; our best, that God may take it and give it back to us sanctified and cleansed and to be used as would never be possible until we surrender that to God.
I know a Presbyterian elder of Florida, who was kneeling in prayer with many others, hungry for new victories in his life, and who that day surrendered his good judgment to the Lord. He had the best judgment of any man I have ever known, but on his knees he told God his good judgment had been a source of pride, and so he surrendered it. Did he lose his good judgment? No, but it is no longer standing between him and his Lord as it was before. And he made a surrender of his worst too, and told me a few days after of an experience he had which he never expected to have this side of heaven as he found the thought of “I,” of “mine,” that had come in and held him in shackles, was gone; that by a miracle of God’s grace he was free from the down pull of that form of bondage. So let us surrender our worst and our best. Let us present our bodies a living sacrifice.
Pride in Christian Service
A missionary in China asked when I was there about twelve years ago, how she could be rid of a certain sin, and what do you suppose it was? She said that when she was doing personal work among the Chinese women and talking to them about accepting Christ, and a fellow missionary came along, she was glad to be seen. She said,
“How can I get rid of the sin of pride in my Christian service?”
That is cutting rather deep, isn’t it? If you are a Sunday School teacher, just holding your class spellbound, and the pastor or superintendent comes by, are you glad to be seen by him? Have we surrendered our love of praise, the love to be noticed in the best thing we are doing in the Lord’s work? She surrendered that day and stepped out into new victories. God can deal with the subtlest, most refined forms of our sinning, and with the grossest, most impossible things in our lives. But there is only one way by which He can do it, and that is for us to say, “Take it all from me, Lord. I present my body a living sacrifice.”
And may we do it, that He may set us on fire, that we may glorify God in our bodies.