You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin. (Hebrews 12:4)
That is an issue that I have thought about a lot. It is an element that is central to understanding the real truth about hell as well as our relationship with God.
But this verse that came to my mind this morning speaks of a resistance that is different than the resistance that keeps me from maturing and advancing in my relationship with Jesus. It speaks of striving against sin to the point of shedding blood. But I sense that the typical assumptions about what resisting sin means keeps most people trapped in confused attempts about how to do that. If we don't have correct definitions of sin then the kind of resistance we are likely to put up may all be efforts in a completely wrong direction and ironically may even strengthen sin rather than eliminate it. We too often are fighting a battle where the real battle is not taking place.
I decided that the best way to explore what this verse is talking about would be to look at its context and find clues as to just what it is that I am supposed to resist rather than relying on assumptions or conclusions based on traditional ideas about sin and righteousness.
This chapter is an extension of what is normally called the 'faith' chapter where people who learned to live by faith are listed along with some of their experiences. Then the author moves on to point to Jesus as the supreme example of how to live by faith. This passage is vital for coming to a correct understanding of sin and how to overcome it. If we take these words more seriously and allow the Spirit to bring conviction to our hearts through them we will see radically different relationships within the body of Christ and more real spiritual maturity.
So what can be found within this passage that will tell me what it is that I should resist which in turn will tell me what the author considers to be sin? Let me take a look.
Verse one says that we should lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us... Does that tell me definitively what sin is? Not enough for my understanding, but it does tell me that whatever it is it is likely to be something that it is very easy to get tangled up in. Like getting caught in a sticky spider web, sin is going to keep wrapping around me in some way when I get too close to it. But I still need to have a clearer idea of what sin looks like so I can be aware of what to watch out for.
This phrase also speaks of encumbrances using the analogy of a race. An encumbrance is something that adds extra weight that can slow a person down significantly when they want to move faster. So I need to take that into account as I meditate and search this passage for what it is I may need to resist.
Verse two speaks of fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. I sense that I am getting closer to the core definition of sin in this verse. Choosing to keep my mind attuned to and paying attention to Jesus more than other things will have the effect of causing me to become more and more like Him. I have learned that this is the only effective way to deal with sin in my life, for trying to get rid of sin by trying hard to stop bad behavior or faulty thinking has proven to be a long exercise in futility for those who have tried it including myself. Likewise, trying to have enough faith in order to be saved has also proven to be very frustrating until I began to see that it is the faith of Jesus that is most important, not my ability to generate faith. In fact, it is impossible to work up faith like I always thought I had to do which has come as a real relief when I finally figured that out. But on the other hand, the more I fix my attention on knowing Jesus personally and learning to appreciate how good God is through the things I experience and learn with Jesus, the more I find genuine faith springing up spontaneously within my heart. I can encourage it, nurture it, cultivate it and reinvest it, but I cannot produce it any more than I can produce the righteousness that comes by faith.
It states clearly here that Jesus is the author – the originator – as well as the completer of my faith. That is incredibly good news for a person who has tried hard and failed repeatedly to produce enough faith to please God. Rather than working hard to work up more faith, I am learning to spend my efforts seeking any way possible to get to know Jesus intimately more so that the effects of that growing relationship will produce saving faith spontaneously.
But that still does not clearly help me know what it is I am supposed to resist. Let me continue looking here.
I notice that the word endurance keeps coming up in this passage. And according to Jesus' example, it is choosing and cherishing joy that was the secret for giving Jesus the needed endurance to go through all that He suffered at the hands of hostile men who resisted what He stood for and who He was. All the shame that they used to try to intimidate Him into sinning (whatever that might look like) He chose to despise. I have long found that to be a very curious phrase which I have been unpacking for some time. It requires a deeper understanding of the real meaning of shame as well as what it means to despise which has been a very fruitful and interesting study for me. But it also brings me closer to learning what real sin might be and how I need to strive against it.
Verse three, the verse immediately preceding the one I am unpacking, makes the most relevant statements that begin to really unlock what I am looking for. It says that I am to consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
What did the example of Jesus and what He faced reveal to me about exactly what it was that He resisted? If I can get an understanding of what it was that Jesus needed to resist, then I can better perceive what sin really is and what it is that I need to watch out for and resist.
This verse says that it was hostility that likely brought Jesus temptation to sin. It appears that it is also hostility that likely is the cause of growing weary and losing heart. Putting those things together I strongly suspect that from heaven's standpoint, allowing myself to grow weary and losing heart are methods that Satan likely uses most effectively to get me into sin. And given this verse it would appear rather clear to me that sin somehow involves my reaction to the hostility I may experience from others.
The endurance that keeps showing up in this passage appears to be focused most sharply in this one event where Jesus needed all the endurance He could get to resist becoming infected with hostility in His own heart. Jesus experienced the worst treatment a human being has ever experienced in history. I am not saying that Jesus experienced the most torture that anyone has ever had, though some Christians try to make that claim. Many have experienced far greater physical torture for much longer periods of time than did Jesus at the hands of the Jews and Romans. But the vast majority of the pain and suffering that Jesus experienced during those last hours of His life on earth was produced not by the physical anguish that was imposed on Him as awful as that was; the great suffering that came upon the Son of God was the mental anguish that came from experiencing the full weight of guilt, shame, condemnation and all the natural consequences of sin induced by the sins of every sinner who has ever or who ever will live.
Yet the way that Jesus related to the external provocations, abuse, mistreatment, torture and injustice heaped on Him by nearly everyone around Him as He was led to the cross is key to revealing to us how it is that we are to effectively resist sin. In my study and thinking about Jesus life and death I have come to realize that Jesus did not work hard to suppress feelings of anger, resentment or desires for revenge. He was not repressing inner rage aroused by all the maltreatment He was receiving or savor the idea that His revenge was simply going to be deferred to the day of Judgment when He could really get even with all His enemies by unleashing His power in wrathful vengeance upon them. To think this is what motivated Jesus as some Christians believe is to completely miss the truth about God that Jesus came to reveal.
In fact, it is at this very point that the real nature of sin becomes most evident and how resistance fits into the picture, both in the life of Jesus and in my own life. Rather than viewing sin as breaking rules or bad behavior, looking at the example of Jesus reveals to me that sin is allowing my natural desires for revenge, my natural desires for self-protection to become the driving force in my relationship with others rather than resting in confiding trust in my heavenly Father.
Did Jesus have natural desires to stay alive? Did His humanity want to avoid suffering pain? Yes, Jesus was fully human while also being fully divine. But His example under the extreme pressure of sinners to elicit even a single response that would justify their own actions under the control of sin acting out during those hours, His example of choosing to forgive rather than desire revenge is the most compelling exposure of the real nature of sin ever given to the universe. Rather than allow even the slightest spark of desire for retaliation to take root in His heart, Jesus clung to His connection with His Father which He had depended on all of His life and chose to reflect the Father's love toward those who had such extreme hostility against Him rather than becoming infected with the spirit that was driving His enemies to so viciously attack Him.
So how does that reveal to me what it is that I need to resist and how to go about resisting it? I believe the comments of Peter on this very subject can shed even more light.
...If you endure suffering for doing something good, God is pleased with you. God called you to endure suffering because Christ suffered for you. He left you an example so that you could follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Christ never verbally abused those who verbally abused him. When he suffered, he didn't make any threats but left everything to the one who judges fairly. Christ carried our sins in his body on the cross so that freed from our sins, we could live a life that has God's approval. His wounds have healed you. (1Pe 2:20-24 GW)
I used to think that Jesus simply succeeded in suppressing the natural desires similar to what I feel when abused, threatened or mistreated. But now I realize that His real success came from keeping tuned to the influence and leading of the Spirit from God, Jesus never allowed any evil feelings to ever even begin inside. As strange as it may seem to those of us who find it impossible to suffer without desires for revenge, Jesus gave an example of what is possible when a person embraces the offer of sharing in the divine nature as God has arranged for all those who are willing to experience the kind of salvation and victory He has provided in Christ.
I now see that the resistance that I need to exercise is not a gritting of my teeth to suppress feelings of anger and hostility against those who take delight in mistreating me while attempting to act like a good Christian. What I need is to become so filled with the Spirit of Jesus, the mind of Christ who humbled Himself to the point of death (Philippians 4:4-8), that what I resist is the urge to allow my natural human cravings to take control of my mind and heart. The resistance that results in acting like Christ under provocation is a resistance to taking my eyes off of Jesus and taking things into my own hands. The resistance that produces the kind of enduring character that will prove most essential under duress is to resist living a life of keeping up appearances while allowing selfishness to remain the deciding factor in my heart.
What I can choose to resist is allowing the normal effects of shame to cause me to feel worthless inside as is its intention. Jesus despised shame which means He refused to allow it to deliver false messages to His heart that He was not valuable. He based His sense of worth and value exclusively on what His Father thought about Him and never on what anyone else thought. Because of this He gained that stability and endurance to live free of all desires for retaliation, resentment or any other similar feeling so familiar to us under such circumstances, because He kept His connection with God as His sole source of identity and value. He resisted every effort of the enemy to redefine who He was and how He should relate to sinners.
I must also remember that joy was the fuel that Jesus depended on to give Him the needed endurance to get past all that pain and be able to face death. As I have learned, the very essence of joy is not happiness but is the heart-bond connections formed with others who are genuinely glad to be with us. Jesus not only relied on His joy-connection with His Father to give Him endurance and perspective but He filled His mind with anticipation of the enormous rewards of joy He would experience in the future as millions of people would someday be deliriously glad to be with Him for eternity.
That joy-strength was vital in giving Him the needed endurance and perspective He had to have to resist the viral attacks of hostility and animosity that immersed Him during those hours. Rather than resisting in the sense of suppressing evil desires as we too often attempt to do, Jesus resisted taking His eyes off His Father and the truth about His Father that had sustained Him all of His earthly life. Jesus resisted allowing the ugliness of sin and the pain He was suffering from every direction to eclipse the truth that God was fair and trustworthy no matter what circumstances might seem to indicate. He came to the point where in sheer faith in God and against all evidence He could perceive at the moment, He choose to leave everything in God's hands rather than try to sort things out using His own logic or feelings. He resisted the idea that God was not always fair.
And this takes me right to the very core of what sin is really all about and how it came about in the first place. Sin originated when Lucifer began to entertain doubts about the goodness and fairness of God. Over time these doubts deepened and strengthened and grew exponentially until they have now become the myriads of lies that cloud our thinking and cause us to distrust God. Jesus came to this earth to reveal the real truth about God's goodness and fairness in many ways. But the most compelling way was by allowing sinners and even demons to mistreat and abuse Him to the fullest extent possible while demonstrating in response how God feels about them.
And how does God feel about those who hate Him, who mistreat Him, who are filled with hostility towards Him? He loves them unconditionally just as He taught in the sermon on the mount. He forgives them without reservation. He has nothing but compassion in His heart toward them and desires nothing more than full reconciliation with them as He seeks to unmask and replace all the false ideas about Him that drives their hatred against Him. This is why Peter mentions that there was never any deceit found in Jesus' mouth. Because Jesus never allowed false ideas about God to infect His thinking and in turn corrupt His heart. He resisted all the lies about His Father and about Himself that were constantly pressed on Him as temptations but maintained a sense of reality based on heaven's perspective rather than the counterfeit reality that permeates this world.
His example allows me to better see what it is that I need to resist in my striving against sin. Since sin is rooted in the lies and mistrust of God and His goodness that Satan has infected our minds and hearts with, I need to resist believing any of those lies any longer and allow Jesus to become the only valid definition of what God is like. That revelation will transform me from the inside. The book of Revelation (14:5) speaks of a people in the end times of this earth's history who have no deceit in their mouths. This is the same thing Peter said about Jesus which indicates that these people have become just like Jesus. They have come to completely resist the lies about God purported by Satan, the great accuser, and instead have embraced the complete truth about God as represented in Jesus.
This is the kind of resistance that will be successful in striving against sin. As I allow the truth about God to continue to transform my thoughts and feelings, my life and my relationships will all begin to be more and more free from the effects of sin. As my endurance increases I will likely find the attacks increase as well. But I only have two choices: I will either be conformed to this world's view of reality and be squeezed into its mold of lies about God, or I will allow Jesus full access to my heart and affections and thinking and will be transformed internally and then externally by His love and grace and peace to fully reflect God just as Jesus did. I will either resist God's spirit and the truth about Him that Jesus came to reveal or I will resist the devil and all His lies about God, submit to God and be led by His Spirit as a child of the King.