I wrote this back in 2001 and had forgotten about it. Someone brought it to my attention and it seems to me that, though not about Proverbs in any way, it actually shows I was thinking in ways that would eventually help me to understand Proverbs.
All Christians struggle with sin.
Many times even relatively mature Christians commit sins they thought they had long since left behind and end up struggling anew with sinful habits in thought, word, or deed. Naturally, this means they must rouse themselves to action in putting to death the deeds of the flesh.
Such action requires motivation. The hope of the gospel–the promise that if we suffer with Christ we will also be glorified with him (Romans 8.17)–will be an all-important factor in helping such saints press on and bear their cross as they pursue that holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12.14). The promise of continual and repetitive forgiveness will be another such factor (First John 1.9; Matthew 18.21-35), needed for us to confidently begin again after having constantly fallen short of the glory of God and his great grace to us. Finally, we will need also a confidence in the power of God to change our hearts and minds and attitudes and actions.
While there is no magic bullet for this struggle, I have found something that one can do in the midst of this war that might be of help to some. What has helped me is found in First Corinthians 12.3:
I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
This might help in any number of situations:
- You are tying to change a diaper when one of your other older children runs up to you and tells you that he just pooped in his underwear even though he has supposedly already been potty-trained but has consistently forgotten his training for the last weak. You want to lose your temper.
- You are driving through a section of town with nicer houses than you could afford and you are feeling discontent with your situation and covetous, or even envious.
- You and your husband are arguing and he is too thickheaded to understand your reasonable statements and insists on getting irritated at you. You want to respond in kind.
- You are alone in the house and know that your wife would really like you to empty the dishwasher, but that she will do it herself without comment if you “forget” it and go read that important book that you haven’t had a chance to finish yet.
- You begin vividly remembering pornography you viewed in high school and struggle with perverse thoughts. Or you see something salacious become available on an internet search engine through a mere click of the mouse while you are doing some genealogical research.
- The fellow Christian with whom you have severe differences and difficulties comes over and begins chatting with you, and manages to comment on the way you spend your money/ raise your children/ make grammatical mistakes when you pray in public (choose one or all).
What I have found is that it can become easier to turn away from evil and do good if one has developed the habit of saying, “Jesus is Lord,” in the moment of crisis.
Of course, I haven’t done any double-blind studies (and I’m not sure how I could get a control group to use a placebo or if that would be ethical). All I have to go on is (precious little) anecdotal evidence. However, I invite you to try it and send me any anecdotal information you collect, one way or the other. I beg the reader to understand that I am not trying to write the next Prayer of Jabez.
If in fact this is a helpful strategy for most Christians, I have an idea of why it might “work.”
Setting Apart Jesus As Lord
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (First Peter 3.13-16).
While I am sure the Apostle Peter had some reason for especially emphasizing, in relationship to the specific temptations he mentions, the need to set apart Christ as Lord in one’s heart, I don’t think there is any reason we should limit his advice to those temptations. It seems to me that in the face of any and every temptation it would be a good idea to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.”
But how does one do that?
After all, the “heart” in this case is not the organ that pumps blood through the human body. It is a part of the metaphorical system for describing a rather intangible reality–an invisible cause to visible effects. How does one say, “I have now sanctified Christ as Lord in my heart so I am now ready to ‘make a defense to everyone who asks me to give an account for the hope that is in me, yet with gentleness and reverence’”? What counts as setting apart Christ as Lord in one’s heart?
I think a good case can be made for a verbal proclamation as one way this can be intentionally done. If one feels one’s face going red with anger, or sees images in one’s mind that have no place there, a forceful statement that Jesus is Lord, will set apart our King as the one on the throne. This may need to be done under one’s breath, or perhaps simply as a mental act (an imagined shout), depending on one’s circumstances. But if done forcefully I think it will help you resubmit yourself to the Lordship of Christ in those specific circumstances.
The Promise of Salvation
if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation (Romans 10.9, 10).
The premise for my appeal to this passage is that the way we are saved from day to day temptations is found in the same gospel that originally translated us from the kingdom of darkness to the domain of God’s beloved son. We are sanctified by God’s grace just as and because we are saved by God’s grace. Jesus “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem [i.e. liberate] us from every lawless deed” (Titus 2.14).
So calling on the Lord to help us in temptation is not essentially different from calling on him to save us from the wrath to come. Paul states that if one confesses verbally that Jesus is Lord, understanding that he has been exalted to this position by his victory over death (see First Corinthians 15; Acts 2.36), a person is assured God’s deliverance and vindication.
Reckoning Yourself Alive in Christ & Dead to Sin
How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6.2b-11).
Simply put: the statement “Jesus is Lord” is not exclusively a statement about the individual person, Jesus, but is also a statement about all those who have union with him. Paul even dares to refer to the Church by the name of Christ (First Corinthians 12.12).
As I have already mentioned, Jesus’ title as Lord has special reference (among other things) to his status as the one raised from the dead in the power of the Spirit. Since that same Spirit also unites us to Jesus, we share in what has happened to him in his own human nature. His death and resurrection is our death to sin and our new life.
Thus, declaring, “Jesus is Lord,” means declaring yourself “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Since Paul sets out as a strategy for sanctification that we “consider” ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, it makes sense that confessing, “Jesus is Lord,” would help us resist what is wrong and do what is right.
Praying for & Assuring Yourself of the Presence of the Spirit
And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him? (Luke 11.9-13)
No one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit (First Corinthians 12.3b).
Jesus promises us that we will receive the Spirit if we ask our Father in heaven for His presence in our lives. I take this to refer to a renewed manifestation of the one Spirit, which is given to all believers at baptism (First Corinthians 2.38; First Corinthians 12.13; First Samuel 16.12-14; note that this is not to be confused with the point at which the Spirit works in regeneration). Even though objectively given in our past history as Christians incorporated into the Church, we often need new manifestations of the Spirit’s power in our daily lives and/or new reminders that we do indeed possess and are possessed by the Spirit.
In line with this, while asking for the Spirit is important, when we are being tempted it seems to me also important that we be reassured that we already posses the Spirit and thus have the power to obey God and say no to sin. This is especially important if, in praying for the Spirit for the purpose of overcoming sin, you are tempted to think that the reason you have succumbed to temptation is because God has not given you the Spirit that you asked for.
That is why I think First Corinthians 12.3 is so important. Paul is clear: no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the power of the Spirit. If you want the power of the Spirit in your life, then ask. But if you want to know that the Spirit is in your life, then say the words, “Jesus is Lord.” You could not believingly make such a confession apart from His presence.
Perhaps an illustration will help here. When a person is running in a marathon, we might think that the temptation facing the runner is whether he will or will not do his best in order to make it to the finish line. Is he willing to withstand the pain in order to complete the race?
But that is too simplistic. A runner may also face doubts as to whether he is capable of really finishing the race. In that case, it becomes very hard to resist the temptation to give up. After all, if one is going to fail anyway, then why keep trying? It is one thing to decide to do your best in order to finish a marathon; it is quite another thing to do one’s best just so you can go an extra few yards before cramping up and collapsing in a heap on the ground. The assurance that, if you don’t give up, you will indeed finish the race is all-important. You need confidence that you have the power to complete the course.
As Christians, we can only resist temptation and do good works by the power of God’s graciously given Spirit. Thus, confidence that we do indeed have the Spirit of God dwelling in us is necessary. When we say, “Jesus is Lord,” we can be reassured that we must have God’s powerful Spirit with us in our trials.
There is no one technique–other than faith, which is not really a technique–that will allow us to resist sin and live in obedience to God’s commands–which sometimes is a struggle though none of them are burdensome (First John 5.3). Faith can be exercised in various ways, however, and the declaration that Jesus is Lord is a major manifestation and reinforcement of that faith. Thus, I commend this idea to any believers who are pursuing helpful ideas of how to be more faithful in their walk with the Lord.
If anyone finds this suggestion to be particularly helpful or unhelpful, I would love to get some feedback from you.