Living in Reality
The Key to Building Life in the Spirit
Many people, even Christians, are not in touch with reality because of sin and our secular humanistic culture. Therefore, in the preface of this book, we consider four basic realities revealed by Christ. Then we focus on repentance from sin and total commitment to Jesus. The book concludes by showing how to build a new life and life-style in the Spirit through family relationships.
This book should ideally be taught in the context of Christian community rather than only read by individuals. At your request we will send you audio or video recordings (library loan) to prepare you to teach this book to a group.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
"Through Him (Jesus) the whole structure is fitted together and takes shape as a holy temple in the Lord; in Him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit." —Ephesians 2:21-22
Jesus and the Spirit are building the Church (Mt 16:18) and our lives into a masterpiece to the glory of the Father (1 Cor 3:9; see also Rm 15:2; 2 Cor 12:19). However, we are "living stones" (1 Pt 2:5) who may choose not to cooperate with the Master-Builder. In that case, our lives will be half-built houses (Lk 14:29) with a foundation of sand and will collapse under the pressure of the storms of life (Mt 7:26-27). We see this happening constantly as Christians fall apart or never seem to develop in their faith.
Unless we let "the Lord build the house" (Ps 127:1), our lives will not pass the test by fire on the final day. "That day will make its appearance with fire, and fire will test the quality of each man's work. If the building a man has raised on this foundation still stands, he will receive his recompense; if a man's building burns, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one fleeing through fire" (1 Cor 3:13-15). We don't want our lives on earth to be wasted, even if we make it safely to heaven through the burning rubble. However, to build our lives as an edifice of spirit to the Father's glory, we must face the basic realities of life.
"So I (Aaron) told them, 'Let anyone who has gold jewelry take it off.' They gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out." —Exodus 32:24
"If one of you decides to build a tower, will he not first sit down and calculate the outlay to see if he has enough money to complete the project?" —Luke 14:28
Facing reality is the key to health, maturity, and victory. A person who doesn't know his name or today's date is considered mentally ill. Children show their immaturity by the fact that they have trouble differentiating fantasy from reality. Alcoholics and drug addicts must face the reality that they are out of control and must ask for divine help. A marriage "on the rocks" will not be reconciled unless husband and wife each realistically admit they both are responsible for the problems in the marriage.
Although it's so important to be in touch with reality, we are afraid of reality. We call "fun" altering or losing our consciousness of reality, although escape from reality does nothing but perpetuate and worsen our problems. Facing reality, not escape from it, is the answer to our problems.
The following four realities must be accepted for us to be able to deal successfully with the problems of life.
a. HUMAN NATURE — Even if we want to do God's will, we cannot, unless we receive a new nature (1 Cor 2:14; Rm 7:18; 8:7). Without the new nature from Jesus, we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). Expecting a person with the old nature to have self-control and will-power is unrealistic. Therefore, we must put the old nature to death, bury it (Rm 6:3-4), and be born again into a new life with a new nature (Jn 3:3-5). We receive this new nature in Baptism, and we live it by faith in the Lord Jesus.
b. SATAN — Although sin, not Satan, is the cause of our problems, Satan makes matters worse (Rv 12:9). He has used our sins to build an international kingdom of evil. We cannot ignore Satan's existence and still make sense out of life. "Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above" (Eph 6:12).
c. ETERNITY — What time is it? Should we view our seventy or eighty years on earth as just a moment leading to eternity? Or "is that all there is?" Is there heaven and hell? (see Jn 5:29) To live realistically, we must know whether this earthly life is the end or the beginning.
d. JESUS' DIVINITY — Is Jesus Lord and God? (Jn 20:28) Is He the Way, the Truth, and the Life? (Jn 14:6) Or is He a blasphemer and a fool? Because Jesus claimed to be God, He must be either rejected or worshipped.
"What a wretched man I am! Who can free me from this body under the power of death? All praise to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" —Romans 7:24-25
Bishop Sheen maintained that the difference between a redeemed and unredeemed person is greater than the difference between a human being and a microscopic organism, such as an amoeba.
However, many people don't notice the need for a new nature. To help us recognize this need, the Lord has given us the written law of the Bible and the natural law of our hearts (Rm 2:15) to smoke out our sinful nature (Rm 7:7). When God's word tells us not to do something, we immediately want to rebel. When we're told to "just say 'no' " to alcohol, drugs, and sin, we feel like saying "yes" more than ever. The law rouses our evil desires (Rm 7:8), increases our offenses (Rm 5:20), and pushes sin to the limits of sinfulness (Rm 7:13). Law and order increase lawlessness and disorder. This is good in that it helps us see realistically how fallen is our old nature.
We think our nature is not fallen because we can do many good things and even overcome some temptations. However, Satan is just letting us win a few rounds to set us up for the slaughter. He deceives us into relying on our own will-power and then wipes us out when he wants to "play for keeps". Satan will also sometimes permit a "chain-exchange". For example, he will let us overcome alcoholism but make or keep us dependent on nicotine or caffeine. In effect, he lets us change cells but not get out of prison.
We do some good things. The devil lets us overcome a few temptations. We exchange chains. We even see believers who are in more bondage than unbelievers. This crossfire of lies and misconceptions gives us the impression that our old nature is not that bad. Nevertheless, to believe that we're "born free" is to deny reality and the need for the Savior. It is refusing to face the reality of world wars, mass abortions, Communism, consumerism, starvation, pornography, child-abuse, racism, violence, etc. Nice people don't make a world of sin, death, terror, and suffering. There's something drastically wrong with the world and with each and every human being. "Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action, and morals" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 407). We must face this reality.
"The huge dragon, the ancient serpent known as the devil or Satan, the seducer of the whole world, was driven out; he was hurled down to earth and his minions with him." —Revelation 12:9
To live in reality, we must realize both that baptized people have two natures and that we are not the only creatures. In addition to humans, there is a whole spirit-world. The Bible testifies to this in numerous references. Cultures throughout the world and throughout history likewise unanimously maintain the existence of angels, Satan, and demons. The Church teaches: "Evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the evil one, the angel who opposes God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2851).
Satan and his demons have revolted against God, lost their place in heaven, and now are trying to seduce us into joining a rebellion that has already been defeated (Rv 12:7-9). Our battle is against these demons and not against people (Eph 6:12). "The whole of man's history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil (The Church in the Modern World, Vatican II, 37, quoted in the Catechism, 409).
Although these fallen angels are far superior to us, we have power, authority, and victory over them because of our relationship with Jesus (Mt 10:1). We can attack the gates of hell, which cannot prevail against us (Mt 16:18). We can drive out, disarm, and despoil Satan (Mk 16:17; Lk 11:22). By Jesus' power in us (1 Jn 4:4), we can bring down Satan's strongholds, sophistries, and proud pretensions (2 Cor 10:4). We can quickly crush him (Rm 16:20), make a public show of him (Col 2:15), and put him beneath Jesus' feet and ours as well (Heb 10:13).
We overpower Satan by wielding various spiritual weapons by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 10:4).
- We command Satan to leave or to be bound.
- Proclaiming the truth of God's word unmasks Satan's lies.
- Praising the Lord disturbs Satan and he runs away.
- Proclaiming the name of Jesus reminds Satan of the One Who conquered him.
- Pleading the blood of Jesus brings back bad memories for Satan, covers us with protection, and washes away our sins.
- & 7. Praying and fasting are the only ways to drive out some demons (Mt 17:21). "Jesus Himself has shown us by His own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil" (The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul II, 100).
Many human experiences will never be explained unless we recognize the reality of 1) Satan's existence and 2) his conspiracy against us. We will not have a free and victorious life unless we know 3) we're in a war, 4) who the enemy is, 5) our authority over that enemy, and 6) our spiritual weapons. All these realities must be seen in the context of the ultimate reality of 7) Jesus Christ's total, irreversible victory over the kingdom of darkness through His death and resurrection.
"Those who have done right shall rise to live; the evildoers shall rise to be damned." —John 5:29
People who are baptized have two natures. There are other creatures besides human beings and so much more to creation than our planet, earth. But there's even so much more to the so much more. More than the galaxies, universe, the quasars light-years away, there are other places, namely: heaven and hell, not to mention purgatory. Also, there's much more time than our life-time of seventy or eighty years or even more time than our universe's moment in God's eternal plan. In fact, time will be replaced by no time, into never-ending eternity. These time and space realities should change our perspective radically and help us to value this short time on earth as the opportunity to make the all-important decision to live for Jesus. Our few years on earth are a stepping-stone into the eternity of heaven or hell.
In our secular humanistic society many lightly dismiss heaven and hell. They may not directly deny them but don't think about them much. This attitude is just plain stupid. Either heaven and hell are two of the most important realities of all reality, or they are a hoax and should be strongly rejected. Somebody is monumentally wrong — either the secular humanistic or the orthodox Christian.
"My Lord and my God!" —John 20:28
Just as we should totally accept or violently reject heaven and hell, so must we worship Jesus as God or reject Him as a blasphemer or fool. Because Jesus clearly claimed to be God in the Scriptures, He cannot be just a good human being. He's either God or a liar.
Jesus maintained He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Jn 14:6). He said we can't do anything without Him (Jn 15:5). He's the only Shepherd of the sheep, and only in His name can we be saved (Acts 4:12). He's the one and only Master and Lord of every person (Jude 4). He's the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rv 19:16). At His name, every knee must bend and every tongue proclaim: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! (Phil 2:11) He is worthy to receive the same worship as the heavenly Father. "Worthy is the Lamb That was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and praise!" (Rv 5:12) Jesus is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega (Rv 1:8, 17). "In Him everything continues in being" (Col 1:17). "Through Him all things came into being, and apart from Him nothing came to be" (Jn 1:3). The primacy is "His in everything" (Col 1:18). He is the only Way to the Father (Jn 14:6) and the Baptizer in the Spirit (Mk 1:8). Therefore, if Jesus' claims are true, He must be the Center of our attention in every situation, or we are out of touch with reality.
"The weapons of our warfare are not merely human. They possess God's power for the destruction of strongholds." —2 Corinthians 10:4
These four realities — our natures, Satan, eternity, and Jesus' divinity — must overshadow every aspect of our lives. The most important thing in the world is to receive the new nature in Jesus and to live in that nature by faith, obedience, and repentance. In our culture, most people have received the new nature. However, because we have sinned, we go back to living in the old nature. We must lead people to Christ, or back to Christ and away from sin, to the "baptism of repentance" (Mk 1:4), to radical conversion.
When we repent and come to Christ, we think we can build a holy temple for the Lord right next to the abandoned building of our old life. However, the Lord says the old strongholds must be demolished first. Just as God commanded the prophets of old to call for the destruction of the pagan shrines, sacred poles, and images of idols (see 2 Kgs 23), so must we destroy those things Satan has built up in our lives. Our bodies can not be both God's temple and the devil's stronghold. "After all, what do righteousness and lawlessness have in common, or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What accord is there between Christ and Belial, what common lot between believer and unbeliever? Tell me what agreement there is between the temple of God and idols. You are the temple of the living God" (2 Cor 6:14-16).
Example: Kurt thought he could be a Christian without significantly changing his friends and life-style. He was wrong. The wine skin of his old life-style burst and the new wine of the Spirit was lost (Lk 5:37).
"These are the sins which provoke God's wrath. Your own conduct was once of this sort, when these sins were your very life." —Colossians 3:6-7
When we bring one sin into our lives, we breed other sins and promote all kinds of evil. Certain sins become the "center of attraction" instead of Jesus. Satan builds around these sins and erects strongholds for his glory (2 Cor 10:4). Therefore, we need not only to repent of sin but most importantly to repent of the sin-center. If we don't repent of our sin-center, our growth in the Lord will constantly be interrupted. We will always seem to be starting over. Jesus came to pull out the sin-center, demolish Satan's strongholds, and then rebuild our lives to God's glory. Common sin-centers are unforgiveness (especially toward family members), pride, self-hatred, and greed.
You have probably heard the expression "blind obedience". However, disobedience is more blind and blinding than obedience. When we sin, we become progressively blind to sin. The Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to break through our spiritual blindness, hardened hearts, and entrenched rebellion. He convicts the world about sin, justice, and condemnation (Jn 16:8). Oftentimes, the Spirit raises up people to use His gifts, such as prophecy, knowledge, encouragement, intercession, or healing. In this way, He takes us to Calvary and shows us the direct connection between our sins and Jesus' sufferings and death. At the cross, we make a definitive break with sin. We are crucified to the world and the world to us (Gal 6:14). We are baptized in repentance (Mk 1:4) and in the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11). We repent not superficially but go to the very heart of our sinfulness.
Example: George had a problem with drinking too much. This was caused by and was the cause of his marriage problems. In addition to this, he was an irresponsible father and worker. He spent little time with his kids and had a bad job record. George turned to Jesus and was able to control his drinking for a while, but still was a neglectful father. Six months later, he went back on the bottle. The Holy Spirit inspired George's employer to repeatedly encourage George to forgive his father. George was free from his drinking problem when he repented of his sin-center, unforgiveness for his father.
"Everyone, however, must be careful how he builds. No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely Jesus Christ." —1 Corinthians 3:10-11
When we face reality and the Spirit leads us to repent of our sin-center, the devil's strongholds are destroyed. We can begin building "an edifice of Spirit" for God's glory (1 Pt 2:5). We assume most Christians have a strong foundation in Jesus, but this is often a false assumption. "The man who claims, 'I have known Him,' without keeping His commandments, is a liar; in such a one there is no truth" (1 Jn 2:4). How many Christians see their lives fall apart because their foundation is on the shifting sands of self rather than on the solid Rock of Jesus? (Mt 7:24-27) We must face the reality that many Christians are not committed to Christ.
Many Christians have never been presented with the full gospel of Jesus' lordship. They have never been challenged to make the radical decision of laying down their lives to follow Jesus. They have only received the candy-coated "prosperity gospel." Some groups present a prosperity gospel by promising earthly blessings; others offer the ultimate prosperity of heaven. However, Jesus did not appeal to people in this way, although there are many earthly and heavenly blessings in the Christian life (Lk 9:57ff). To win "cheap" conversions, many preachers have not emphasized the suffering, persecution, the sacrifice "which the gospel entails" (2 Tm 1:8). Therefore, there are many so-called "Christians," but few who have sold everything to buy the precious pearl of God's kingdom (Mt 13:46). We need to be more like Joshua and John the Baptizer (Jos 24:19; Mt 3:8). When they heard people making commitments to God, they did not readily believe it. Instead, they asked the people if they were really serious and challenged them to give evidence of their commitment.
If Jesus is not Lord of all, He's not Lord at all. Christianity is all or nothing. We must commit ourselves to Jesus on His terms, and His terms are expressed by the cross. Almost everyone is willing to give 95% of his life to God. But a true Christian gives that one thing that's hardest to let go of.
Example: Rod thought he had given his life to Jesus but actually had only committed himself to going to heaven. This lack of commitment to Jesus surfaced in Rod's refusal to pray daily and to share his faith with others.
"The load carriers, too, were armed; each did his work with one hand and held a weapon with the other." —Nehemiah 4:11
When we are "sold out" to Jesus as the Foundation (1 Cor 3:11), Cornerstone (Ps 118:22), and Capstone of our lives (Eph 3:20), the Spirit "confirms" this foundation (2 Cor 1:21) by pouring upon us love (Eph 4:16) and gifts that "build up" the Church (1 Cor 14:12). Just as the Spirit tore down the old building of sin, so He builds up the new building for Christ.
Because of the Holy Spirit's power, it seems as if it will be easy and quick to build our lives for Jesus, but there are complications which we must face realistically. Satan is trying to undermine our efforts. We are rebuilding, as Nehemiah did, with one hand holding a tool and the other a weapon. We are simultaneously building and defending. We are both carpenters and soldiers.
The devil's first tactic in sabotaging the work of God is to get us to deny reality by denying that he exists. If we're not foolish enough to fall for this, he tries to convince us to choose him over Jesus. He bribes, threatens, and manipulates us. If we resist these temptations, Satan may bring a number of things into our lives that appear neutral — neither for Satan nor for God. This is a lie. Everything that is not for God may be drafted into being a part of the devil's kingdom of darkness. Only those who enlist into Jesus' army can be sure of not being drafted into Satan's army. "You must realize that, when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one you obey, whether yours is the slavery of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to justice" (Rm 6:16).
The Lord repeatedly warns us against the myth of neutrality: "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Lk 11:23). "No man can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be attentive to one and despise the other. You cannot give yourself to God and money" (Mt 6:24). (See also 1 Jn 2:15; Jn 15:19; Jas 4:4.)
Example: Sal seemed very committed to the Lord and then he would revert to being a Sunday-only Catholic. This happened several times over a period of years. When his TV broke and he didn't get it fixed, Sal finally maintained his Christian commitment.
"Lust indulged starves the soul." —Proverbs 13:19
The devil tries to fill our life-style with "neutral" things which are subtly yet militantly opposed to the work of God. A life-style polluted with "neutral" things saddens and stifles the Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thes 5:19), and chokes the growth of God's word (Mk 4:18-19). In many places, God's work has been stopped or almost stopped because of the devil's infiltration under the guise of a life-style, which has become a death-style.
A life-style of indulging in carnal desires results in losing our appetite for the things of God. "The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; the two are directly opposed" (Gal 5:17). The flesh will gradually put to death our desire for prayer, God's word, Holy Communion, and Christian community. Our life-style can make us spiritually anorexic. We starve to death spiritually, and starving people don't have the strength to work. Pope John Paul II has taught: "In a word, we can say that the cultural change which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new life-style" (The Gospel of Life, 98).
Example: Rico is smoking more and praying less. He used to love to go to church several times a week. Now it's only a Sunday obligation.
"With closest custody, guard your heart."—Proverbs 4:23
To prevent Satan from outwitting us (2 Cor 2:11), we must realize that nothing is neutral and that Satan is not above lacing our sensory experiences with poison and spirit-altering foreign substances. We must protect our eyes and ears spiritually much more than we do physically. We live in the noisiest world in the history of the human race. Never have so many words been said and written. Through TV, movies, and videos, our eyes are bombarded with visual images in an experiment unprecedented in human history. Modern advertising has pushed this sensory barrage to the ultimate intensity.
If we don't retreat from sensory bombardment, it's very unlikely we will be able to screen out all the harmful elements of our mass media culture. Sensory bombardment almost always results in a polluted life-style and eventually spiritual anorexia, spiritual starvation, and the stopping, or at least diminishing, of God's work. A Christian should be "stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed, closing his eyes lest he look on evil—He shall dwell on the heights, his stronghold shall be the rocky fastness, his food and drink in steady supply" (Is 33:15-16). Only when we close our eyes and ears to evil, can we receive our spiritual "food and drink in steady supply."
We must forever live with those things we allow to enter into our hearts through our senses. We can discharge the waste products from eating food, but there is no exit for our thoughts, ideas, and images (see Mt 15:17-20). These things stay for life in our hearts, both in our consciousness and sub-consciousness (see Prv 18:8), unless we let Jesus surgically remove them by a major operation. So when we see, hear, or touch something, we should ask ourselves if we want these experiences and their repercussions "till death do we part".
The Lord has given us His "own peace, which is beyond all understanding" to stand guard over our "hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:7). The Lord's peace, that is, God's order for our lives, is a perfect guard which does not admit anything into our hearts except what is sent by God. However, sometimes we "disturb the peace" because we have already been warped into having the wrong values. Whether something is admitted into our hearts depends on whether we treasure it. "Wherever your treasure lies, there your heart will be"
(Lk 12:34). We don't "value the things that really matter" (Phil 1:10), and so we let the wrong things enter our hearts. This begins a vicious cycle: wrong treasures — entry of evil into the heart — evil heart — spiritual anorexia — spiritual starvation — stopping God's work — wrong treasures, etc.
Example: Kim woke up to her radio alarm clock. The first thing she did in the morning was to turn on the TV. Then she jogged while listening to music on her walk-man. Kim went on a silent retreat. At first, she was shocked. After two days, however, she experienced God's presence for the first time in a long time.
"A clean heart create for me, O God." —Psalm 51:12
"Cleanse me from my unknown faults!" —Psalm 19:13
"His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." —2 Kings 5:14
Before showing how the devil will try to pollute our hearts through sexual temptations, we must interrupt this teaching to proclaim that there is hope in Jesus—even for those who have accumulated garbage in their hearts for years. When we face the reality that nothing is neutral and exposure to sensory bombardment is spiritual suicide, we may feel that it's too late. Even if we stop the flow of garbage into our lives, we already have so much junk accumulated in our consciousness and sub-consciousness that we feel doomed. Our hearts inevitably belch up pollution which will make us spiritually sick, anorexic, starved, and unable to work for God. We must stop this vicious cycle by asking Jesus to do surgery and remove all the spiritual cancer from our hearts.
Before every surgery there is a diagnosis. Compulsive behavior is often symptomatic of the kind of operation needed. We should ask when the compulsive behavior began and seek the Lord for the source of smoking, drinking (alcohol, pop, coffee), over-eating, masturbation, TV and video watching, gambling (playing the lottery), depression, worry, gossip, profanity, and violence. Most compulsions are at least partially derived from these catalysts:
- UNFORGIVENESS—"Then in anger the master handed him over to the torturers until he paid back all that he owed. My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart" (Mt 18:34-35).
- JEALOUSY—"From that day on, Saul was jealous of David. The next day an evil spirit from God came over Saul, and he raged in his house" (1 Sm 18:9-10).
- GREED—"The love of money is the root of all evil. Some men in their passion for it have strayed from the faith, and have come to grief amid great pain" (1 Tm 6:10).
- FEAR (of death, failure, pain, etc.)—"Jesus likewise had a full share in ours, that by His death He might rob the devil, the prince of death, of his power, and free those who through fear of death had been slaves their whole life long" (Heb 2:14-15).
- SELF-HATRED—"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:39).
"My son, with humility have self-esteem; prize yourself as you deserve. Who will acquit him who condemns himself? Who will honor him who discredits himself?" (Sir 10:27-28)
- JUDGING—"If you want to avoid judgment, stop passing judgment. Your verdict on others will be the verdict passed on you. The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you" (Mt 7:1-2). (See also Jas 4:11; Rm 2:1; Rm 14:10; 1 Cor 4:4-5.)
These are some of the major operations Dr. Jesus performs. He does all of them by His sovereign power. There's nothing we can do. We are as helpless as a patient on the operating table. But, like all patients, we must have faith in our doctor, Dr. Jesus, and give Him permission to operate. Unlike most medical patients, we are not anesthetized for the operation but called to express our faith in action. All the operations require us to obey the Lord. Most operations call for repentance, confession of our sins, and prayer. Sometimes, Dr. Jesus will tell us to fast, change our life-style, and/or go to Confession. Some of the operations have special procedures. For example, fear of man is replaced by fear of the Lord, faith in Jesus, and love in the Spirit (Sir 34:14; Lk 8:50; 1 Jn 4:18). But whatever the problem, the Lord can cleanse the temple of our bodies and give us new hearts, if we have faith enough in Dr. Jesus to obey "Doctor's orders".
Example: Rick was told by a priest that masturbation was all right. He was trapped in this sin for several years. Although he worked in several capacities at his church, he lacked motivation and creativity. None of his projects had any significant lasting effects. After repenting of self-hatred and receiving Jesus' victory over masturbation, Rick worked with a renewal program that had a profound impact on his church.
"You must know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, Who is within — the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own." —1 Corinthians 6:19
Although the Lord can remove any foreign matter from our hearts, He does not want us to need major surgery every day. Rather, He calls us to resist temptation and refuse entry to evil. Sexual sins are often the way Satan gets us to open up not only to lust but also to many other evils, such as self-hatred, compulsiveness, anxiety, and apathy. These evils and many other evils are unrecognized extras in the package of sexual sin. What we treasure, we let enter our hearts, and for many, sexual experience is treasured as a god (see Lk 12:34). Therefore, the devil can unload a lot of garbage in us as long as he drives it into our hearts in a truck marked "SEX." He has other ways of smuggling garbage into our hearts but sexual sins are his principal approach by far. Consequently, if we do not overcome sexual temptations, we will have evil hearts, spiritual anorexia, spiritual starvation, and the stopping of God's work. Spiritual anorexia is a sexually transmitted disease.
We must face the reality that overcoming sexual temptation is tactical. If we win this battle, we're marching to victory. If we lose, we're retreating before the enemy. That's why the Bible refers to the belt around the waist (or sexual organs) as the first part of the Christian's armor (Eph 6:14). This helps us understand why Jesus said it's better to cut out our eyes than look at someone lustfully (Mt 5:28-29). This attitude is not a cultural hang-up (1 Thes 4:8) but is necessary to enter God's kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-10; Eph 5:5-6). Paul asserted that it was out of place even to mention "lewd conduct or promiscuousness or lust of any sort" (Eph 5:3). Overcoming sexual temptation is that important.
We are protected from sexual temptations by the truth around our loins. Truth here does not mean accurate information but faithful relationships. We use the expressions "be true to me" or "a true friend." To be pure, we must have a faithful relationship with Jesus the Truth, Who will set us free (Jn 8:32). We also need committed relationships in our natural family and our church family. These true relationships help us have the right treasures and refuse to admit into our hearts lust and other things "dressed up" in sexual temptations.
(For more information, see our booklet, The Bible on Sex.)
Example: For years, Harry had exposed himself to pornography by watching certain prime-time TV shows. He gradually developed a deep, subconscious self-hatred. Harry converted to Jesus and asked Jesus to cleanse him. He no longer has so many temptations to sexual fantasies, and he loves himself.
"Let no one deceive you with worthless arguments. These are sins that bring God's wrath down on the disobedient; therefore have nothing to do with them." —Ephesians 5:6-7
The Bible maintains that, if we are truly committed to Jesus and His people, we will be victorious over sexual temptation. This may all sound "too good to be true" because the devil complicates matters. For example, masturbation sometimes seems to defy the power of prayer. Many Christians pray to overcome this temptation, but continue to masturbate. The prayer, in this case, is not totally sincere. Many ask God for grace to overcome temptation because they know they should, but deep down they don't want the grace, at least not wholeheartedly. Therefore, they must first pray to want the grace and then, when they sincerely desire it, they will accept it and overcome the temptation to masturbate.
Sometimes it seems impossible to resist looking at pornography and to overcome homosexual temptations. Often in these sins, especially if they are habitual, there is need for deliverance from the devil. Until this is recognized, extensive counseling and healing will have little positive effects.
Another devastating complication in the area of sexual sin is the bonding with the sex partner in sexual relations (1 Cor 6:15-16). In marriage, this bonding is a great blessing, but sexual bonding due to relations outside of marriage (including premarital sex and homosexual relations) is a curse. Those so bonded are joined to their partners not by God but by themselves in rebellion against God. They are usually bonded to several people who are, in a spiritual sense, simultaneously pulling them in many different directions. This problem is often experienced as unpredictable tension. Only Jesus can break these sexual bonds after we remove their cause by confessing the sin of sexual relations outside of marriage. This will free us to live a pure life unencumbered by past sins.
Artificial birth control, especially by taking "the pill," also complicates matters and leads us to doubt whether our relationship with Jesus the Truth sets us free. Besides eroding our faith, the use of "the pill" results in confusion. "The pill" commonly used prevents conception less than 96% of the time and implantation more than 4% of the time. Prevention of implantation is abortion, but those taking "the pill" don't know they've aborted a child. Many couples have four children but think they have only two children—and what they don't know does hurt them. There are missing pieces in their lives, making it impossible for them to "get their lives together." Despite the confusion, the Lord can reveal how many children are in the family. Then, the parents can name the children, ask for God's and the children's forgiveness, and put the children in God's hand.
Finally, many people in our society have been sterilized through tubal ligations or vasectomies. This is an ecological catastrophe for each person. The intricate interrelationships of their minds, emotions, spirits, bodies and relationships to others are severely disrupted. Contrary to popular opinion, many times sterilization can be reversed. Reversal is the best way to restore or protect their physical, psychological, and spiritual health. Contact the Couple to Couple League for more scientific information about sterilization and its reversal. (See the address below.) While waiting for the reversal or, if a reversal is not possible, practicing natural family planning in your marital relations can help restore some order to your life, body, and marriage.
(For more information on reversing sterilization or "the pill" as an abortifacient, write: Couple to Couple League, PO Box 111184, Cincinnati, Ohio 45211. For more information on other sexual matters, see our pamphlets: Sexual Sin, Abortion, and the Pill; Oral Sex in Marriage; Birth Control; and our book, The Bible on Sex.)
Example: Sandra had been in counseling for years. Although she wasn't as depressed as before, she still felt that something was blocking her personal growth. Five different counselors worked with her but to no avail. Finally, a Christian friend asked if she had ever taken birth control pills. In prayer, Sandra felt she had aborted a child in her seven years of taking the pill. She named this child Theresa and asked the Lord's and Theresa's forgiveness. Sandra now has blossomed into a self-assured, happy, and holy person.
"Through Him the whole body grows, and with the proper functioning of the members joined firmly together by each supporting ligament, builds itself up in love." —Ephesians 4:16
Do you remember Nehemiah's description of the soldiers fighting with one hand and defending with the other? We have taught about defending against Satan, sin, spiritual garbage, anorexia, starvation, and the sabotage of God's work. Now we can get back to building. We build up the body of Christ in love (see note below). We grow in love primarily by building our family relationships according to God's order.
There are four major relationships for the human person:
- brother-sister (sister-sister, brother-brother)
These are listed in order. One leads to the other. Without a good child-parent relationship, we don't know what it is to receive love (1 Jn 4:19). Without brother-sister relationships in the blood family and the church family, we don't know how to give love. Everyone is called to have these two relationships, and most people are called to have the two other relationships of being a spouse and a parent. These relationships are realities of fundamental importance.
Example: Cindy and Brad felt they were well-prepared for marriage. After the wedding, however, their relationship deteriorated and they were divorced in fifteen months. Through prayerful counseling, Cindy realized that she had married Brad not to have a husband, but a father. Her father had divorced her mother when Cindy was four years old. When Cindy forgave her father and received healing, she was reconciled with Brad.
Note: We also build up the body of Christ by using our spiritual gifts for ministry (1 Cor 14:3-4) and by equipping others to use their gifts for ministry (Eph 4:11-12). This is not treated here, but in our book, Seek the Gifts of the Spirit.
" 'Honor your father and mother' is the first commandment to carry a promise with it — 'that it may go well with you, and that you may have long life on the earth.' " —Ephesians 6:2-3
After our relationship with the Lord, the most fundamental relationship is that of honoring our fathers and mothers. Our child-parent relationship needs to be as strong as possible. No matter what our age, we must honor and love our parents. We must ask mom and dad to forgive us, and we should forgive them for even the greatest hurts. We should try to pray with them regularly in some way, even if for only a moment. No matter how old we are, we should seek the guidance of our parents, give them prime-time, and openly tell them we love them. Even if our parents are not completely open to us, we must by God's power love them unconditionally. If one or both parents are dead, we should talk to Jesus and ask Him to reconcile any difficulties between us and our deceased parents. If we have been deprived of full parenting, we need to ask the Lord to lead people into our lives to father or mother us (see Rm 16:13). We must be parented if we are to be part of building God's kingdom.
Example: When her mother was confined to a nursing home, Sandy visited her several times a week for two years. During this time, the Lord gave Sandy a new life in the Spirit.
"The way we came to understand love was that He laid down His life for us; we too must lay down our lives for our brothers." —1 John 3:16
A good or reconciled relationship with our parents will build us up enough to reach out and love others. Then we can truly be brothers and sisters, and begin being community, Church, and the people of God. In brotherhood and sisterhood, we receive and give respect, affection, encouragement, and strength. We begin to grow deeply, use our spiritual gifts, and become ministers of the gospel. We learn to love unconditionally, to love enemies, and to give without counting the cost. When we learn to be brothers and sisters, we become more mature human persons and true servants of Jesus. We move from being self-centered to other-centered.
We must have brotherhood and sisterhood in our natural family and church family. Without this, we don't know how to live or to love, and we probably won't have the human development to discern or live out a calling to the single life in the Lord, marriage, or parenting. We must let our elder Brother Jesus teach us to be brothers and sisters in the Lord. (For more information on brotherhood, sisterhood, the single life for the Lord, marriage, and family see our book, Who Am I In Christ?)
Example: In three years, Jonathan thought of marrying three different girls. Each time, the relationship broke up. Jonathan decided to give up dating for a year to devote himself to entering a Christian community. After this year, he married. Several brothers and sisters in the Lord celebrated with him at the wedding Mass.
"They are no longer two but one flesh." —Matthew 19:6
After developing as a person and as a Christian by honoring our parents and laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in a position to hear and answer calls from God, including the call to marriage. The marriage relationship is the sign of Christ's love for the Church (Eph 5:31-32), a sign of unconditional love. In marriage, two people are miraculously and irreversibly joined as one flesh by God Himself. This marriage bond is a major element in building up the body of Christ in love (Eph 4:16). As marriage goes, so goes the family. As family goes, so goes the Church, the family of families. Without God-loving parents, children either don't develop as persons and Christians, or do so with exceptional difficulty. Good marriages hold the key to evangelization and building God's kingdom.
As a couple draws closer to God, they draw closer to each other. This begins with the total commitment to Jesus and is fostered by prayer together. Jesus promises: "Again I tell you, if two of you join your voices on earth to pray for anything whatever, it shall be granted you by My Father in heaven" (Mt 18:19). "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in their midst" (Mt 18:20). A couple should pray together daily, with the husband taking the lead (1 Tm 2:8). Even praying the "Our Father" daily together is better than no prayer at all. This daily prayer as a couple is so powerful in building God's kingdom that the devil makes it extremely and unusually difficult. However, God's grace is always sufficient (2 Cor 12:9).
Example: According to a study done in 1985, almost 50% of marriages in the USA resulted in divorce. Of the couples that went to church together every Sunday, only 2% became divorced. Furthermore, only one couple out of 1,105 were divorced if they prayed as a couple regularly at home.
"Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church. He gave Himself up for her." —Ephesians 5:22, 25
The Lord builds marriages through the wife's submission and the husband's love. Wives are to cheerfully and supportively obey their husbands, especially in what may be or seem to be stupid matters. Of course, wives are not to do anything immoral in obedience to their husbands. Rather they must obey God. Of course, anyone can be submissive concerning things they agree with. So submission to a husband is tested in things which are or look stupid to the wife.
Submission is an act of faith in God and His order. Submission builds up both husband and wife. Only strong women can be truly submissive. For example, Jesus' submission on the cross was a monumental act of strength. Through their wives' submission, husbands are challenged to grow. The responsibility is squarely placed on the husbands' shoulders. Bearing this weight of responsibility builds up husbands and turns boys into strong men of God.
The husband's sacrificial love also is upbuilding. When a husband sacrifices his time, money, and pleasure for his wife's physical health, inner peace, and spiritual growth, the wife feels cherished, secure, and held in loving respect. This immensely builds up her self-esteem. The husband also accelerates his spiritual growth through the sacrificial discipline of laying down his life for his wife.
This teaching on submission and love may leave you depressed, because your marriage is out of order, and you think it's too late. But the Lord can do the impossible. All you need do is obey Him. You should do what you're called to do, no matter what your spouse is doing. If your marriage is out of order, don't compensate by playing two roles; instead, be even more careful to do only what the Lord has assigned you (see 1 Cor 3:5).
Wives, if your husbands are not leading you in prayer and parenting the children, be submissive. Don't enable them to be irresponsible by taking over for them. Don't lead, no matter how much you have to suffer. If your husbands are lacking in faith in some way, love them unconditionally (see 1 Pt 3:1-6), "for love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pt 4:8).
Husbands, if your wives are lacking in faith and submission, love them sacrificially. As servants, exercise your God-given authority. Be firm; show your wives respect (1 Pt 3:7). The Lord will confirm your authority and speak to their hearts.
Example: Mary had a promising career in education. She did not understand or accept the Biblical teaching on submission. Her husband, Larry, agreed with her. However, their marriage was marred by repeated frustrations, and the parenting of their children showed signs of major problems. Mary heard the Biblical teaching on submission. She and Larry turned over their lives to the Lord. They accepted God's order for their marriage. The Lord renewed their marriage, and their children returned to Him and His Church.
"Bring them up with the training and instruction befitting the Lord." —Ephesians 6:4
The Lord works through our family relationships in a unique way to build His kingdom. Children are built up in Christ by relating properly to their parents. Parents are built up by discipling their children. Children are created to drive their parents either crazy or holy. Kids have a way of pushing parents to the limit.
Parents' first responsibility in discipling their children is to love them into obedience. God gives special promises to children who obey (Eph 6:2-3; Dt 28:1-14). Parents can raise their children to honor them by praying with the children, caring for their needs, and disciplining them without crushing their spirits (Col 3:21).
Parents should disciple their children as if they were Joseph and Mary raising Jesus (Eph 6:4). They should rescue their children from danger as Joseph snatched Jesus from Herod's clutches (Mt 2:14-15). They should protect their children from the evils of our culture as perpetrated through mass media and peer pressure.
The Spirit is inspiring many Christian parents to home-school their children. The Lord calls for this not only when schools are bad but even in relatively good conditions. God gives parents a special anointing with their children. This anointing is so great that even professional teachers cannot compare with it. Parents are the primary educators of their children, and schools at best are helpers to parents.
(See our pamphlets, There's No Place Like Home-Schooling and How to Get Your Kids to Go to Church and Go to Heaven.)
Example: Ann and Harry's two oldest children dropped out of church after graduating from Catholic high school. Because of this, Ann and Harry decided to home-school the two youngest children. It's been ten years since that decision and these younger children are living for the Lord and leading in their parish.
"I have come for division. From now on, a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three." —Luke 12:51-52
The Biblical revelation on parenting often evokes depression because so many families are out of order. But it's not too late.
If Satan has robbed you of your children and robbed them of their faith, then Jesus, Who is stronger than Satan the strong man, can despoil the devil and return your children (Is 49:24-26; Lk 11:22). No matter how lost your children are, the Lord has promised: "My Spirit Which is upon you and My words that I have put into your mouth shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children nor the mouths of your children's children from now on and forever" (Is 59:21).
Persevere in prayer. Be a St. Monica. Continue to exercise your parental authority with love, even if your children are rebellious. Things will probably get worse before they get better. Don't be discouraged; Jesus came for division, to dismantle your family so He can put it back together in right order (Lk 12:51ff). (See our pamphlet, Leading Your Loved Ones to Christ.)
If you are struggling with parenting because you are a single parent, don't look at a second marriage as your only alternative, but open up to Christian community. You can't be both father and mother, but the Lord is encouraging others to help you. He promises them: "To the fatherless be as a father, and help their mother as a husband would; thus will you be like a son to the Most High, and He will be more tender to you than a mother" (Sir 4:10). Help is on the way. Trust in the Lord.
Example: After the death of her husband, Cynthia moved to a nearby city where there was a strong Christian community. A few men of the community befriended her three teenage children. Within five years, these children became outstanding leaders in the Christian community.
"The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the assembly that meets in their house, send you cordial greetings in the Lord." —1 Corinthians 16:19
The ultimate building block for God's kingdom is the extended family that becomes a home-based Christian community. This is how Jesus grew up, as indicated by His being lost for a couple days without his parents knowing it (Lk 2:43-44). The Spirit called forth home-based communities as the result of the first Pentecost (Acts 2:46). Jesus taught His apostles to proclaim the kingdom using homes as their bases (Mt 10:11-12). The only churches for the first 300 years of Christianity were homes. Prisca and Aquila's home was so important that all the churches of the Gentiles were indebted to them (Rm 16:3-5; see also Acts 16:15, 46; Acts 18:7; Acts 18:26; Col 4:15; Phlm 2). Throughout history and throughout the world today, these home-based communities have provided the context for tremendous evangelistic explosions. Pope Paul VI called them the "privileged beneficiaries of evangelization" (On Evangelization, 58). In Africa, China, Russia, the Philippines, South Korea, and Central and South America, we see unprecedented evangelization through these "basic communities." These communities have been and are on the cutting edge of the Lord's saving work in the world. Pope John Paul II has taught: "Because the Church is Communion, the new 'basic Communities,' if they truly live in unity with the Church, are a true expression of communion and a means for the construction of a more profound communion. They are thus cause for great hope for the life of the Church" (Mission of the Redeemer, 51).
(For further information, see our books, Introduction to Small Christian Communities and 12 Seminars on Building Small Christian Communities).
Example: The largest church in the world is in South Korea and has about 800,000 members. All of these members are part of small communities called "cell groups."
"Come to Him, a living Stone, rejected by men but approved, nonetheless, and precious in God's eyes. You too are living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a holy priesthood." —1 Peter 2:4-5
In conclusion, we must face the basic realities of God's plan of salvation if we are to let the Spirit build a new life for us:
- We must receive a new nature by being born again as new creations.
- We should not be fighting human beings but Satan.
- In our earthly life, we make a decision for eternal heaven or hell.
- Jesus is the only Lord and Savior. Jesus is the only Foundation for life. He is God.
- Sin is the root and center of all our problems.
- We must totally commit our lives to Jesus for love of Him and not for any fringe benefits.
- The Holy Spirit tears down the old life by convicting us of sin. He builds up the new life by giving us His gifts and His fruit, that is, love.
- By repenting of a worldly life-style, we defend against becoming spiritually anorexic.
- We build up the body of Christ in love by living our family relationships under Jesus' lordship.
- The home is the base for Christian community and the place for discipling and educating our children.
Life in the Spirit is life in touch with the realities of both earth and heaven, sin and salvation, the carnal and the spiritual, Satan and the Lord Jesus. "In Him you are being built into this temple, to become a dwelling place for God in the Spirit" (Eph 2:22). You are "under construction." Let the Lord proceed in building for you a new life in the Spirit.
Revised: April 2007
Scripture references are taken from The New American Bible, copyright 1970 by the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., and are used by permission of the copyright holder. All rights reserved.
Nihil obstat: Reverend Robert L. Hagedorn, October 16, 1996.
Imprimatur: † Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, October 22, 1996.