Am I Delivered or Do I Have a Lifelong Problem?
Principle 4: Though God may graciously deliver us from some thorns of the flesh, some battles are lifelong, requiring the ongoing work of denying self and following Christ.
A thorn was given me in the flesh . . . Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Today’s topic is one of the most divisive I’ve encountered in addressing addiction within the context of my faith. Many Christians contend that when the addict comes to faith, he is delivered from his addiction, never to struggle again. There are certainly verses that seem to support this conviction. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (Colossians 1:13).
Many provide their own sobriety as evidence of deliverance. When these came to faith, they found sobriety and have never wanted to go back. I’ve been jealous of those individuals. I too, wanted instant deliverance. My appetite for pills has radically changed, but for me, it took a lot of obedience, radical change in behavior, and a long time to get there. Honestly, when I encounter pain pills today at work, I still find the old thought patterns return quickly. I now want recovery more than I want to get high, but if I quit following God, I’d soon be using again.
Personal experience – of mine or others – doesn’t adequately answer the question though. I needed to understand what the Bible actually says about our struggles. Paul teaches (Romans 6) that in Christ, we have died (crucified) and have a new life (resurrection). This is clearly a new spiritual life as our bodies don’t die when we come to Christ. What does this mean for our flesh nature though? Is our sinful nature made perfect when we come to faith?
Paul went on to explain that though we have a new life in Christ, it is our responsibility to not follow the destructive passions of the flesh, which remain. Paul lamented his own persistent, destructive desires (Romans 7) and in today’s passage, begged God to deliver him from a specific thorn. God chose not to deliver Paul, using his need to keep Paul dependent on God.
Still, miracles can and do happen. Paul asked for – and expected – one. Miracles though, by definition, aren’t the normal experience. It is the usual human experience to struggle with destructive appetites of our flesh nature before and after coming to Christ.
I’m glad for those who have known deliverance, but I’ve also observed that those who’ve claimed deliverance from one addiction still struggle with something else, whether its food, tobacco, money, pride, or lust. None of us are made perfect in this life. We all still struggle with something. This doesn’t mean that we must continually live in misery, enslaved to our struggles, but that is for tomorrow.
Author’s Note: I’m currently writing through the principles that have helped me understand my condition as a Christian who still has very real struggles with my destructive appetites. I’ll include the full list here for reference.
- God created us to live in communion with Him, but man’s sin fractured that communion.
- We all struggle with flaws in our corrupt flesh nature, though it has different manifestations in all of us.
- When we come faith in Jesus Christ, we are born again into a new, perfect spirit life and restored to communion with God, but we still carry this gift in a flawed flesh life.
- Though God may graciously deliver us from some thorns of the flesh, some battles are lifelong, requiring the ongoing work of denying self and following Christ.
- We may always feel the gravity of the flesh, but we are not to live enslaved to it. We are meant to know and experience freedom daily in Christ.
- The Christian life (discipleship) is a continual process of abandoning (crucifying) the flesh nature and following Christ. Daily, we are to choose to pursue our spirit life instead of our flesh life.
- Should we fail, there is always grace and forgiveness for those who believe in Christ.
- Though we are forgiven, we are not to use grace as an excuse to continue in our destruction.
- God’s eternal forgiveness does not absolve us from practical, earthly responsibilities and/or consequences.
- As we all labor, we must be continually honest about our battles. It is not helpful to construct a facade of perfection. In fact, such a facade is detrimental to recovery, sabotaging it.
- We should regularly meet together with other believers with the purpose of spurring each other on to the pursuit of God.
- God provides the only adequate replacement for our pursuit of self. This is core to recovery and identity. Though we try to find purpose, joy and fulfillment in self, we find the answer to our deepest needs only in God.
- Transformation (sanctification) is not an automatic process. It is our responsibility to daily do whatever it takes to deny self and follow Christ. The Holy Spirit always does his part. We must do ours.
- God allows the daily battles and honest struggles of recovery to deepen our awareness of our constant need for God.
- Our eternal identity as Christians is in our new life in Christ. Acknowledging our persistent flesh life and its battles does not deny our position in Christ bur rightly identifies the forgiveness and power that alone can be found in Christ as we daily experience life through Him.
- God saves us from ourselves. We must tell others what He has done for us.