Saturday, September 17, 2005

Why Christians Lose Their Peace & How to Get it Back

by Michael D. Jacobson, D.O.
(Prepared for the International Center for Biblical Counseling of Indiana)
Galatians 5:22 states, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering (patience in hard circumstances), gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance (self-control): against such there is no law."

Did you notice that one of the fruits of the Spirit is PEACE? Is your heart at complete peace? Or are your emotions up and down, better characterized by anxiety, worry, or, the more commonly used term nowadays: stress? If you answered 'yes' to the latter part of the question, then don't feel alone, That is the reality for many of today's Christians. In fact, anxiety and stress have characterized my personal life as well. That is, until the last few years...

I used to wonder why it was my emotions and character so often differed drastically from those which are listed as the fruit of the Spirit. This was despite the fact that I had been a Christian since my youth, had attended Bible college for two years, and, through Christ, had a personal relationship with my Heavenly Father, even seeking His face each day through prayer and Scripture.

I would read other passages, like Philippians 4:7, where it reads, "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." Or, Isaiah 26:3, which states, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee." There seemed to be such a difference between my personal state and that which was supposed to be my condition in Christ. Why?

Allow me to share what God used to change me and to allow me to experience the freedom in Christ which should have been mine all along. Perhaps it will be a help to you, too.

Seeing Life From God's Frame of Reference:
The Critical Need for a Renewed Mind

The book of Ephesians affirms that as believers in Jesus Christ, we are "blessed ... with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (1:3), we have "redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (1:7), and "exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe" (1:19). Furthermore, Ephesians 1:20-21 states that Christ is now seated at God's right hand "in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named...." Finally, Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (3:17) and with this foundation, we are encouraged to comprehend and know His incredible love, that we "might be filled with all the fullness of God" (3:18-19).

Now, may I ask you, "Does fear, anxiety, worry, panic, etc. characterize God?" Of course not. If it does not characterize God, how can it characterize someone in whom He dwells? Paul cautions us not to walk as the "Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:17-18). He tells us to "put off concerning the former conversation [manner of thinking and acting] of the old man ... and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and ... put on the new man" (4:22-24).

Here is the key to living the Christian life, to enjoying the freedom and power which it brings; we must be renewed in the spirit of our mind. 2Corinthians 10:4-5 says, "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."

This passage teaches us three critical points to our success:

1) We are not waging a war against people. In other words, the problem is not my rebellious child, or my angry husband, or my irritating wife, or my harsh boss, or my environment at home or work. No, our battle is against unseen powers.

2) This battle is largely waged in the mind, i.e. the thought life. I can expect that the primary struggles which I will face will be those in which I am tempted to think wrong thoughts. This does not just refer to wrong thoughts morally, but also to thoughts of anger, worry, doubt, questioning the motives of others, fear of the future, fear of loss, etc.

3) Finally, this battle for my thoughts is one which I can win, the weapons which I have are "mighty" and it is possible for me to have every thought I think brought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Wrong patterns of thinking are "spiritual strongholds."

We all know who the tempter is. He is also known as our adversary. In Ephesians 6:16, we learn that he sends "fiery darts" our way, What are fiery darts? You guessed it: wrong thoughts. So, for example, when we hear that we might have messed up at work and the thought comes to our mind, "I'm going to get fired. Where will we get the money to pay our bills?" where is that thought coming from? Often, that thought is a fiery dart from the adversary. How do we know this? Because it is tempting us to doubt the faithfulness and promises of God, i.e. it is contrary to Scriptural teaching.

Ed Silvoso, an Argentine Christian evangelist defines a stronghold as, "a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes me to accept as unchangeable something that is contrary to the will of God." A mindset is a pattern of thinking. And so, if I have a pattern of thinking which is inconsistent with God's revealed truth, it is a stronghold. And, as we saw earlier, the Christian has weapons of warfare which are stronger than these strongholds, and are capable of bringing these wrong patterns of thinking into obedience to Jesus Christ.

How are strongholds built?

As I stated earlier, wrong thoughts often come as a fiery dart from the tempter. Remember, Satan cannot control Christians. But he can influence them. This is why we are commanded to put on the spiritual armor and resist him (Ephesians 6; James 5). Ephesians 4:27 warns us "neither give place to the devil." The word place comes from a Greek word which can be translated several ways, including ground, but its basic meaning is one of "jurisdiction." In other words, don't give the devil a right to operate in your life! And that is exactly why many Christians are tormented with wrong patterns of thinking: they have given their adversary the right to bother them!

How? There are three basic areas in which He tempts us.

1) He tempts us to be bitter toward another. (Isn't it interesting that the warning against giving the devil a place follows immediately after the verse telling us not to let the sun go down on our anger?)

2) He tempts us to be morally impure.

3) He tempts us to be greedy, i.e. to allow temporal things and cares of the world to occupy our thoughts more than they ought (Ephesians 4:17-19).

ALL three have their root in self and pride. When we yield to Satan in any of these three basic areas, we give him the right to have influence in our life, i.e. we give him a place.

How to Find Freedom in Christ

Galatians 5:1 says, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Sad to say, most of my early Christian life was not characterized by this liberty. But I can say from experience that there is no greater joy in life than to walk in the freedom that Christ has already provided. Here are some basic steps which Biblical counselors have identified as necessary to take in restoring freedom:

1. Ask God to reveal to you any ways in which you may have given the adversary a jurisdictional place in your life. Have you responded to someone in bitterness? Is there or has there been moral impurity, including in your thought life? Do the cares of the world occupy your mind?

2. Once He shows you what it is, confess it to Him and repent. Note: I have found that in order to be free, I have usually needed to acknowledge this need for repentance in a discreet way with a trusted Christian, such as my spouse or pastor.

3. Ask God to forgive you of your Claim the shed blood of Christ as full payment. And thank the Lord once again for the forgiveness that is yours in Christ!

4. Ask God to reclaim the "ground" which you previously yielded to Satan.

5. Identify the wrong thought patterns which you have had. Identify and memorize Scriptures in which you can put your faith during times of testing, This is at the heart of putting on the spiritual armor discussed in Ephesians 6.

6. Consider studying additional resources on this important subject (see references below).

I will conclude by saying that this Fact Sheet is not intended to comprehensively treat the subjects of spiritual warfare, freedom in Christ or their relationship to mental and emotional stress. Furthermore, your understanding of these areas may differ from what I have just shared with you. Don't let that bother you. Instead, consider doing your own personal study, particularly of Scripture, into this very important subject. If you or a loved one need specific counseling in this area, we may be able to provide information on specific counselors.

I pray that "you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32).

Recommended References for Further Study:
Logan, James - Reclaiming Surrendered Ground (1995; Moodv Press, Chicago; ISBN 0-8024-3948-9)
Anderson, Neil - Bondage Breaker (1990; Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon; ISBN, 0-89081787-1) & Victory Over the Darkness (Regal Books)

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