“And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs”
2 Corinthians 2:11
It’s so timely! The focus of this sermon is not on the obvious evil forces let loose in the world. In our time together, we are not going to be pointing fingers or projecting on to others. That’s too easy. Today, our calling is to engage in the much more painful work of looking in our own spiritual mirror and examining how evil might work in and through us. The focus here is on the way that the “subtle god of this world labors to destroy the children of God,” those on the “inside” already.
In this endeavor we start with good news. The kingdom of heaven is already established in our hearts, bringing “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Even as “babes in Christ,” we have experienced these “inconceivably” great blessings. At the same time, there is also planted within us a desire for more, a calling to love God with our whole beings and to know how to rejoice and give thanks in all things. The vision of perfection in love is set before our eyes.
What does a life in Christ look like? Initially, we can share a glimpse of what this looks like in the negative; it is life freed from anger, pride, from all filthiness, whether of flesh or spirit, and cleansed of all idols. As we mature in our new identity, it is also expressed in the positive through life-giving virtues – courage, temperance, patience, and kindness to all.
We can never think that this growth to, what Wesley calls, “perfection in love” is easy. There are adversaries in the way. The grand device of Satan, as Wesley calls it, is to destroy the first work of God within, or at least to hinder its growth, by working to lessen our expectations, or in some cases, to make the expectations appear as great burdens and judgment upon us. The goal is to dampen our joy by showing us how far we miss the mark, and to show how impossible transformation is by our own efforts. The temptation is to give in. We start to take the transformation we have already received for granted and justify it as enough. That is deadly.
Another goal is to “attack our peace.” The negative voice on our proverbial shoulder says to us, “You are not fit to see God.” “You are unholy.” You need to “make something out of yourself, make yourself worthy.” “Right now you are nothing.” It is such a lie, and yet these “fiery darts” so often break through. We start to believe that we must justify ourselves by our own righteousness. We start to nullify the grace that is at work within us. Soon, fear will creep in – fear of bondage, fear of death. Blessings of peace and joy become blurred. They recess into the innermost soul with fewer outward manifestations. Satan, with subtle mastery, wins some battles within us, if not the war itself.
Remember the trajectory of our salvation – the perfection of God’s love within us. Another word for this is “holiness” or sanctification. A powerful tactic of evil is to focus our sense of righteousness onto the faults of others. Our thirst for the fullness of God excites us to fretfulness. Our fervent desire for God’s promises leads to impatience. We grow in judgment and self-justification; we focus on rules rather than relationships; we start to divide the gospel against itself creating the opposite of peace. To Satan’s delight, we miss the mark more and more. We can even start to “envy at those whom we believe to have already attained the prize of our high calling.” Yes, by following after perfect holiness we can “become more unholy than before.” It speaks to the dreadful words of the Apostle, “It had been better they had never known the way of righteousness, that, after they had known it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”
So, how do we cast back these evil darts poisoning us with “unholy tempers”? At the core, we rely on God’s grace. Even as we contemplate our own sin, our own unholiness – a constant practice for the faithful – we rejoice all the more in Christ’s love. Facing every evil “temper” or disposition can, by grace, increase our “humble joy” rather than lessen it. What a great and liberating word as we apply it not only to ourselves but also we apply the same grace to others, as we indeed do unto others as we would want them to do unto us. In this holy disposition of patience, gentleness, peace, and above all love, our joy and peace and faith will grow in abundance. We affirm, deep within, that “the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
In this power of this faith, press on to glory, desiring to be ready to meet Christ face to face and to live in this glorious kingdom. Redeem the time you have. Take every opportunity to grow in grace. If you have one talent now, invest in it and rejoice at its increase. “Whatever may be tomorrow, give all diligence today, to ‘add to your faith courage, temperance, patience, and kindness to all -- the opposite of the fruits of fretfulness, impatience, judgment, and zeal for your own righteousness. Yes, the blessings of holiness can be abused, as we see all too often. Let the abuse cease and the blessings remain. In steadfast faith, in calm tranquility of spirit, in full assurance of hope, rejoicing evermore for what God has done, press on to perfection. Daily grow in knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, in resignation, in patience, in humble thanksgiving. Run the race set before you, looking to Jesus until through perfect love you enter into his glory!”