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Lesson 5: Personal Enemy #1
During the civil war in Spain a rebel general was outlining his plan for the conquest of Madrid. He explained, "I have four columns approaching the city—one from the north, one from the south, one from the east, and another from the west."
"Which one of these columns," asked a friend, "are you counting on to take the city?"
"None of these," replied the general. "The column I am depending on is my fifth column."
"And where is your fifth column?" asked the friend.
"My fifth column," replied the general, "is in the city. I have men inside the city who are loyal to me. I am counting on them to deliver the city into my hands."
There is a lesson for Christians in this story. Every Christian can be likened to a city under attack. Our enemy, Satan, has many forces at his disposal, but the one that he counts on to bring about our defeat is his "fifth column"—SELF. Our self-centeredness provides opportunities for Satan to gain victories in our lives.
How did man become self-centered? To find the answer to this question, we must go back to the first man, Adam. As Adam came from the hand of God, he was God-centered. Adam's concern was to please God and to do God's will. God was the center of his life; therefore, Adam had peace with himself and with God.
Then came that awful tragedy which theologians call "the fall of man." Adam rebelled against his Creator, and in so doing, he brought sin and death into the world. But something else happened. A fundamental change took place within Adam. He dethroned God in his heart and put self on the throne. This was Adam's great sin—rejecting God as the center of his life and substituting self. Adam became self-centered instead of God-centered.
In time Adam died, but he passed his sinful nature on to his descendants and to the whole human race. The Bible says, "by one man's disobedience many were made sinners…" (Romans 5:19) Adam produced a race of self-centered people. One of our chief characteristics as members of Adam's fallen race is independence—we want our own way. Isaiah described the situation like this, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…" (Isaiah 53:6) This wanting our own way instead of wanting God's way is the very essence of sin.
Instead of being God-centered as God intended man to be, man became self-centered. Instead of living to glorify his Creator, man lived to please himself. Instead of being ruled by God, man was ruled by self. Because man is ruled by self, he commits many sins. It is not at all difficult for us to see the sins of self in others, but it is very hard to see them in ourselves. Right now, let's take a good look at self and see if we do not recognize ourselves.
To almost anyone, the most important person in the world is himself. No name is as sweet to our ears as our own name. Our conversation is lavishly sprinkled with the words "me," "my," and "I." Even our friends would enjoy talking with us more if the "I's" did not come so close together. What others think and say about us is very important to us. How different we are from the Lord Jesus of whom it is recorded that He "made himself of no reputation…" (Philippians 2:7 New King James Version)
Closely related to self-pride is self-love. What we love more than anything in the universe is ourselves. Our ears are always eager to hear words of praise from others. Even plain, unadulterated flattery is welcomed! And how distressing it is to us when others fail to appreciate us.
F.J. Huegel tells of a student who came in to talk to the school president saying he could no longer continue his studies. Life was unbearable because the students were forever razzing him. They gave him no peace. The president asked the young man to hang his hat on the wall. The young man said he could find nothing on which to hang his hat. He was told to hang it anyway. Of course it fell to the floor.
The president again ordered the young man to hang his hat on the wall. When it fell to the floor again, the young man said, "Sir, what do you mean by this?" The president replied, "If the students did not find so much self-love in you, they would leave you alone because there would be nothing for them to hang their razzing on." The young man saw the point and left the room a changed person. The students no longer bothered him.
Life would be much happier for us if we, too, learned that lesson. Instead of getting our feelings hurt or reacting angrily when someone says something bad about us, why don't we say, "That's nothing! If you knew the truth about me, you would say a lot worse!" At least, we would be telling the truth.
Self is a born rebel. How it hates to take orders! It wants no one, not even God Himself, to rule over it. Self wants its own way and will do almost anything to get it. Oh, self can be religious and even pretend to honor God, but it is a rebel at heart and, sooner or later, it will show its true colors. The Bible says,
"the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." (Romans 8:7)
Self readily sees the sins and shortcomings of others but is blind to its own. Its language is that of the Pharisee who prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men…" (Luke 18:11)
Self will never take the blame for anything. No matter what happens, the fault belongs to someone else. When it is criticized, it rushes to defend itself. It always has an "out." It will never say, "I am wrong."
Another form of self is the martyr complex. Self always feels that it is the one who gets the "raw deal." Self wears its feelings on its sleeve and is easily "hurt."
Self is never satisfied. No matter what it has, it wants something more. In self's opinion, the big "I" always rates first place.
Self is guilty of committing many sins, but undoubtedly the most serious one is that of stealing —stealing God's throne. Self has taken over God's throne in the heart and from this stolen throne, it exalts itself and seeks to be worshipped. It cares not that it has broken God's first commandment given from Mount Sinai, "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3)
Self is God's enemy and our enemy. Though we have by no means considered all the forms of self in our lives, yet even from this limited description, we can see why the self life is so hateful to God. It is no wonder that the Bible states unequivocally, "Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." (Romans 8:8)
Self is not only God's enemy but it is our enemy as well. The one sure way to ruin your life and that of others around you is to let self rule your life. Mr. Huegel is right when he says, "Until Christ works out in you an inner crucifixion which will cut you off from self-infatuation and unite you to God in a deep union of love, a thousand heavens could not give you peace."
When God opens our eyes to see the hatefulness of self, our thoughts naturally turn to the question, "How can I be delivered from self?" A better understanding of our salvation will help to answer this question. To save us completely, God had to deal with two things. He had to deal with our sins—what we have done, and He had to deal with us—what we are.
How did God deal with our sins? He dealt with our sins by sending His Son to die for us.
"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
How can God forgive sins? He can forgive them because of the blood of His Son which was shed for them.
Now we come to the second problem. How did God deal with us—with our sinful selves? He dealt with us by putting us into Christ and dealing with us in Christ.
It might help us to understand this if we take a slip of paper and write the word "self" on it.
Now, take a book and let it represent Christ. Put the slip into the book. Now if you throw the book into the river, what happens to the slip? It goes into the river because it is in the book. Or if you burn the book, what happens to the slip? It is burned also. Again, suppose you wrap the book and mail it to Chicago. It goes to Chicago.
In each case you have no difficulty saying what happens to the slip. What happens to the book also happens to the slip because it is in the book. Now here is good news! When God saves us, He puts us in Christ. The Bible says,
"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…" (1 Corinthians 1:30)
Putting us in Christ was God's work. Why did God put us in Christ? He put us in Christ so that He could deal with that old, sinful self that is the cause of so much of our troubles. God put us in Christ on the cross so that we were crucified with Him. In going to the cross, the Lord Jesus not only took our sins, but He also took us. The Bible says, "our old self was crucified with him" (Romans 6:6).
Because of the extreme hatefulness of self, God had to use some extreme measures. He brought our old self-life to an end on the cross.
But something else happened. Not only were we in Christ when He was crucified, but we were with Him when He arose. The Bible says God, "made us alive with Christ…and…raised us up with Christ…" (Ephesians 2:5-6) God gave us a new life in Christ!
The Lord Jesus Christ did not die just to save us from hell. He died to save us from ourselves as well. He died that we might have a new center—Christ.
The Bible says, "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord…" (Romans 14:9) Get that straight—"that He might be the Lord." In plain, simple language that means "the Boss of your life"—the One who makes the decisions and gives the orders. The Bible says of those who are raised up to new life in Christ, "that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." (2 Corinthians 5:15)
When the Lord Jesus takes His rightful place as Lord of our lives, things will be different. Instead of the ugly manifestations of the self-life, our lives will show forth the wonderful fruit of the Spirit—"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)
Now we come to the crucial question: How do we cross over from the self-life to the Christ-life? Here are four simple steps that are essential.
KNOW that God has dealt with us in Christ.
"For we know that our old self was crucified with him" (Romans 6:6).
COUNT on the fact that we died with Christ and rose again.
"…count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." (Romans 6:11)
God asks us to put our signature to the statement, "I have been crucified with Christ." This makes it real in our experience.
REALIZE that you belong to God.
"You are not your own, you were bought at a price." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
GIVE God His property.
"…offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness." (Romans 6:13)
We don't give ourselves to God in order to become His. We give ourselves to Him because we are His.
L.E. Maxwell expressed it like this, "If you are a child of God, if you have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, don't talk about giving God your time, your talents, your money, or your life—it all belongs to Him. Just quit stealing!"
Giving yourself to God is not a matter of holding up your hand or of going down front in a church. It is a matter of selling out completely to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is giving to Him that which belongs to Him—the throne of your heart. It is making Him Lord of everything in your life.
But before Jesus can be put on the throne of your life, self must be dethroned. The center of your life must no longer be self but Christ. The big "I" must be crossed out. The Lord Jesus put His finger on the crux of the matter when he said,
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24)
That's it—deny himself: not things, but himself.
The Apostle Paul laid down the principle for victorious Christian living in one short sentence.
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20)
If you are sick of the self-life and ready to give God that which belongs to Him, here is a prayer you may want to pray:
"Lord Jesus I belong to You. Everything that I have and everything that I am is Yours, and I want You to have Your property. Help Yourself to my life. May Your will be done in my life and not mine."
I've Got My Rights!
A senior high girl we'll call Susan came to see her youth leader, Bill. Wow! Was she mad! She explained her problem:
"My sister is in the eighth grade and she's always borrowing my clothes. She's larger than I am and when she wears them, she stretches them. Instead of hanging them up, she crumples them into a ball and hides them under the bed. This gets me so mad that we're always fighting.
"To make things worse, my mother always sides with her. One time she wore a new pair of slacks I had bought. When I went to put them on, I found she had fallen and one whole knee was ripped out."
It's easy to see why Susan was mad. Didn't she have the right to her own clothes? And didn't she have the right to be treated fairly by her mother? Sure she did. You couldn't really blame her for being angry.
In the conversation that followed, Bill explained to her that "rights" go with ownership. If you own something you have the right to say how it is used. If somebody else owns it, they have that right.
Bill suggested that if she transferred the ownership of her clothes to God, then God would have the right to them and how they were used. He would also have the responsibility for them.
Here is part of the conversation:
Bill: "This may sound strange to you, but have you ever thought about giving your clothes to God?"
Susan: "Giving my clothes to God? What does God want with my clothes?"
Bill: "Well, if you give your clothes to God, then they will belong to Him. He will have the right to control their use. And, if they belong to Him, He will be responsible to take care of them. If they are God's clothes, you won't have anything to get mad about if your sister uses them."
Susan: "That sure sounds strange. What if I give my clothes to God and my sister still borrows them and ruins them?"
Bill: "When you dedicate your clothes to God and your sister takes them, she will be taking God's clothes. When this happens, you can share your problem with the Lord and you will see how powerful He really is. He can take care of His property."
Susan: "That sure sounds strange, but I'm willing to try it."
Before they prayed, Bill related the story of how Abraham offered his son on the altar to God in obedience to God's command. Susan was encouraged to imagine herself kneeling before an imaginary altar and placing her clothes on the altar and dedicating them to God. The following prayer was suggested: "Lord, right now I dedicate all my clothes to You. From this moment on they don't belong to me anymore but to you. You have the right as to how they are used. I'm responsible under you to take care of them."
Susan sincerely prayed this prayer. Then Bill told her she must purpose to thank God whatever the outcome. This would prove that she was sincere when she gave her clothes to God.
Bill explained to her that God has a right to test her sincerity and that He might test her sincerity by allowing her sister to wear the clothes and even to misuse them. He pointed out that the only change she could really count on was a change in herself.
Four days later, Susan returned with this enthusiastic report—"It works!"
"What works?" asked Bill.
"Giving my clothes to God! I can hardly believe what happened. I didn't tell my sister anything about our talk, but since that time we haven't had one fight. She borrowed my clothes only once, and for the first time, she actually hung them up. She even ironed the blouse. I can't get over it!"*
Things worked out beautifully in this story. Susan's angry disposition was changed. And her sister changed too.
It doesn't always work out like this. Sometimes the other person does not change.
What happens then? If you are really sincere when you give your "rights" to God, YOU WILL CHANGE. If you've given your "rights" to God, you don't have anything to get mad about.
(*from Basic Youth Conflicts, by Bill Gothard; used by permission.)