By Zac Poonen
1. The Fear of God: The fear of God is the beginning (alphabet) of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). This is the first lesson in the school of wisdom. If we do not learn the alphabet, we cannot proceed further. “To fear the Lord is to hate evil”, because God Himself hates evil (Prov. 8:13). When we have heard the call of God to be holy because He is holy, and are gripped by that call, we shall hate sin. Many believers find it quite easy to overcome some sins (anger, sexual sins, etc) when in the presence of other believers, for they are afraid of losing their reputation. But they sin in the same areas quite easily, when alone. Therefore it is not because they are not able to overcome these sins that they fall, but because they love their reputation more than they fear God. They value man’s opinion more than God’s. Such Christians need to mourn and repent for “worshipping the creature (man) more than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25), and need to cry out to God with all their hearts that God will teach them His fear. The promise is that if you cry out and lift up your voice and seek the fear of the Lord as you would hidden treasures, then God will teach you His fear (Prov. 2:3-5; Matt. 5:6). He will be found only by those who seek Him with all their hearts (Jer. 29:13). Only those who mourn over their failures will be comforted (strengthened and helped -(Matt. 5:4) by the Comforter. We need to develop the habit of living before the face of God alone. The reason why God has given each of us a private area – our thought life – is so that He can test us to see whether we fear Him or not. If we are concerned only about our external reputation before other men, then we shall be careless about sin in our thought life. Thus God makes a separation between those who are desirous of total victory and those who desire only an external victory over sin. If we mourn over sin in our thought life as over external sin, we shall enter into victory very quickly.
2. Having A Mind to Suffer: There is pleasure in sin – but it is deceptive and short-lived (Heb. 3:13; 11:25). The opposite of pleasure is suffering. To suffer is to deny our flesh the pleasure of sin. We are told that if we arm ourselves with this attitude, we can cease from sin and do the will of God all our life (1 Pet. 4:1,2). To suffer in the flesh does not mean physical, bodily suffering, for no one ever stopped sinning that way. It refers to the pain caused to the flesh by the denial of its desires. We refuse to please ourselves, even as Jesus never pleased Himself (Rom. 15:3). Thus we share the fellowship of His sufferings. A determined attitude to suffer in the flesh, Peter says, is our armour in the day of battle. But we must have the armour before the battle begins. To look for the armour after the onslaught of temptation has begun, is useless, for one will not usually find it then. No. One must be armed before the conflict begins. When one does not have this armour (‘the determined mind to suffer in self denial rather than get the least pleasure out of even a sinful thought’), then one draws back in the moment of temptation and gives in (Heb. 10:38). But if we are determined to die, rather than sin – that is, to be ‘obedient even unto death’ as Jesus was (Phil. 2:8), then this armour will be our strength and our protection in the day of battle. If we love material things, for example, then we shall easily lose our peace and fall into sin when we face material loss or when someone else damages or loses some valuable possession of ours. But if we have chosen the way of ‘suffering in the flesh’, believing that God orders all things for our good (Rom. 8:28), then we shall take even the loss of our goods joyfully (Heb. 10:34).
3. Valuing Fellowship: There is just no such thing as individualistic Christianity in the New Testament. The Old Testament prophets (like Elijah and John the Baptist) may have lived alone, but that was in the days when there was only a shadow and no body (Col. 2:17). But now we have the body of Christ, and it is as we find our place in it, that the Head (Christ) keeps us from falling. Paul clearly states that protection from error and Christian growth can come only as we hold fast the Head and also keep the lines of supply open to the other members of the body (Col. 2:19). It is against the church that Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail (Matt. 16:18). Satan will certainly prevail against a lone Christian who tries to live on his own. It is not enough, however, to go to meetings twice a week. We must value fellowship with the other members and be integrated into the Body. It is only as we find our place as functioning members of the body of Christ that we can share in the triumph of the Head. Then our fellow members in the Body become a strength for us in the hour when the pressure becomes too great for us by ourselves (Eccl. 4:9-12). Mutual exhortation in the body is God’s means of keeping us from being deceived and from falling into sin (Heb. 3:13). Value such fellowship, and you will be spared many heartaches and failures.