Is Inner Struggle a Good Thing?

Coming out of Romans 12, we understand that those who confess Christ as Lord and who are following Him respond by presenting their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. That is true worship. We become present our bodies as living sacrifices by no longer conforming to the ways of this world, but by instead being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.

My son experiences the same thing. He is learning words, learning the coordination it takes to hold his bottle and his sippy cup. He is working hard, trying to figure out how to make certain sounds. His mind is being renewed moment-by-moment and he is being transformed as a result. That’s a good thing! I wouldn’t want to still be feeding him in my lap when he turns 15 or 20 years old. Yeah, I know you just pictured that. His mind being renewed is labor for him. It is trial and error and trial and error. I’m trying to guide him as much as possible, and that means letting him struggle as he figures out how to crawl. It means being patient as he tries to communicate his needs and wants, but doesn’t know the words. I find that my son’s experience in growing is the perfect picture of our life with Christ.

When we experience the sacrificial love of Christ and His grace, we are moved to self-sacrifice. One cannot experience this grace and not be humbled, and broken, and moved. How does God’s grace move in our hearts, renew our minds, and transform our whole person? What is the means?

Romans 14:19-23

So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats. It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble. Do you have a conviction? Keep it to yourself before God. The man who does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed. But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction, and everything that is not from a conviction is sin.

What do we pursue?

As we start reading this text, we see, for us, the words, “So then…” These words are much like the therefore statement in Romans 12:1, and indicate that more application is about to be made and implication drawn that is based upon the truths presented before these words. These words should cause us to pay careful attention because what comes after follows from what has come before. When we think about the instruction to pursue what promotes peace and what builds others up, the instruction is a result of what we have read preceding and in chapters 12 -14 up to this point.

In chapter 12, we saw that because everything is from Christ, through Christ, and to Christ, we should, by the mercies of God, present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. This truth was applied a few ways:

    1. We are instructed not to think more highly of ourselves than we should. Everything is by God’s mercy for God’s glory and He distributes a measure of faith to each one (12:3).
    2. We should use the gifts that God has given and graciously give opportunity for others to serve using the gifts that God has distributed. There is only one body (12:4-8).
    3. We should love without hypocrisy, outdoing one another in showing honor (12:9-10).
    4. We should be passionate and excited about our service to the Lord (12:11).
    5. We rejoice in hope and practice patience in every affliction (12:12).
    6. We share the needs of others in Christ and we do everything we can to practice hospitality (12:13).
    7. We bless those who persecute us and we do not curse (12:14).
    8. We resolve not to be wise in our own estimation, but to associate with the humble, celebrating and suffering with others (12:15-16).
    9. We do not seek vengeance, but try to do what is right in everyone’s eyes (12:17).
    10. As far as it depends on us, we live at peace with everyone. To God belongs vengeance and He will be the one to repay in His just and merciful timing (12:18-19).
    11. We resolve to serve those who have made us enemies, not to spite them, but so that evil will be conquered (12:20-21).
    12. We willfully submit to governing authorities, accepting the lawful consequences of our action (13:1-9).
    13. We are to love one another. True love draws us to do no wrong to our neighbors (13:8-10).
    14. We put on Christ, who is Lord, and we no longer gratify our desires but live as creatures exposed by the light (13:11-14).
    15. We accept anyone who is weak in the faith without arguing about disputed matters. (14:1).
    16. We are not judged by people nor judge people based on their personal conviction because we live to God (14:2-8).
    17. Since Christ is the Lord of the living and the dead, we will all give an account of what we have done and how we have judged others (14:9-12).
    18. We resolve not to put stumbling blocks before others by making judgments based on their personal convictions or lack thereof (14:13-18).

In all of these things, we pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. There is no other way to live in Christian community rightly. Experiencing the depth of God’s mercy and grace in salvation leads us to participate in the family of God like this. If what I am saying or doing does not promote peace, I am not living as though I have confessed Christ as Lord. If what I am saying or doing does not build others up, I am not living as though I have confessed Christ as Lord. To see a local church that lived like this would be so encouraging in the world today. I would love to see chapters 12-14 as a church covenant. That would be family.

As Paul is addressing this issue, the issue of people arguing about personal convictions, he issues a warning, “Do not tear down God’s work because of food.”

Yet, that is exactly what we see, isn’t it? Every day, there are people who are trying to tear down the work that God is doing in His church by condemning others in some way for some thing. In response to Christ’s lordship, the only thing we can do is present our bodies as living sacrifices, which is a concept applied in chapters 12-14, here in Romans.

I do not know what is best.

What is conviction?

Paul continues. Everything is clean, but it is noble for us not to do things that cause others to stumble. Why? Because we are not king, Christ is. This point helps us to understand what Paul means when he writes that we are to pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. When he writes of stumbling, he writes of falling into guilt before God regarding personal conviction. If I am pursuing what builds others up, I am pursuing those things which accomplish the opposite of causing other to fall into guilt before God regarding matters of conviction.

What I do not mean by “building others up,” is making others feel comfortable or falsely good about themselves. I want you to feel good about who you are, but not at the expense of truth and not at the expense of our actually being built up in Christ. We are built up like a wall is built up. Christian community is not an ego trip. In fact, if we are only concerned with building one another’s ego, then we are not working for one another’s good.

We remember that in presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, we are encouraged to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Our being transformed is what it means for us to be built up. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is where conviction comes in, and conviction works for our good because it builds us up. If you have walked with Christ for any amount of time, you will know that we are always challenged in what we approve of or disapprove of. This inward struggle works for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

We might ask the question, where does conviction come from? What causes this inward struggle as I wrestle with my own beliefs, my own convictions, my knowledge of God, my opinion of other people, my political stances, and my moral outlook? Conviction is what I feel when I realize that I might be wrong about something. What causes that feeling? We think of this in the context, again, of Romans 12:1-2. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. What we learn about God moves our affections and leads to action. Awake, Arise, Act.

So, conviction comes as I learn more and my understanding of who God is and what He is doing increases. I experience conviction and I either stand my ground against the God of the universe or I experience the amazing transformation of Christ. As a result, depending on how I’ve responded to God’s conviction, I develop personal convictions or beliefs about how things ought to be. We are ingots being tempered in the fire of the Holy Spirit, worked into instruments for God’s glory and our good.

Not all convictions are honoring to God. Can I know that my convictions are godly? How? Once again, the answer is back in Romans 12:1-2. If we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, if we are learners and seek to increase or renew our understanding concerning God’s nature and the things of God, then we are able to discern what the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God is. If we resist the renewing of our minds, we are not being transformed in this way and are unable to discern God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will.

On this earth, we experience this conviction because there are a great many things we hold on to. We need conviction. Through conviction, we experience peace with God and experience the good for which God is working all things together.

So we read that we are to hold our personal convictions humbly, not being condemned for what we approve, but striving to hold true to those personal convictions.

God convicts me for His glory and my good.

What causes sin?

We continue reading, “… and everything that is not from conviction is sin.” What does it mean to act in a way that is “not from” conviction? In the context of the book of Romans, it is simply this, that I would not be open to conviction, not be open to the renewing of my mind that leads to transformation. If what I do is from my own understanding, my own tradition, my own working of things, from my own wisdom, from my own worry, from my own anxiety, from my own need to do something, then what I do is not from the faith that God distributes to each one (Romans 12:3). If I am acting of my own accord and not out of the transformation that God is working out in me by the renewing of my mind, then I am in sin. To be in sin is to be in rebellion against God.

Sin, then, is a heart condition and leads to action. This heart condition involves an unwillingness to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. An article in Psychology Today actually indicates that this tendency to not act from conviction is an addiction to the feeling of certainty and is on par with addiction to dopamine-releasing drugs.

I don’t know what it is like to be an addict to any sort of substance. I do have a father who was an alcoholic. He was always convinced that he did not have a problem and no one could convince him otherwise. He could stop anytime he wanted. When someone said something, his response often included lashing out against that person even though that person was only seeking his good. Such is the case with our refusal to listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit that comes from a proper reading and teaching of God’s word. We will lash out against God or against the people of God. We blame the conviction we feel on the church, and we try to justify our addiction. The truth is, Scripture was given for our good. Conviction works for our transformation by the renewing of our minds and is for our good. In fact, God is the one working all things together for our good.

Remember the purpose of the Law in regard to sin? It was given to point out our insufficiencies, to reveal our unrighteousness and our need for grace and the imputing of Christ’s righteousness. There is good news. Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and our being transformed by the renewing of our minds leads to growing moral purity before God and for our good.

The challenge for us is clear regarding conviction on this earth. First, we recognize conviction for what it is- the Holy Spirit dealing with our hearts and God’s truth seeking to renew our minds. Second, we celebrate the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the word. Third, we form our personal convictions according to godly truth and accept those who are weak in faith.

I can celebrate conviction in my life.

 

I do not know what is best.

God convicts me for His glory and my good.

I can celebrate conviction in my life.

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