27: But What Happens When We Fail?
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What Happens When I Fail at the Higher Christian Life?
We have spent enough time since our last teaching for you to have either experienced the joy of wonderous success in the Higher Christian Life or the bitter gall of continued failure. My guess is that it’s a little bit of both— probably light on the success side and heavy on the failure. And a constant diet of failure can lead to disappointment, discouragement, self-loathing and self-doubt, depression, and the overwhelming urge to give up and quit. But quitting never accomplishes anything, especially in the spiritual life.
What if I were to tell you that your failures in trying to experience the Higher Christian Life are actually all part of God’s great plan to make you see yourself as you truly are: one who is incapable of doing anything good in the flesh. Ouch. I know that one stings. But as we shall soon discover, the first truth to grasp on the way to victory in your spiritual life is to fully come to grips with the fact that:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells – Romans 7:18a.
Remember, this was written by a man far more intimate with our Lord than most of us are today. And it was written decades after he first met the Lord on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-6). So this is not the depressed rantings of a young believer who is continually drawn back to his dark side. No, these are the words of a seasoned apostle. Probably the greatest apostle of all. But there is more.
We would assume, by the time Saul became known as Paul (Acts 13:9), he would have figured out how to keep his flesh, the old man (Rom. 6:6), permanently dead and buried. But if you will read the rest of this verse, you will find even Paul still struggled with failure in his walk with Christ.
For to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find – Romans 7:18b.
Did you catch what Paul was saying? The desire (will) to live the Higher Christian Life, a life free from the bondage of sin, is “present with me”, but “how to perform what is good (living a life of sanctification or holiness) I do not find.” And as a side note, the word translated “perform” is katergázomai and means “to work, to bring about, to accomplish, to carry out a task until finished.” So Paul is saying he struggles to find the key to unlock the door to spiritual victory when it comes to experiencing, day by day, a life not stained by sin, and the grieving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). He struggles to find how to “perform” or to “bring about until finished” living a life of holiness or sanctification. Or in our terms, how to experience the Higher Christian Life.
Don’t get me wrong, Paul did experience wonderful times of intimacy with the Lord, probably greater than anyone you or I have ever known (2 Cor. 12:2-4). Yet he still struggled to find the permanent answer to the question, Is there a way to keep from failing? In essence, he was just like each of us, striving to live Christ-like, with ups and downs, peaks and valleys. two steps forward, one step back. Look what he said in the next verse.
For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (prássō – what one does repeatedly, continually, habitually, with no end in sight) – Romans 7:19.
Paul, knowing what he did about his life before Christ and knowing what he does about Christ, still practiced, habitually, with no end in sight, the things he hated doing. The “evil” he strived not to do. What is the answer to this spiritual dilemma that plagued Paul and probably every other believer since? Or, Who has the key to victory over the power of sin and our flesh?
Is There a Way to Keep Me From Failing Spiritually?
Absolutely. And over the next few sessions, we are going to unpack the three truths that can set you free from the sting of failure and firmly plant you on the path to a life of intimacy with Him and victory over your flesh, or what we call the Higher Christian Life. Let me introduce these truths to you and we’ll look at them in detail in the days to come.
One, with your sinful nature (flesh), you are incapable of producing any good thing. No matter how hard you try. Period, end of discussion. This truth might knock you back on your heels a bit, but it is nonetheless, true.
Two, God has given you the Holy Spirit to dwell within you for the purpose that He “works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). This may seem easy to accept, like a simple Sunday School lesson, but the implications of this truth regarding our failure to live the Higher Christian Life cannot be understated. We’ll also look in detail at what this means for us today.
Three, (here’s the kicker) when Christ was crucified, He took with Him to the cross not only our sins, but also our sin nature, our “old man” (Rom. 6:6). And it is here, in our understanding and acceptance of what Christ’s death accomplished, that true victory over our failure is found. This is home base for the believer.
Remember these words:
Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord – Romans 6:11.
There is so much we are going to discover as we continue learning how to experience the Higher Christian Life. Join us.