How to stay close to God…
By Rick James
When we first begin a relationship with Christ, we often go through a honeymoon phase. Our relationship, our fellowship has been restored with God. Our sins have been forgiven. Everything’s great.
And it is great.
But in a fallen world, great is not perfect. And it isn’t long until the honeymoon ends. And we find ourselves taking some significant baggage into our relationship with Christ.
God has given us a new heart, new motivation, new direction, but our old self didn’t move out during the honeymoon. He’s just been hiding in the garage.
C.S. Lewis once said, “You only know the strength of the wind when you try to walk against it.”
Lewis was saying you only know the power of sin when you try to stop. It’s now, as believers trying to walk with God, that we start to struggle for the first time with sin and guilt.
When I was a young Christian, the first thing I knew needed to be changed was my language. I spoke profanity fluently. I couldn’t say a sentence without swearing. And I remember going to my first Bible study and recognizing no one was using any of my favorite words. I realized I needed to change. And I did.
But now, here is the illusion. Anyone can change a bad habit. Anyone can make a New Year’s resolution. I can stop myself from speeding in a car. But changing road rage, anger, impatience. These things are deeper issues.
I think as we find ourselves grow in holiness, we realize that beyond surface behavior there’s deeper sin underneath. I think at this point we realize we’re in over our head. I think at that point we realize we can’t transform ourselves. But it doesn’t stop us from trying anyway.
You know, I think we all have the same basic strategies in terms of dealing with or covering our sin. First, I think we just try harder. We give it more effort. And when that doesn’t end up working, we bolster our will power with vows and promises. “I’ll never do this again. I’ll never do this again.”
Then we do it again. So then move on to rationalization and denial. I think our twisted thinking here is, “You know, if it wasn’t officially sin, if it wasn’t technically sin, well then it’s not sin.” Or “If someone else caused me to do it then it’s not sin.”
Well, that doesn’t always work out and so we default to some kind of self-loathing. Then who needs Jesus to die on the cross when we can just crucify ourselves? And so we just beat ourselves up. “Idiot, why’d you do that again?” I guess somehow we’re feeling like were able to pay the penalty for our own sins.
Well at this point, all of the joy, all of the vitality is drained out of the Christian life.
Our walk with God is nothing more than sin management. Just going through the motions. But in John 10:10, Jesus says “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” There really is an abundant Christian life.
Now that we’re believers, confession is God’s provision for our sin. And there are three components to confession. The first is the most difficult. Not because it’s that hard, but because it’s foreign to us. What we need to do is when we’ve sinned or rather when we feel convicted of sin, we need to stop… and agree with God that what we’ve done is sin. In first John 1:9 it says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Second, we agree that what Jesus did on the cross paid the penalty for that sin. And third, we agree to turn from that sin and turn back toward God, which we call repentance.
If you think about the process, that you went through when you came to Christ. At some point in time you realize that you had a sin problem. For instance, lets say as I’m fishing, and my mind begins to wander. And let’s say it drifts to notice a woman whose bathing suit barely covers her up. Now, at some point I become convicted about my sin…that I have lusted. Okay now I have several options. I can rationalize it. “Hey I’m just a guy. You know, what can I do? “
Or I can justify it, “Hey it wasn’t like I committed adultery or anything.”
I can blame, “What is she doing out here dressed like this?”
Or I can confess. I can agree with God that what I’ve done is sin. “Lord Jesus, I lusted…in my heart and my mind. Forgive me.” I agree that Christ has paid the penalty for that sin. “Lord thank you, for paying the penalty for my sin.” And I agree to turn from it. “Lord, I don’t want to be lustful. I want to live a pure and holy life.”
That’s the process of confession. We do it daily, we do it hourly, as often as we sin.
Having confessed our sin we are cleansed of it. And our fellowship with God has been restored. And that should feel pretty good, right? I mean, it’s like taking a deep breath of fresh air. It should feel absolutely wonderful. But we do have one last issue and that’s this.
How are we gonna keep from falling back into the same sin again, and again, and again?
I think as Christians we all realize that we have eternal life and that we’ve been forgiven for our sins. But a lot of times I think we forget that God’s Spirit indwells us. We haven’t been left on our own to follow after Jesus in our own strength and effort.
The Holy Spirit desires to lead us and direct us and empower us, to motivate us. In fact in Ephesians 5:18, God actually commands us. He says, “Be filled with the Spirit.” Now, it’s a partnership, we have a role to play. God’s role is to lead, direct and empower. Our role, is two fold. First we need to abide. Abide is a word that Jesus uses and it literary means “to make yourself at home with.”
Our responsibility is to make ourselves at home with Jesus throughout the day. And that means being as intimate with him throughout the day as much as we possibly can be.
That means we don’t just pray once a day but we pray through out the day. That means that any time we see something we give thanks. We give thanks all day long. Praising God throughout the day, whenever anything comes to our mind that we want to praise God for. Just praising Him. And confessing sin whenever sin comes up in our life and we feel convicted by the Spirit, confessing it. As we give thanks, to praise and confess and pray, we are staying intimate with God throughout the day.
We are abiding with him and as a result, the Spirit is fully free to empower and influence us.
The second thing is reliance. You’ve noticed people walking around continuously with their water bottles or their cup of coffee. Throughout the day, whenever they have the need, they take a sip.
It’s kind of a reliance mechanism. If they’re lonely, they take a sip. If they’re scared, they take a sip. If they need to be thoughtful, they take a sip. Whenever they sense a need. Kind of a thirst in their own life, they take a sip. And what it means to walk in step with the Spirit is turning that reliance mechanism toward God.
And that means all day long, anytime we feel the need. “Lord, give me wisdom. Lord I need strength right now. Lord I don’t know what to do. Lord give me direction.”
As we rely on God and stay as intimate as we possibly can with him, God’s spirit is able to lead and direct and empower us.
Well we talked about a lot of things here. And I want you to be able to remember what we’ve said. So I’m going to use the illustration of breathing, okay? When you breathe, you exhale and inhale.
Exhaling and Inhaling
Exhaling is like confession. Breathing out the bad air. Remember confession is really three things. You’re agreeing with God about your sin. You’re agreeing that Christ paid the penalty for that sin. And you’re agreeing to turn from that sin in repentance. That’s exhaling, your breathing out the bad air. Okay?
Inhaling, is really relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. That is, you’re trusting God’s Spirit to lead and direct. You are believing that God is going to do that. And since God commands us to be filled with the Spirit, we can trust him to do that.
So, when we inhale we are saying “Lord please fill me, please empower me, please direct me. And I trust you to do that.”
So we inhale and we exhale. We confess and we rely upon God’s Spirit. Just like breathing, this isn’t just something you do once a day. It’s all day long. So do this all day long, inhaling and exhaling. Whenever there’s sin it is exhaling (confessing) and inhaling (trusting God’s Spirit to work in your life).
Now, at first it might seem just a little bit awkward, but trust me, within a short time it will be as natural as, well…breathing.
God has created us for a new kind of life. One that’s free from the power of sin and full of intimacy with him.
One final illustration. Imagine trying to scuba dive with your air tank running on empty. You’re submerged under the weight of all that water, completely cut off from your oxygen supply. That’s why its so important to draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit through spiritual breathing. Without it, we’re cut off from the spiritual resources we need to live the Christian life. The sheer weight of our own sin and human limitations overwhelms us. It crushes us and we can’t maintain it. But as one powered by the Holy Spirit, he can take us to wonderful new places we never even knew existed. All we have to do is breathe.