I write to you dear children, because you have known the Father and have been forgiven on account of his name. I write to you young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you and you have overcome the evil one. I write to you Fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning.
1 John 2:12-14 (slightly paraphrased)
Have you ever struggled with the idea of forgiveness and holy living? God's grace is unlimited. We're saved by faith, not by works, therefore we should not spend all of our attention on not sinning and on being good christians, because in doing this it becomes an idol before God in our lives. If God's grace covers our sins, then shouldn't we sin all the more "so that grace may increase?" This doesn't work! We should live lives worthy of the calling. We should turn from sin. We should "go and sin no more" Is anyone else confused by this? For a while now, I've been living with the understanding that we have to somehow try, without trying.
Today however, I discovered the above, and for me it's a little clearer now. When we start out, we're like little children. We get more of our food around our face than in our stomachs. We fall down more than we walk. We can't talk. We can't stand. We certainly can't fight! This passage tells us, in the beginning, we know God, and he forgives us, and that is all. I remember that time very clearly in my own life. But it don't stop there. The idea is then that we start to grow up. What does that look like? We become STRONG, The word of God LIVES in us, and we overcome the evil one. The verse above calls this becoming a young Man (would it be heretical to say 'or Woman'? surely it applies to ladies too)
How do we get strong? by training! by using the gifts God gives us for ministering to one-another. By starting to resist sin NOT forgetting that God forgives us EVERY time we fail. Which we will. How does the word live in us? by taking it on board. Not just reading the bible, but applying it. BELIEVING what it tells us, DOING what it says, considering it's mysteries. How do we overcome the evil one? By making use of our training to resist and fight him. By having the word living inside us ready to answer his taunts, temptations and lies. In this way, our relationship with God grows. We're not babies anymore. We're strong. We're overcomers! We are Men! (or Women)
As we continue in this life, being first and foremost completely and constantly forgiven and knowing God, then moving on to taking in the word and fighting the battles and winning more and more victories, that isn't the end either. The 'Fathers' (and Mothers) are the ones who have been doing all of this for a while. They're seasoned in battle, they've got a good store of living word. They have experience and they have an awesome relationship with God. Deep and fruitful. Isa 61:3 calls them Oaks of Righteousness. Old, strong and unshakeable.
So where are you along the way? Are you still just a baby? needing constant care and bottle feeds? Are you starting to grow? to take the word on board? fighting and sometimes winning? Or even further along? Actually helping those around you to grow and fight and learn? We can't stay babies. We've got to grow up. Get with THE FATHER, get into THE WORD, get trying while relying on his forgiveness when you get it wrong. C.S. Lewis says it is nonsensical to argue whether faith or works are more important in salvation. It's like asking which blade of a pair of scissors can be done without. It's only when we've gotten to the end of our own ability to live right that God meets us and enables us to go on. And God stretches us in this. I remember my Dad teaching me to swim. He would stand a few steps away, and I would swim to him, but each time he would stand a bit further back, or he would walk backwards a little as i kicked and splashed and thrashed trying to get to him. Not because he didn't want me to reach him, but because I would only get better at swimming if he made it a little harder each time. God does this too. he stretches us by taking little steps back sometimes when we really need him, SO THAT when we press forward, it takes a little more effort to reach him. Also, don't forget, there are Oaks of righteousness around. Find some, and speak to them. Ask their advice, ask for their prayers. It's ok to get help from these people. In fact, that's the whole point!
We're forgiven, and not by works, so why should we try? because trying is surely trusting in works? but if we don't try, then we just wallow in our sin, and this is mocking God's grace and mercy. Here I find my answer. We're forgiven, so that we can start to learn, start to grow, start to fight. Relying on God's everlasting love and forgiveness, but we've got to put him first. We've got to rid ourselves of idols. We've got to use the grace to make our mistakes, which we will WHILE we learn and grow and strengthen. We can't give up on ourselves, we can't just enjoy our freedom and ignore God. We've all got to grow up.