Couldn't God just go ahead and finish His work in your spirit and mine? Why must sanctification be a process? Why don't today's victories last perpetually?
Maybe I am only speaking for myself. But I highly doubt it. For me, the circle or cycle of spiritual growth and failure just keeps turning and turning. Maybe I don't fall quite as far as I did the last time, but I keep falling nonetheless.
The fact that I haven't yet stayed down is some consolation. After all, Solomon did write, "A just man falls seven times, and rises up again: but the wicked shall fall into mischief." The unregenerate man falls fatally. He returns to his vomit like a dog; to his own slimy manure like a pig. And that's it. It's final. But God's children can only be like the prodigal son. To be sure, he found himself in the pigpen. But that wasn't his end. His end was back in the arms of his father.
"Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love." (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, written in 1757 by Robert Robinson when he was 22 years old). Yet like a boomerang, I always find myself back at the foot of the cross. I return with shame, regret, repentance, and faith in God's promise of forgiveness. I come with hopes that this will be my last apology; yet knowing that it won't be.
Consider with me the foreshadowing example of the young nation of Israel as they came to the land of Canaan. In a sure allegory we see Satan in Pharaoh, the world in Egypt, and salvation in the Red Sea crossing. And then there is the Promised Land; the conquest of Canaan represents spiritual victory in the life of a Christian. But how did that look?
Read these 2 descriptions:
Exodus 23:29-30, "I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee. By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land."
And Deuteronomy 7:22-23, "The LORD thy God will put out those nations before thee by little and little: thou mayest not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase upon thee. But the LORD thy God shall deliver them unto thee, and shall destroy them with a mighty destruction, until they be destroyed."
That sounds like all grace and goodness too, right? I think so.
But there is another passage to bring into this setting: Judges 2:21-23, "I also will not henceforth drive out any from before them of the nations which Joshua left when he died: that through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not. Therefore the LORD left those nations, without driving them out hastily; neither delivered he them into the hand of Joshua."
This doesn't sound quite as reassuring, does it? The enemies (the Canaanites) represent the fleshly appetites in us. We are tempted when we are drawn away of our own lusts and enticed (James 1:14). And in the words of Christ, "Not that which goes into the mouth defiles a man; but that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man" (Matthew 15:11).
But why? Or rather, why not? Why won't God just deliver us from the very presence of temptation? Why not give us complete and consummate victory at once?
It is available, of course. Victory, I mean. Moment by moment. We pray today, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." But tomorrow is a new day with new temptations, or usually just with old ones renewed.
What about this? What if God did deliver you and me completely? I mean, if even the very temptation to disobey was taken from us. How could we then sympathize with the lost sinner? And what compassion could the sinner sense from us? Even the Son of God had to face temptation in order to be a perfect high priest for sinners (Hebrews 9:11).
We read concerning Aaron and his sons, "Every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins: who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity. And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins" (Hebrews 5:1-3).
This is not to say that sin is good, ever. Never! But it is to claim that in some strange way God's grace redeems our weaknesses and even our rebellion.
Like with Joseph and his hateful brothers: they had evil intentions, but God's plans were good and gracious.
Like at the cross: men took with wicked hands and crucified the lovely Lord of Glory, just as God had ordained from before time began (Acts 2:24). And then this horror was turned to forgiveness aimed at the very men who defiled themselves with their murderous transgression.
I imagine the chasm that would yawn between the world's most perfect leader and his tortured followers. The untouchable aloofness of the singular prefect would render him in some ways useless. Apparently it is necessary that a shepherd smell like the sheep he leads. A transcendent leader would have every right to condemn the groveling failures under him, but little people appreciate and heed littleness in their teacher.
So what is this all about really? Is this meant to excuse my own weaknesses or those of some other pastor? Hardly. The "qualifications" of the New Testament for each and every bishop will not allow for any dumbing down of the system. It IS intended only as a testimony to myself concerning the reason for the constant struggle. I've said before that I expected to know more and to be better than this by the time I reached this age or stage in life.
A caveat though. Truly God did leave enemies in Canaan to keep the # of wild beasts at bay, and also He determined to use those Canaanites to test and prove his own people continually; to keep them "in fighting shape" & to examine their allegiance to Him. But there is one more consideration. From this standpoint, the Jews did it to themselves. If you read the early part of the book of Judges carefully you will see that one tribe after another failed to conquer the land that God promised to them. That was their choice. And, they paid for it too.
Ultimately every return to the hog pin is my own choice. Not that God can't or doesn't somehow use it for His purposes, but it's still my own responsibility and my own fault. In this moment (as I type these words) I want full victory; the eradication of every failing, if not the demolition of the very temptations themselves. But, the door has to be constantly held shut. Every day I have to look afresh to my Savior for the strength to conquer my internal Canaanites. Some days go pretty well. I seldom get a real knock out, but sometimes score a TKO or (more than likely) a title by split decision. But many days I resemble the idolatrous Israelites, sleeping with the enemy and forgetting my Divine Deliverer. I end up face down on the mat; utterly defeated. Oh, wretched man that I am!
I say with John, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus" (Revelation 22:20). Deliver us. Deliver me!