Are you being controlled by the subtlety of sin?

“Then let it see the Crystal Shard and destroy it,” Entreri remarked, and he felt a twinge then as Crenshinibon (the Crystal Shard) cried out.

“Why?” Jarlaxle asked suddenly, and Entreri recognized that his ever-opportunistic friend had heard that silent call.

“Why?” the assassin (Entreri) echoed, turning to regard Jarlaxle fully.

“Perhaps we are being premature in our planning,” Jarlaxle explained. “We know how to destroy the Crystal Shard now – likely that will be enough for us to use against the artifact to bend it continually to our will.”

Entreri started to laugh.

“There is truth in what I say, and a gain to be had in following my reasoning,” Jarlaxle insisted. “Crenshinibon began to manipulate me, no doubt, but now that we have determined that you, and not the artifact, are truly the master of your relationship, why must we rush ahead to destroy it? Why not determine first if you might control the item enough for our own gain?”

“Because if you know, beyond doubt, that you can destroy it, and the Crystal Shard knows that, as well, there may be no need to destroy it,” Entreri played along.

“Exactly!” said the now-excited dark elf.

“Because if you know you can destroy the crystalline tower, then there is no possible way that you will wind up with two crystalline towers,” Entreri replied sarcastically, and the eager grin disappeared from Jarlaxle’s black-skinned face in the blink of an astonished eye.

“It did it again.,” the drow remarked dryly.

“Same bait on the hook, and the Jarlaxle fish chomps even harder,” Entreri replied.

This is a scene from a fantasy book “Servant of the Shard” by R. A. Salvatore.  (Hang on with me, I promise I am going somewhere redeeming with this!)

There is a magical item, called Crenshinibon, or the Crystal Shard.  This is an evil item of great magical power, and a mind of its own.  Whoever possesses the item can use its power, but the Crystal Shard uses the promises of power and fame or whatever other weakness the wielder has to manipulate that person and bring him or her under its own control.

Earlier in the book it tried to work through Jarlaxle, making him do things he normally would not do because of the influence of the Crystal Shard.  Eventually he ends up making a crystalline tower, a powerful tower the Crystal Shard needs to make it stronger.

Jarlaxle, determined to be ruled by anything finally regains control, and goes to destroy the tower.  And he starts to succeed.  As the tower starts to fall he feels victorious over the object and then starts to think things.  “Now that I am in control I can destroy the tower whenever I want, so really there is no need to destroy it right this second.  In fact, two towers would be nice.”  Suddenly a second tower appears.

How temptation deceives us

These two events in the book, where Jarlaxle is wanting to destroy the tower and ends up with two towers, and then later on the way to destroy the Crystal Shard decides that you don’t really need to destroy it if you know you can destroy it, both remind me of temptations that we face.

How often have you been trapped in a sin, yet you believe that you have control of it?  You get to the point where you convince yourself that you can quit at any time, and of course since you are in control of when you can quit you decide not to quit.  Who is really in control there?

Just this once

Often times this appearance of control comes in the form of “just this once.”  You will compromise and commit this sin, just this one time.  How often has just this once turned into just one more time?

Anytime it comes to sin and temptation there is no room for compromise, no room for control at all.  The more you think you have control over your sin the more it really controls you.  You say you have control while it has you in chains preventing you from exercising that apparent control.

Joseph gives us the best example of how to deal with such temptation.  Flee.

But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside – Genesis 39:11-12

Sin has no place in the life of a Christian, no matter how small it may seem.  Finding ways to get away with sin, small or large, will end with sin sinking its hooks deeper into you.

Sure you quit looking at pornography for a day, so you can quit at any time, you convince yourself as you bring up more pictures on your computer.

Or one that has hit close to me, reading your Bible every day.

It is amazing the thoughts that go through my mind regarding the time I know I should spend in the Bible and praying.  I do great reading the Bible every day and then one day I miss it.  The next day I think to myself that I can start reading again at any time, but today is busy, so I will do it tomorrow instead.

The next thing I know a month has gone bye and my Bible has done nothing but collect dust.

You will come up with any excuse to not read your Bible and convince yourself that it is okay because you can start again at any time, yet you don’t.  Your mind will work over time to come up with excuses why it is okay to keep sinning, to keep speeding, look at pictures of pornography, curse, watch a movie you know you shouldn’t – just this once.  Yet if you were really in control of the situation you would have done the right thing in the first place.

Imagine a roller coaster, you are sitting in the car going along the track, with a steering wheel attached. You turn left just as the track turns left and the car goes left, so you think you are in control.  It is not until you try to turn right when the track turns left that you realize you have no control.

The BIble tells us that we cannot have two masters (Matthew 6:24), so we must choose.  Choose now to follow God and to repent of your sin. Do not play games to tempt yourself.  Flee all temptation, God will always give you a way out.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. – James 1:13-15

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. – 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

The next time you are debating not reading the Bible, thinking it is because you are choosing not to but can start again after lunch or tomorrow, think about how subtlety the sin will try to control you.

The next time you are thinking of continuing in that sin, whatever it may be, remember that you are not in control of it, but you can flee it.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*

Another season to focus on God!

This summer has been crazy with activities for the staff at ETM.  As you have noticed if you are following us on Twitter or Facebook, we had to take the summer off from writing articles, which we were sorry to have to do.

Life is not any less busy during the rest of the year, but most summer activities include a lot of breaks in the normal routine of things, making writing regularly difficult.  But that break is now over.

We have some awesome articles and book reviews coming in the next couple of weeks, so subscribe to our feed, follow us on Facebook, and keep an eye out for those.

Announcements

We are always trying to find ways to improve ETM so we are making a few changes to help move towards that goal.

Staff Down sizing

I hate to start out the announcements on a negative announcement, but that is just the way it goes sometimes.  Several of our staff members have too many commitments between family, school, other ministries, and other real life things to be able to focus much on ETM.  I commend the effort given by all of our staff members to date and welcome them back at any time if the Lord leads them.  Please keep them in your prayers during this busy season of their lives.  Also I ask that you would keep ETM in your prayers that we can continue with the shortage of staff, or that the Lord would bring staff members to help fill the shoes that are now left empty.

Article Frequency

With the fewer people writing articles we will now be releasing a new article every four to five days instead of every three to four.  We hope this schedule will still bring you plenty of quality, Biblical content and will encourage you in your relationship with God.

New Staff wanted!

Given this information it is obvious that we could use some help on staff.  If you have any experience in writing, or want experience in writing articles, we could use your help.  Not just writers either.  Gamers, editors, forum users, we want you all!  Check out the ETM Staff page to view the positions available and what the requirements are, then fill out our staff application to apply for the position.

We do not just want those who are the most experienced or who have the degrees.  Our main area of focus for staff members is first and foremost a dedication and love for God.  Without a daily relationship with Him this ministry is nothing.  Also we want people who are committed to ETM and want to see the ministry survive and thrive.

ETM Christian Gaming

There are several Christians who enjoy playing various online games together in a family-friendly environment that encourages Biblical discussions and pursuing God.  We know games are easy to get wrapped up in and sometimes want extra accountability to stay focused on Christ.  The Bible says “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)  This includes time spent playing games.

In response to this we want to setup a network of Christian guilds, to provide support and tools needed to run their guilds or servers while maintaining Christian accountability and a family friendly environment.

If you are interested in helping us out in this endeavor, please consider filling out an application.  This is a fairly new idea so you can be there and help from the ground up, and take a part in actually shaping how these guilds will work.

A Baby is Born!

The wife of one of our staff members, Sean, is about to give birth to their third child!  Congratulate them on their new bundle of joy and keep them in prayer as they make this transition in their life.

That is all of the announcements for now.  Stay tuned for some awesome and challenging articles that will be published on the site soon.  If you have a Twitter or Facebook account follow us! 🙂