The Age Old Struggle

By Rayola Kelley

Are you having a personal struggle in your life? Struggles are a fact of life. They test, break, and bring people to the end of self. They can make individuals bitter or better but each challenge causes a person to face their own immortality and their need for something greater than self to intervene.

Over the years I have discovered that there are three main sources behind all personal struggles. The first is the struggle with the enemy of our souls, Satan. When we struggle with Satan, we have to realize it will take in our relationship with the world and our affections. I have discovered that at the core of my struggle with Satan have been wrong priorities. Priorities will determine a person’s focus as well as where his or her affections are directed. Priorities that are not heavenward are fickle and self-serving and affections that are not firmly set on the right hand of God, Jesus Christ, are idolatrous (Colossians 3:2). This type of spiritual scenario points to a person who prefers darkness to light and struggles with divided loyalties that end in anger and defeat.

The second struggle is with God and it involves the will area. This occurs when we want our way and begin to try to manipulate and move God. I have tried to push God’s arm towards adhering to my agendas and desires. When I honestly put it in perspective, I realized my silly little attempt was like that of an ant trying to move a mountain. Such attempts end in frustration and unbelief as a person starts to question God’s love and commitment towards him or her because God will not give way to fleshly attempts and pursuits.

There is one example of a person wrestling with God and winning. His name was Jacob but he was after a blessing from God during a trying time. Personally I agree with Oswald Chambers who pointed out that it was far better to wrestle before God than to wrestle with Him because in the end a person will end up with a hip out of joint.

The third battle has been my greatest battle. In fact, it comes down to that age-old struggle that constantly plagues man: The struggle with the flesh or self.

The Apostle Paul talked about this struggle in Romans 7. He pointed out how he tried to take care of this struggle by bringing his flesh under the law but instead of overcoming the flesh, it was exposed even more for its depravity. As a result he concluded: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Romans 7:18).

The Apostle Paul realized that until the inner man is changed by the righteousness of Christ, the outer man cannot be properly disciplined. He realized it was a matter of God’s transforming work that would establish him in righteousness and not by any of his attempts (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 1:30).

Today I watch many people try to discipline the outer man in order to control the inner man. This outward discipline often turns into a self-righteous attitude that has an appearance of righteousness but ultimately denies the power of God (2 Timothy 3:5). It becomes a personal righteousness that the individual not only prides self for but he or she often tries to put this outward appearance of righteousness on others.

The problem with this type of person is that he or she has a different emphasis in regards to personal righteousness. For example, some maintain righteousness has to do with outward appearance while others insist it has to do with abstinence from certain foods, drinks, and practices. As you listen to these various religious standards, you begin to see that these different rules vary with personal conclusions because there is no real consistency. In fact, many of these beliefs are not consistent with the Spirit and truth of the Word of God. As you question these people, their source of authority is not the Word of God, but some respected religious person that supposedly established or verified their conclusion. Granted, these procedures or practices may make people stand out, not as a holy people, but as being elite in their beliefs. Elitism in this way often points to a cult mentality or emphasis.

The Word tells us that Christ serves as our righteousness and Romans 13:14 tells us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. This shows us that attitudes and conduct should be an expression of Jesus Christ. Any attempt to be righteous outside of the Son of God should show every one of us how futile such attempts are because God looks at the heart of man and not at his outer appearance and practices (1 Samuel 16:7). The Word clearly tells us that we will know people, not by outward appearance or religious practices, but by their fruits, the words of their mouth, and the spirit behind them (Matthew 7:15-16; 15:1-20; James 2:1-13; 1 John 4:1).

The Lord is more concerned with qualities such as inward mercy that is displayed outwardly than people’s personal attempts to receive proper approval by outward conformity. In fact, outward conformity often lacks mercy and appears to be judgmental and indifferent to what is really important to God (Matthew 9:10-13; James 2:13).

I understand this struggle to obtain personal righteousness because in the past I had changed certain aspects about myself to try to appear righteous. As I reached my religious goals I found myself becoming critical of others because I felt I had arrived at a pinnacle point in my spiritual life. But my self-righteousness served as a false light that blinded me to the hypocrisy of my personal life as I ignored ungodly attitudes and justified personal actions that were unscriptural. My personal righteousness not only put me in bondage, made me an unmerciful judge towards others, and a religious expert about spiritual matters, but set me up to be brought low in utter defeat and despair. In fact, God brought a crisis into my life to shake my religious facade to reveal how I was operating in the dead-letter of man’s tradition while standing on the shifting sand of personal beliefs rather than on the Rock of Jesus Christ.

It was only when I came face to face with my personal righteousness that I could begin to see the futility of all my outward conformity. Like the Apostle Paul, I came to the same conclusion: “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

I realized that I needed to be delivered from my personal righteousness to embrace the righteousness of God. This brings me to my part in overcoming every struggle. It can be found in one word: Submission.

Our struggles in all three areas are complicated by the idea that somehow we must win, we must overcome in our own power. But the truth is we must lose, give up to an authority greater than ourselves, and give way to the work of someone more powerful than ourselves.

James 4:7 tells us: “Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James instructs a person to cleanse his or her hands, purify the heart, and display mourning. This all translates into brokenness, godly repentance, separation from wrong associations and activities, and stops all idolatry or divided loyalties.

Philippians 2:5 instructs us to have the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ is to do the will of the Father: “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Romans 12:2 talks about being transformed by the renewing of our minds. A person can’t be inwardly transformed until his or her will is submitted to do God’s will. As long as a person’s will is turned inward towards personal righteousness, the desire of self, and the lusts of the world, it will be inclined towards the works of darkness no matter how good his or her intentions are. Therefore, the will must be renewed by the Holy Spirit before the person can be transformed within to reflect the righteousness of Christ.

The final submission must be of self to the work of the cross. Such submission begins with self-denial which subdues all claims of personal righteousness. All must be submitted to the cross to silence any personal attempts of righteousness and vainglory.

It is only through self-denial and the application of the cross that godly discipline can be established. Godly discipline comes from within while personal discipline is surface and often deceiving. It is through godly discipline one learns liberty in Christ (Galatians 5:1). This liberty allows the Holy Spirit to work freely in people so they can discover who they are in Jesus. Each discovery allows them to be overcome by the reality of the Son of God.

The greatest struggle at this point in my life is to maintain such liberty. Satan loves to get people sidetracked from this liberty by offering them “greater spiritual insight” or “blessings” that ultimately complicate the simplicity of Christ and the Christian walk.

If you take your focus off of Jesus and leave Him behind in your Christian walk, you will once again come into bondage. Following Jesus and keeping Him as your focus will insure the spiritual liberty to be all that He intends you to be.

Finally, allowing self to reign will result in bondage. This also means if you allow man to be your spiritual conscience you will taste the bitter taskmaster of slavery. You must avoid this captivity at all cost for you are here to please God and not the arm of the flesh.

God has given us the means to insure liberty and that is through submission to the Lordship of Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. This liberty will bring peace in the middle of struggles, confidence in the midst of hopelessness, and joy as we realize our solution is never-changing. Like the Apostle Paul, we can make the same declaration: “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord…” (Romans 7:24-25a).