Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Avoiding the Snares of the Adversary: Example of the Efforts Required of a Christian

The decision to believe in Christ and to follow Him is not a one-time decision. We make that decision, or reject it, every day. Just as the Lord is on our side and there to bless us, if we will let Him and daily seek His help, we must realize that we have an enemy also who daily seeks to turn us toward sin and to capture us in his snares. A snare, according to Merriam-Webster, is something by which one is entangled, involved in difficulties, or impeded, or something that is deceptively attractive. The world is full of such traps and deceptions, and if we are not cautious, we can become entangled and impeded in our progress along the straight and narrow path that leads to life.

Christ referred to a snare in this warning to Christians in Luke 21:
34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day [the Second Coming of Christ] come upon you unawares.
35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
Those who are not alert and cautious, though they may claim to believe in Christ, may find themselves entangled in sin and snared at the last day.

In giving a list of requirements for a bishop (or leadership positions in general) in the Church, Paul warns in 1 Timothy 3 that even such leaders who implicitly start off as faithful Christians must be cautious lest they be snared by the devil: "Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without [not members of the Church]; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:7). Yes, bishops can fall from grace into the snares of Satan, just as any other Christian can (1 Cor. 10:12).

So much of the New Testament is filled with warnings to Christians, urging us to avoid sin, to resist temptation, to endure to the end, to strengthen our faith in God and to draw closer to Him. And part of the urgency in these warnings is the reality of our Adversary, our enemy who seeks to ensnare us and take away the gifts the we are offered through the grace of Jesus Christ. Peter, for example, in 1 Peter 5, writes this:
6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:
7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:
9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
Yes, it is God who strengthens us and eventually can make us perfect and exalted in His presence. But effort is required from us. We must cast our care on Him. We must be sober. We must be vigilant and cautious, for the Adversary threatens us as a roaming, roaring lion hungry for the kill. We are called to resist him stedfastly, and to rely on the help of the Lord in this battle. But we must fight and endure. Effort is required.

But if we trust in God and have true faith, can't we relax? In Philippians 2, Paul warns us against such an attitude, instead urging us to fear and tremble as we strive to obey and "work out" our salvation, knowing, though, that we are not alone and that God works with us to help us change our will and our actions:
12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings:
But we do not become robots, but are still free to move forward in faith or to murmur and argue, or even to wander away and reject what God urges us to do. We are still called to obey, and it is our choice - a choice we can and need to make and renew regularly.

Paul understood that our relationship with the Lord is a two-way street. Just as ancient covenants patterns in the Middle East involved a two-way relationship, with terms of obedience stipulated for the subject to the king or Lord, so the new covenant in Jesus Christ involves a two-way relationship. He reaches out to us, but we must also reach out for Him to receive the gift He offers under the conditions stipulated in the covenant. Thus, Paul can speak of reaching out ("apprehending") Christ even as He reaches out to ("apprehends") us:
12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:12 - 14)
Or as the New International Version has it:
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Paul warns against thinking we've got in made in God's eyes. We cannot be complacent, but must reach out and take hold of Christ, as He takes hold of us - a nice way of describing the covenant relationship required. It's a two way street - and we most certainly can let go and shake ourselves free of Christ. He won't force us to heaven, but begs us to come, follow Him, and offers us all that we need if only we'll accept Him and follow Him. And to follow Him is to "press toward the mark for the prize" that He offers. It's not a one-time decision, but one that requires us to endure in faith to the end (Matt. 24:13, Mark 13:13), that it might be said of us what was said of Abraham: "after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise" (Heb. 6:15).

And that brings us back to the effort and caution we must exercise if we are to escape the deceitful snares of the world that would lead us away from our relationship with Christ. Consider this passage from Paul in Hebrews 3:
12 Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
13 But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
He is speaking to his brethren, to people who already believe in Christ, but there is a risk that they can depart from the living God through the deceitfulness of sin. Part of the solution is the institution of the Church itself. We need each other to "exhort one another daily" to help us avoid sin and to help us keep the beginning of our faith firm until the end. Home teaching, visiting teaching, Sunday School, the Young Men's and Young Women's programs, Relief Society, Priesthood, seminary - are these the trappings of a brainwashing cult or the inspired components of the restored Church of Jesus Christ to help fulfill Paul's admonition about our need to strengthen each other in our journey on the path that leads to eternal life?

One of the most dangerous snares of the Adversary is sexual immorality. It is so harmful to families, to the relationships with the most precious and divine potential, to our own well-being and even health, and to our spirituality and relationship with God as we put the pleasures of the flesh above God. Peter's warnings on this topic in 2 Peter 2 are aimed at Christians, providing a sobering warning of the fall from grace that is possible if we do not shield ourselves from such sins:
14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children:
15 Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray....
18 For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.
19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.
20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.
21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
The message is clear: if we turn again to sin and abandon the way of righteousness, we will not be saved. We must turn to the Lord, seek His help in being delivered from temptation, and strive to follow the Spirit and not the lusts of the flesh as we endure in faith to the end. He gives us strength to do these things, if we will "apprehend" the helps by which he "apprehends" us.

The efforts of the Adversary have been stepped up dramatically to ensnare adults and young people in sin of all kinds. How grateful I am for the positive influence, the teachings, the guidance, and the resources that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers to my family to help us move forward on the path that brings joy and freedom. And that's what the Gospel is really all about: the Lord seeking to free us and to help us grow, that we might have joy, both in this life and the eternities to come.

7 comments:

Jayleen said...

Excellent post! I'd like to add another Scripture if I may. I was listening to the Round Table Discussions on BYUTV online (what a blessing!!!) and they referenced this Scripture which goes well with this discussion.

John 8:30-32

30)As he spake these words, many believed on him. 31) Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32) And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Tytus said...

Thank you, Jeff! What a breath of fresh air. In Sunday School / Sacrament Meeting / Stake Conference etc (single young adult ward) we have had talk after talk about "decide once that you'll never do [insert worldly activity here] and when you're confronted with it, you don't have to decide again!"

I sigh and silently shake my head at that notion, because while it is true that we can pre-determine our values and pre-conceptualize the person we want to be, at each fork in the road, we STILL MAKE CHOICES!

We are faced with the choice of adhering to what we previously determined to do/be, or we can choose to deviate from it. The idea of "make the choice now and you're home free" is real hogwash.

Living the Gospel implies and includes the process of continual choice and commitment. The sacrament is a perfect illustration of this. Didn't we already "choose once" to follow Christ at baptism?

God knows full well that we are "prone to wander" and "prone to leave the God [we] love", and that we are in constant need of strength and nourishment to continue to make right choices.

I wonder each time I hear that idea taught in Church (and sometimes even General Conference). The concept has great ideological merit, but in all practical senses has little to none.

When a young person is in the heat of the moment, faced with temptation, does anyone TRULY believe that a pre-made choice entirely eliminates any possibility of considering a deviation?

Of course, predetermination certainly can add persuasion and motivation, but the reality is that a choice DOES need to made at that point--regardless of what decisions have or havn't been made previously.

Anyway, I know this post is geared towards pointing out the fallacy of "once saved always saved," but I felt I should point out we have similar dangerous notions circulating internally.

NM said...

Jeff,

Thank you for this. What a FANTASTIC POST!

A thought I have been entertaining for the past few months is how un-real we can be when we go to church. It seems, we are too eager to put our Sunday masks on in order to hide who we truly are: broken, failures and in desperate need for the encouragement of others and the continuing grace of God.

If only we can get over this initial hurdle of shame; and actually realise that WE ALL FAIL, how much more real would church-living be! And what a beautiful sight, a broken people, who do nothing but to serve each other and always looking up to Him for help! =)

Again, thank you for the post! A challenge to us all to be real.

Mormanity said...

Some of the things that get preached are taken more from the motivational speakers and the realm of bizzy-pop (a term I coined to describe the business world phenomenon of pop psychology and jargon-drenched psycho-babble used to "communicate," motivate, and impress - or at least to keep the mouth of the speaker busy when there's an audience).

Bizzy-pop lets the speaker avoid heavy mental lifting, escape responsibility, sound like a leader, safely get head nods and applause, etc., without really saying or doing much. It's a key element not only in presentations, but especially in performance reviews. Heard a rumor about your employee? No need to figure out if it's true or do any inquiring. Nail him or her with this bizzy-pop favorite: "Perception is reality."

And "Just decide once" sounds great, but really falls more into the realms of bizzy-pop than meaningful guidance for the complexities of life. But it's better than most bizzy-pop fluff because it has some merit and could work in theory.

Hey, employees, let's just decide once and for all to be profitable! Let's just decide once to overwhelm the competition. And let's just decide once to pay corporate taxes.

Pops said...

NM - we have a word for what you're describing. It's "humility." It's also sometimes referred to as "a broken heart and a contrite spirit."

NM said...

Excellent words there Pops =)

Yes, there is that excellent verse in Isaiah 57 where God is stated for who He really is...Yet in His highly state, is VERY present with those who are humble and those with a contrite heart =)

Thank God! =D

Mr. Piper has a sermon entitled, "Are You Humble Enough to be Care-Free?". As ever, click on my username.

Lars said...

Tytus and Mormanity-- while I absolutely agree that making a decision beforehand is not the end of the story, isn't there still some value in it? If we didn't make decisions like these while our minds are clear, then wouldn't there be a greater risk that the temptation finds us in a moment of weakness, confusion, or discouragement? I can think of several ways in which we make commitments (e.g. marriage) based on the idea that we can promise to behave a certain way before really knowing what the circumstances will be. Maybe there's some way we can reword this concept in a way that we can agree on.