“And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: 8 (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) 9 The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” (2 Peter 2:7-9)
The story of Lot’s life is one of the most tragic tales of Scripture, for it is the account of a righteous man without the courage to stand up for his convictions. The details of Lot’s life are pretty well known. He was the nephew of Abraham, who was always making morally questionable choices.
Lot first began to go wrong when he decided to separate from his Uncle Abraham because their herds were too large. The Lord had blessed both men, but the prosperity caused division among the herdsmen. Ever the gracious diplomat, Abraham went to Lot and said, “Is not the whole land before thee? Separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. 11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. 12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.”
The main problem with the final arrangement is that the direction Lot chose to go was filled with spiritual death and destruction, for we read that, “13 the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.” The sins of Sodom were a violation of nature. Men burned with passion for other men without apology. Like the homosexuals of today, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were militant in their moral madness. They would not be denied, and dared anyone to challenge their alternative lifestyle. By degrees, the homosexuals had gained social acceptance until there was no secret shame, but an open practicing of their perversions.
Instead of turning away from Sodom and Gomorrah in disgust, Lot looked towards the prosperous city of the plains, then he moved near the city, and finally he was drawn into its very culture. Lot became a leader in a city given to licentiousness. That righteous man dwelt in the midst of a people fit for destruction. Lot saw what was going on, he heard the conversations of the unrighteous, and he was never comfortable with it, but Lot never left the city. Day by day Lot troubled his righteous soul with the unlawful works of others.
The temptation comes at this point to turn away from studying too much more of the life of Lot, because there are vast multitudes of modern Christians who are just like him. With Lot, we dwell in a culture of ever increasing cruelty and moral crassness. Sensitivity to sin is being lost. All around are the signs of material prosperity, and moral decadence.
We find ourselves uneasy with the culture in which we live, but powerless to change it, because we ourselves are not completely changed.
We are pressed more into the mold of the world than is freely admitted.
We are converted, but not convicted.
We are regenerate and religious, but not righteous.
We are children of the kingdom of heaven, yet find ourselves far too comfortable with the children of darkness.
We emulate the world in dress, in humor, in music, and movies, and then protest if anyone objects.
While we do not approve of blatant inappropriate behavior, our voices are silent to protest them. When we talk, like Lot of old, others laugh at us. When we cry louder, like Lot did, and warn of a coming judgment, unbelievers simply shake their heads. They know us too well, as Lot was known.
The Sodomites remembered that Lot had been willing to violate his own daughters rather than violate a code of hospitality. Now, suddenly, he was seriously calling for righteousness? It was hypocritical. The Sodomites knew that Lot took their money, listened to their filthy conversations, saw their daily delight in deeds of darkness, and said nothing. If Lot’s heart was truly troubled, if he really cared about the chaos of his culture, he had kept it all to himself.
The world laughed at Lot. He had no effective testimony. All Lot had, when he left Sodom, was a defiled conscience. But again, the church at the beginning of the twenty first century cannot be too judgmental on this man, because one hour of honesty reveals that many Christians today are just like Lot. We are not what Christ would have us to be.
The Sermon on the Mount does not find expression in our attitudes. Sin as a reigning principle is still rampant in our lives. We are not free from envy, pride, self-love, and lust of pleasure. The mountain of secret selfishness still crushes us, and in spite of all our efforts, remains immovable. There is little joy, so little freedom of spirit, and none of that emotional rapture which characterized the primitive Christians. Some Christians become convicted of sin, and try to be different, but at that point “we agonize, and bleed, and struggle, but failure dogs our footsteps.” (F. J. Huegel, Bone of His Bones)
The problem, in part, is this. When we become conscious of sin in ourselves, and seek to change, we proceed upon a false basis. We seek to imitate Christ by striving after a grand Ideal that is unattainable by the act of imitation. But we try. OH, HOW WE TRY! We read the Bible. We pray. We repent. We listen to sermons. We read religious books. We formulate a concept of what a true Christian should be like, and we seek to be like that ideal image. AND IN ALL OF THIS, WE FAIL!
We play mental games with ourselves. We promise ourselves, and God, we will be different, tomorrow. We put away the opportunity for misbehavior, but only for a season. Then, like a dog returning to its vomit, we return to our area of weakness that makes us so sad. When that happens, we make new resolutions of the will. And in all of this, we fail.
The failure comes, not for lack of effort, nor for lack of desire, or for lack of sincerity. The failure comes because there is a Law at work in our members which causes us to fail. The Apostle Paul wrote of this Law in Romans 7 in these words.
“The good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do….I delight in the Law of God after the inward man: but, I see another Law in my members warring against the Law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the Law of sin which is in my members. Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:19-24)
Paul struggled. He agonized. He wept. He strove, as only a moral giant, one of the greatest of all times, could strive. All, to no avail. The Law of sin, Paul confesses, like the onrush of a mighty stream, swept everything before it.
If you and I are honest to God, and honest with ourselves, there are times when we are like Paul. What can be done? We wonder, “Why has God left us in such a dire state after salvation?” “Why can we not imitate Christ as we have been taught to do by so many preachers, in so many churches, in so many pulpits, over so many years?”
The answer may be this. The Christian is not asked to imitate Christ before he participates in all that Christ has done, and is. The Christian is not called upon to strain over a role, as an actor would agonize over lines, poorly learned. The Christian life is designed to be lived in daily communion with the Lord. We are to participate in the life of the resurrected Christ. In the hour of our conversion, “we are made partakers of Christ”. (Heb. 3:14) Exceeding great and precious promises are given to us, “that by these we might be partakers of the Divine Nature”. (2 Peter 1:4) The Bible teaches that every true believer is grafted into the trunk of the Eternal Godhead. “I am the Vine,” said Jesus. “Ye are the Branches.” The riches of the glory of this mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. (Col. 1:27)
It may very well be that one reason for the failure of many Christians to be more holy, is that they have been placing their hopes upon a false premise. Many Christians have been taught to think of the Christian life as an imitation of Christ. But, what if the Christian life is not an imitation of Christ, until we learn that the Christian life is a participation of Christ? Hebrews 3:14 says, “For we are made partakers of Christ.”
Here is a profound, but radical concept that can change the basis upon which the Christian life is lived, when properly understood. For now, I can only do two things with this truth.
First, I can set it before you, in summary form, from the Scriptures, and invite you to study this concept for yourself.
Second, I can share with you the experience of Mr. Hudson Taylor, who one day came to understand that it is impossible to try to imitate Christ, before knowing what it is to participate with Christ in His crucifixion, His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and session.
Without question, Hudson Taylor was one of the great missionary pioneers of history. At a time when the interior of China was closed to foreigners, and when ignorance, fanaticism, and race prejudice made it a danger to venture into the interior of that strange land, Hudson Taylor still managed to establish a chain of Missions there. He was a man used of God. But Hudson Taylor, by his own personal testimony, was not always victorious in his Christian life. Despite being respected and honored in the Church, he agonized over the spiritual poverty he felt in his soul.
In 1869, a great change took place. It was so radical, so complete, so overwhelming, that all Mr. Taylor’s co-workers soon recognized the fact. From that time on, a new light and life shone forth. On October 17, 1869, in a letter to his sister, Hudson Taylor shared what happened. In part, this is what he wrote.
MR. HUDSON TAYLOR’S LETTER
October 17, 1869
“The last month has been perhaps the happiest of my life; and I long to tell you a little of what the Lord has done for my soul… Perhaps I shall make myself more clear if I go back a little…My mind has been greatly exercised for six or eight months past, feeling the need, personally, and for the Mission, of more holiness, life, power, in our souls. I felt the ingratitude, the danger, the sin of not living near to God. I prayed, agonized, strove, fasted, made resolutions, read the Word of God more diligently, sought more time for meditation and prayer, but all was without effect! Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of sin oppressed me…each day brought its register of sin and failure, of lack of power…
Then came the question—“Is there no rescue?” “Must it be thus to the end—constant conflict and instead of victory too often defeat?” “How, too, could I preach, with sincerity, that to those who receive Jesus, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God (i.e. God-like), when it was not so in my own experience…?”
I hated myself. I hated my sin; and yet, I gained no strength against it. I felt I was a child of God. His Spirit in my heart would cry: ‘Abba Father’; but to rise to my privileges as a child, I was utterly powerless. All the time I felt assured there was in Christ all I needed, but the practical question was, “How was I to get it out?…
As the light gradually dawned on me, I saw that faith was the only pre-requisite. Faith was the hand to hold onto the Lord’s fullness and make it my own. BUT I HAD NOT THIS FAITH! I strove for it but it would not come. I tried to exercise faith, but in vain. Unbelief was, I felt, the damning sin of the world—yet, I indulged in it…
When my agony of soul was at its height, a sentence in a letter from a dear friend named McCarthy came. As I read his letter I suddenly saw it all, ‘If we believe not, He abideth faithful.’ I looked to Jesus and saw (and when I saw, oh! how joy flowed) that He had said: ‘I will never leave you.’
Ah! There is rest I thought.
I have striven in vain to rest in Him. I’ll strive no more. For has He not promised to abide with me? But this was not all the Lord showed me, not one-half. I saw not only that Jesus would never leave me, but that I was a member of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Oh! The joy of seeing this truth.
I do pray that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened, that you may know and enjoy the riches freely given us in Christ. Oh! My dear Sister, it is a wonderful thing to be really one with a risen and exalted Saviour; to be a member of Christ.”
To call upon the name of the Lord for salvation is a blessed truth. To believe the gospel is a gift of God.
Now, by faith, be assured of God’s love and His faithfulness, if you long to cease from doing wrong. Believe, by faith that you have entered into His rest. It is impossible to imitate Christ without first participating, by faith, in His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. It is impossible to please the Lord and cease from doing wrong without first believing in His faithfulness.
Today, the gospel call is for those who are in need to believe afresh in the Lord’s faithfulness. “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13)
When this gospel truth is embraced, by faith, fear of death will flee, the legal and fleshly striving for sanctification will cease, and the desire to do wrong will lose its power.
Let the Christian say afresh, by faith,
“The Lord Jesus is here, in my heart, and my life is in Christ. I will not trouble my soul with riotous living. Jesus abides with me, forever, and I with Him. Because I participate in His life, I will live for Christ, imitate Him.”
May God the Holy Spirit make this spiritual concept a reality to all of us, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.