Monday, July 8, 2013

What Are You Resisting, and Who do You Serve?

"It may be the Devil, it may be The Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody." - Bob Dylan

 

In the U.S., it seems like we spend a lot of time and money resisting things. We use air conditioning in our homes to resist the summer heat. Our political process alone accounts for billions of dollars spent resisting this philosophy or that policy. We have an entire industry devoted to resisting paying too much in taxes.

I'm not necessarily saying these things are bad. However, some of them represent a stubborn refusal on our part to acknowledge a Biblical truth: that we are not really in control.

Even writing those words sends chills down my spine. What if something happens to me or my family? What if something happens to derail our plans, or force us to choose between two terrible choices? Playing the "What if?" game can keep you up at night, if you let it. As Christians, it is our privilege (and failing that, our duty) to trust in God's plan for our lives, even if that plan involves our suffering (spoiler alert - it probably does).

What does Biblical resistance look like? We might do better to ask what kinds of resistance are unbiblical, to start.

 

Matthew 5:39

But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The word Jesus uses for "resist" here is anthistēmi, which literally means "to stand against," or "oppose." The implication is an active resistance, one that is not afraid to throw a few punches. Jesus is literally telling people that if someone hits them, they should not hit back. Don't fight fire with fire. Don't respond to violence with violence.

Here's another form of resistance which the Bible opposes:

 

Acts 7:51

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

This is a resistance which the whole human race has committed: resistance to God's will. Often, the Holy Spirit will influence our hearts to be more compassionate, less materialistic, more loving, less self-centered, and too often our response (and I know that this has been true of me all too often) is to resist that influence and go our own way.

Just like the examples at the top, this is an issue of control. It's not that we don't want to be more Christ-like in our behavior and do His good work in this world - it's that we want to do it on our own schedule. We don't give money to the homeless man sitting outside Starbucks because we just don't have time. We would like to give our friend a few minutes of our time to hear about their troubles, but we tell ourselves that we've got troubles too, and that we'll listen to theirs after we've taken care of ours. We'd like to forgive the people who make our life difficult, but we're just not ready - we want to hold onto our bitterness just a little longer, like a raccoonll whose arm is stuck in a trap because he's desperately clutching a piece of aluminum and just won't let go.

So, unbiblical resistance takes the form of sinning against others or sinning against God. Both are reactionary sins (we don't want people to push us around and we don't want God telling us what to do), and both are sins of direct disobedience to God's explicit commands.

So what does Biblical resistance look like?

 

James 4:7

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

If there's one spiritual being you are absolutely encouraged to resist, it is the devil. Satan constantly encourages the worst in mankind. He is a skillful foe, one which Martin Luther described in his famous hymn A Mighty Fortress by claiming "on Earth is not his equal." None of us has a chance on Earth of resisting the devil with our own strength. That is why the above verse begins with, "Submit yourselves therefore to God." If you haven't submitted your life to His authority, if you are consciously engaging in the resistance of the Holy Spirit over your life, you will find resisting the devil on your own strength to be completely impossible.

However, if you trust in God and His plans for you, and especially if you are seeking after the influence of the Holy Spirit in your life, God will give you the strength to resist the devil, to the point where the devil will actually avoid you.

 

1 Peter 5:9

Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

If reliance on God and His Holy Spirit is step 1 of resisting Satan, partnership with fellow believers in the body of Christ is step 2. We would all like to believe that we are capable of "doing" the Christian life alone. The truth is, we are created to live in community, and being alone for too long makes us weak.

There is something to be said for spending time alone with God. Christ Himself often withdrew from the crowds, even from His own friends, to spend time with His Heavenly Father, and since He is our example, we ought to do the same. However, He also returned to the crowds, and the Gospel accounts seem to indicate that He spent more time with people than in solitude with God.

Even in times when you are alone and your thoughts focus on all of your troubles and there is not a fellow believer around to rely on, you should remember that you are part of a global family - you have brothers and sisters all around the world, many of whom may be praying for you in almost any given moment! And if you live in the so-called "First World," you should keep in mind that there are some places in this world where following Christ is a self-invited sentence for torture and death. Then pray for those places, that they might see their sin, repent, and turn to Christ.

Christian resistance does not have the instant gratification of its worldly counterpart. The Kingdom of God is upside-down from this world. We may be tempted to pray for the punishment of people who wrong us, who strike us not with fists, but with vicious gossip, hurtful words, and other hardships. Let us once again look to Christ as our model for personal behavior, and remember that a servant is not above His master.

You cannot control every last aspect of your life, no matter how much you may want to be. But you do have a say in whom you serve, and to whom you will resist. Because Bob Dylan is right; whatever you do in this life, you are serving somebody.

 

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