The Odyssey (Part 6)

The Wrestling Match
by Rayola Kelley

One of the activities that has worked a great deal into my character involves the wrestling matches I have found myself embroiled in during my spiritual journey. It appears that my initial years as a Christian involved more of a boxing match than a wrestling match where punches of defeat and despair were being thrown at me on a consistent basis. I unsuccessfully struggled with various spiritual issues in my own power. As Jeannette so eloquently stated, “Christians try to live the Christian life without Christ.”

Clearly, I was trying to climb every mountain without submitting to the Spirit, lining up to Jesus’ example: His disposition of humility, His attitude of meekness, His way of submission, His truth about righteousness, and His life of authority and power. I failed to put on the Lord Jesus Christ so that I would not give way to the lustful ways of the flesh (Romans 13:14). Eventually, it got to the point that I did not know which way to veer or when to duck. In the end, the punches of life managed to hit the target. I was brought down to utter hopelessness. However, it all caused me to once again look upward in total brokenness to the Great Physician. He faithfully picked me up and began a restoration process in my life to bring me forth as a new creation.

Before I was saved, I admittedly encountered what I now consider to be wrestling matches with my conscience. There were times I betrayed my sense of right and wrong. Then guilt would slam against my conscience like a fierce storm. It would rage until my logic shut the door on its encroaching indictment. I did not realize at the time that I was excusing away necessary character and truth as a means to maintain a high opinion of myself. Someone once said that if you have to dress a matter up with excuses, you need to realize you are probably in the wrong. I know in my case my excuses were silencing the moral judgment of my conscience against wrong thoughts and actions. Such excuses put off the inevitable—the reality of me facing the spiritual depravity of my inward condition. The truth is I was terribly wrong before God and I needed Him to save me from complete spiritual ruin.

When I finally received Christ, the first evidence of my salvation was a clean conscience.Hebrews 10:22, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”  However, later I was to learn that a conscience that has been cleansed, has also been made tender and will quickly become a battleground for the various affronts and assaults from the enemies of the soul.

As I moved forward in spiritual growth, I found that the wrestling match that often ensued was intense.  Each opponent wanted to pin me down to the mat of ineffectiveness. It appeared that as I strove to move forward, the opposition tried to cause me to stumble and fall at the point of my testimony. I found myself trying to make the right moves to get around the different obstacles, but the opponents varied in the different wrestling matches, presenting diverse challenges and traps. Occasionally, I found myself wrestling with Satan about matters of the mind. Sometimes, I discovered that I was wrestling with the entanglements of the world, which surrounded the issue of my affections. Then there were times I wrestled with my “old man” over the matters of the heart.  

It is easy to say that the battleground of the conscience is about right and wrong. To some degree such an evaluation is right. But, I have learned that the real battle that takes place in the conscience in the spiritual walk comes down to faith. This is not only brought out inHebrews 10:22, where it exhorts us to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, butHebrews 10:23 goes on to say, “Let us hold fast, the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;).

We are told we are to walk by faith in 2 Corinthians 5:7, and Jude 3 talks about contending for the faith that was first delivered to the saints. In a world that brings so much confusion, we would like to think all matters are black and white. However, we humans are the ones who confuse all issues, causing the blacks and whites of a matter to become grey, allowing for debate and compromise. It is for this reason when people tell me that matters are black and white and there is no debate, I often ask them if their belief is such that they live according to the black and white issues of life. In other words, do they believe a matter enough to obey and do what is right.

When it comes to the faith walk, the most subtle sin is the one of omission: the failure to do what is right (Romans 14:23; James 4:17). The sin of omission usually finds its origins in a wrong attitude. We often excuse wrong attitudes in order to justify away honorable conduct. However, Jesus clearly states that if we love Him, we will obey Him (John 14:15). Here we are reminded that genuine faith walks hand in hand with love for God (Galatians 5:6).  How can you have faith towards one whom you do no love or trust?

It is natural for us in our human state to declare a matter as being true, but fail to live it. It is also normal for us to hold onto that which has no real eternal value with great conviction in order to maintain a misty reality that is void of blacks and whites to justify compromises.

It is for these reasons that much of our emphasis and debates about religious matters are like swatting at the gnat of insignificance while swallowing the camel of compromise. It is clear that when one is operating according to the grey curve ball of personal emphasis in accordance to one’s way of thinking, it is not a matter of what is right or wrong but whether it fits or goes against his or her personal preferences and desires. This is true for every area of our lives from the issue of attitudes towards morality to lifestyles. It is for this reason that Scriptural instructions that are black and white about a particular matter can be excused away, glossed over, or ignored altogether.

It is in the grey areas that the wrestling match ensues. And, when you tear away the layers of excuses to get down to the real meat of a matter, you will always find that it is the same for a Christian: it is about faith—faith towards God, faith according to His Word, and faith that will be confirmed because of inheriting the promises of God.

The challenge that embroils faith was recently brought to the forefront when a certain individual stated that my faith was no different than the faith of a Mormon or Muslim. The statement did not shock me, but I realized that it is easy to have a wrong misconception about what constitutes faith. There are many pseudo faiths and I have operated in some of them in my Christian life. In fact, I even wrote about my struggles in this area in my book, “In Search of Real Faith.”

Admittedly, the pseudo faiths that Christians can operate in and those who are unsaved are different. For instance, when you study the fanatic, you see someone who has become insane in his or her ideal of religion. When you encounter individuals who are in a cult, you realize such people have been cleverly indoctrinated in their understanding. For the Christian it is much simpler, it comes down to where he or she is putting his or her faith. Such dependence always rests on that which cannot save and can come down to doctrine, good works, and even church affiliation. However, true faith is not a matter of insane fanaticism or zealous indoctrination. It is not just a vague idea that is somehow tied into activities, religion, and doctrine. The Christian faith is active, and it always lands on what has been proven or verified as being reliable and true. It is compelling inspiration behind what we as blood-brought Christians do and why we do it. For instance, the reason we have faith towards God is because we perceive that He indeed warrants our confidence, based on what has already been proven through creation, historical and scientific discoveries, and prophecies. It is true that anybody can put his or her faith in anything. It is for this reason that those with a vague understanding or misconception of faith can lump it into one big package.

However, the Bible states that there is only one true faith that must be present in believers(Ephesians 4:5). The Apostle warns in 2 Corinthians 13:5 that a person can become reprobate in his or her faith.  “Reprobate” means worthless, something you would castaway for there is no substance and value in it. In 2 Timothy 1:5 the Apostle Paul makes reference to unfeigned faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells us without faith we cannot please God and Hebrews 11:1 states that our faith in that which is unseen has substance, while Hebrews 11:6 clarifies the essence of that substance as being, “God is.”

With this in mind, I considered the statement that my faith is no different than that of a Muslim or Mormon. If faith is generic this statement would be true. However, the faith I hold to is far from being generic, and I do not think a Muslim or Mormon would appreciate being put into the same category. In fact, each belief system believes that its faith is what distinguishes it from the rest of the religious groups. As a believer in Jesus Christ, I would have to make the same declaration about my faith. After all, if the Christian faith is no different than other beliefs, then why hold to it?

This brings us down to what distinguishes the faith of the different belief systems. Is the faith of a Muslim different than a Mormon? Is the Christian faith different than the faith of a different religion? The answer is yes. They are all different. And, what makes them different? It comes down to who or what they put their confidence in.

The Muslim does not believe in the same God that I do. The Mormon has a different Jesus than I do. The type of God that is worshipped is going to determine doctrines, attitudes, and conduct. The God that is being adhered to is going to cause followers to put different emphasis and value on different issues.

And how do I know that I have put my faith in the right God? I have to admit this is where true faith comes into focus and where the wrestling match can begin. First of all godly faith is a gift of God; therefore, those who are unsaved do not possess this gift. The initial seeds of faith begin when we hear the Word of God, and those who are unsaved have no intention of believing it whether they hear it or not.

God actually must give us a small measure of faith to act upon His Word as being true. For instance, by faith I receive the Gospel message. Clearly, the measure of faith allows one to choose to believe that he or she can trust what the Bible says (Romans 10:17; 12:3). However, the wrestling match begins when what is being said in the Word goes against the grain of personal desires. Faith never has to be activated when we believe something is true; rather, it must be applied when truth runs contrary to what we perceive to be present reality. If it comes from God and His Word, we must choose to believe it is so up front, and flee from going into the arena of carnal logic in order to rid ourselves of any confusion that will immediately arise when our idea of reality is being challenged.

The truth is, my tender conscience reminds me up front that I know what is right, but the flesh tells me that the situation in question should bring peace or pleasure to me, not discomfort or conflict, and my pride states that I have a right to understand or be happy in a matter. Satan can also put his two cents into the situation by implying that it is either insignificant or that God would be too harsh or unreasonable to expect me to not give way to the logic of my conclusions or the experience it is promising me. The Bible calls this wrestling match the war between the spirit and the flesh (Galatians 5:17).

I don’t know about you but this conflict begins with a tiny seed of doubt. The doubt may seem small but it becomes an inflamed nuisance as soon as logic is applied to it. From doubt and logic, a person will easily slide into speculation as to the why’s of a matter. Why would God deem such a matter as being wrong when it seems so right to me? After all, every person perceives that he or she is educated enough to know if something is wrong, intelligent enough to make sure that it will not get out of hand, and smart enough to come out on top. As one speculates the why’s about a matter, the individual must conclude that he or she is an exception to the rule rather than part of that which should discipline every Christian life.

It is from this peak of intellectual arrogance that things begin to spin out of control for a person. In my case, I would begin to feel the heat of the fiery ovens.  Once I would logic away the why, then I had to address the character of God. Instead of believing God means what He says, and says what He means, I had to convince myself that since God is loving and compassionate, His instructions could be somewhat adjusted to personal matters. However, God does not change His mind about that which is spiritual, moral, and upright. It is at the point of such nagging knowledge that anxiety or worry would enter the scene. What if God means what He says and ends up doing contrary to what I think He should do? Will such a situation prove me wrong? It is at this point that the nagging reality that I was not in control of a matter would begin to consume me with fear that would eventually manifest itself in anger towards my environment. At this point I felt myself falling into the fiery ovens of uncertainty and consequences.

In the first years of my Christian life, my logic won out most of the time. The problem is that logic will take you into some type of unbelief. Unbelief holds a certain amount of deception to it. I consoled myself that I was doing things right in certain areas even though hypocrisy reigned in others. The combination simply produced a self-righteous individual who was quick to point out the discrepancies of others, while justifying or defending personal deviances. Ultimately, I simply became hard-nosed and stiff-necked. This resulted in the knock-out punches of life to shatter my hard nose so that God could adjust my attitude, as well as make my stiff neck flexible so I could humble myself before Him.

Through the years I have felt the fiery ovens of consequences, but I also have felt the ovens that tried and established my faith on the real Rock. My faith towards God has led me through some tough places of loss, despair, sorrow, sickness, and uncertainty. As I faced the different fiery trials of my faith, I have learned to choose to fight the good fight of faith up front. The struggle that ensues proves to be very temporary as I question myself. Will I allow my tender conscience to call on my will to resolve to walk in the way of faith, or will my fleshly personal desires win over my conscience? Will my carnal logic raise its head to excuse away the ways of righteousness, or will my devotion and love toward God choose submission to the Spirit and the way of reasonable and acceptable worship? Since faith is a choice, it is up to me to choose the way of faith. The right choice will guide each obedient step into inheriting the promises of God (Hebrews 6:12).

In closing, Jesus asked if He would find real faith when He came back (Luke 18:8). Once again, if faith was generic, it would not be the center of our Lord’s concern.  This brings me back to the original question: Is the faith I put in the true God of heaven and earth different from the faith a Muslim and Mormon displays? Let me answer it this way. The one thing I am sure about my faith is that at the end of it is salvation (1 Peter 1:6-9). Can the Muslim and the Mormon (or any other cult) be assured of such a promise? More importantly, can the faith you adhere to make such a declaration?