The Only Way Out of Spiritual Bondage

Psalm 1:2 famously tells us that the blessed man delights in the Law of the Lord, and meditates on God’s Law day and night. But verse 3 deserves just as much of our attention:

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

I regularly encounter Christians who complain that their spiritual life has dried up, and while they had such a powerful spiritual high at the conference/camp, that feeling has disappeared entirely just a few days later (I have been this person myself on a number of occasions). While some of this phenomenon is a normal part of the Christian life (the Lord did not intend for us to have endless mountaintop experiences), much more often it is a simple lifestyle problem.

stream

Almost without exception, when we complain of spiritual dryness, it comes out that our Bible reading has been entirely absent; disappearing right around the time the trouble began. For those who know that “Man does not live by bread alone,” we have a nasty habit of trying to live by bread alone.

This isn’t only pertinent to spiritual dryness, either. When we find ourselves entangled in sin, we look everywhere else first. We see that our leaf has withered, yet we ignore the Words of Life. We chide ourselves for not bearing fruit, but we forget that God’s Spirit always works through God’s Word. We keep going back to empty wells, to broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

***

One of the most pervasive problems in Evangelical Christianity is our propensity to urge people to simply stop sinning. It’s great that we want to stop doing things that God hates, but it should give us pause that the Scriptures never command us only to stop sinning. There are always two commands, given together: “Fear not, for (instead of being in fear, believe) I will be with you.” “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

There is a clear pattern in Scripture. We are never to simply stop sinning. We are never to only mortify sin. We are never to only destroy our sinful desires. Instead we are to stop sinning, and then start performing good works. We are to mortify sin, and nourish godly thoughts. We are to destroy our sinful desires and be transformed so that our desires are for the things of God.

All of this depends on us being like a tree planted by streams of water. We cannot hope to keep our leaf from withering unless we are meditating on God’s Law. We cannot replace our sinful desires unless our delight is in the law of the Lord. We will never conquer sin until we change our thought patterns and renew our minds. Our minds will never be transformed unless we allow the cleansing flood of God’s Word to sweep away the lies of the Devil.

There is no magic formula for holiness, no shortcut to spiritual maturity. But I will close with an observation that I often tell Christians who are in bondage to sin, whether it is lust, pornography, bitterness, unforgiveness, or anything else: “I’m not saying it can’t happen, but I’ve never met a porn addict who reads 10 chapters of the Bible per day.” Without fail, those caught in besetting sin are entangled because they have cut themselves off from the source of all spiritual power. The only way out of spiritual bondage is God’s Word.

Christian, if you find yourself weary, come and drink. If you leaf has withered, come back to the streams of water. If you have no fruit, consider that you might be trying to live by bread alone.

 

Image Credit: Brian Donovan, Flickr.com

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