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How to Win the Battle for Your Soul, Part 1

What has the power to so blind and deceive us that it would literally capture our soul? Whether we believe it or not, there is a battle raging for your soul. In this message, Chip describes what that battle is and how to win it.

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I want to begin with an ancient Hebrew proverb. This is a proverb that is from the wisest man in the world. It’s very powerful. It cuts through a lot.

It says this: “There is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is death.” There is a way that people think, “I’m on the right track, doing the right thing, for the right reason, and I’m doing exactly what I ought to do.” It seems right to them, only to find out that it’s the way of death and destruction.

But they’re completely convinced, intellectually and emotionally, “This is right, this is good.” There is a way that seems right to a man, right to a woman, right to a student but that way ends in death. And death is separation. Death is destruction. Death is pain.

Let me give you a real life illustration of how this plays out. A man comes to Jesus. He’s a good man, he’s a moral man, he’s a righteous man, he’s a religious man. He’s heard the teachings of Jesus, he’s seen the power, he’s watched people being raised from the dead. He sees the five thousand. He sees there’s something different about Jesus and he hears teaching and with authority like no one else and even though he’s a righteous man he comes to Jesus and he says, “What must I do to inherit eternal life? I want to make sure that all my ducks are in a row.”

And there’s a premise there. “What must I do?” There is a way that seems right to a man. There are certain things that you do and if you do these certain actions, keep these certain rules, keep your nose clean, and are religious in these certain ways then – equals – you will get eternal life.

There is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is death. And Jesus responds to him here in Mark 10. And Jesus questions first. He says, “Well why do you call Me good? No one is good except God.”

And Jesus already is starting with his presuppositions. And He want to pull out the pillars from underneath of him. Because behind his concept is there are certain things you can do, and behind calling Jesus “good” he’s saying good must be relative. I’m good compared to other people, you’re a really good teacher, you must be good compared to…

And Jesus said, “Mm-mm. Good is not a relative concept. Good is absolute. Good is pure. There’s only one that is good. You don’t know Me well enough to call Me good. There is only one and one standard and it is God who is good and is holy and perfect.”

And so in order to help him see how un-relative goodness and holiness and a relationship with God is, He goes to where Moses went… to teach that God gave the Ten Commandments to help us see not how to get into heaven, not how to have a relationship with God… to see how much we fall short so we cry for mercy, and realize we can never do enough good things, but it’s by the mercy of God, and the grace of God, by faith.

And so Jesus turns to him and says, “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t we go to the basics. You know the commandments. “Do not murder. Don’t commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not defraud, honor your father and your mother.”

If you study it carefully what you realize in the Ten Commandments… there were two tablets. The first tablet had four commands, the second tablet had six commands. The first tablet, four commands were all vertical. Your relationship with God. “No other gods before Me, don’t take My name in vain.”

The second tablet are all horizontal. Interestingly, Jesus quotes five of the six commands but He purposefully leaves one off. See if you can catch it in just a minute.

And so He says, “So how are you doing in keeping the commands?” He says, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Compared to other people, he’s saying, “I’m squeaky clean! I’ve not murdered anybody, I’ve not committed adultery, I don’t lie, I don’t steal, I’ve honored my father and my mother.”

Now notice the response of Jesus. Notice the motivation. “Jesus looking at him felt a love for him.” He had compassion for him. He saw this good, moral, religious, sincere man who was doing what seemed right to him. Keep these rules, be a good person. Then somehow, someway you’ll get eternal life.

And Jesus felt compassion. What He’s going to say is not harsh, what He’s going to say is not to get down on this guy. He’s going to say this because He wants to unlock life for this man.

“And so feeling love for him, Jesus said, ‘One thing you lack.’” Now, if you have a pen you might circle these key words. “Go and sell,” circle the word “sell,” “all your possessions and give,” circle the word, “give,” “to the poor,” and then notice the result, “and you will have treasure in heaven and come,” and then circle the last phrase, “follow Me.”

Sell what you have, give to the poor, guaranteed treasure in heaven, and come follow Me. Do you understand what He’s doing?

The man came and he didn’t really understand, and he said, “What must I do to have eternal life?” Eternal life is not something you get after you die. Eternal life is a quality of life now. It’s an abundant life, it’s intimacy with God, it’s joy and purpose and passion. It’s understanding exactly why you’re here, and how you’re made, and fitting into God’s plan.

And the product is love, and joy, and peace, and passion, and goodness, and kindness, and gentleness. It’s the Spirit of God living the life of Christ through you. That’s eternal life and the moment you die, then all barriers are removed, and you share that with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit forever, and ever, and ever.

And he says, “What must I do?” And He says, “You’ve got it wrong.” Everyone, at times, does something that seems right to them but often they’re on the wrong track, going the wrong direction, and they don’t even know it.

And Jesus saw that this man’s problem wasn’t external. It wasn’t about being religious, it wasn’t about being honest. But he was an idolater. He had an idol in his heart. And the idol was money.

You say, “Where do you get that?” I get that from the very next line. “But at these words he was saddened and he went away,” notice, “grieving.” You know what the word “grieve” means? Grieving is when you lose something.

Guess what he just lost? He lost the relationship with Jesus. Jesus said, “You can come be with Me. I’m offering you an invitation to intimacy. I’m offering you to be close to Me forever. I’m offering you purpose. I’m offering all the things you think someday, someway, somehow all those riches might give you. I’m offering it now in Me.”

“And he went away grieved.” He was sad because he realized he couldn’t have both. “For he was one who owned much property,” he rejected the invitation to life, and intimacy, and treasure, forever with Jesus to be heaven bound, to know the joy that’s inexpressible, and love, and peace beyond all comprehension.

He was operating in a way that seemed right to him but the way, in the end, was death. And if we met this guy, we would say he’s probably one of the greatest Christians we’ve ever met. But you know what the last command is? “Thou shall not covet.” And see that’s an internal issue. That’s an issue of the heart.

And this man had all the externals right and the fact that when he heard Jesus he knew he was missing something, “What must I do?” Jesus said, “There’s a way that seems right to you but the end of it is death. Instead I invite you to intimacy with Me now and forever.”

And does this mean that we need to sell our possessions to become a Christian? Absolutely not. It meant this one man, in this one situation, had a barrier in his walk with God, and what he needed to do was take money off the throne of his heart, so Jesus could be the King of his life, and he rejected that because you can’t serve both.

“There is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof is death.” We’ve talked in this series about how to be intimate with God. We’ve talked about how to get hugs from an invisible God: koinonia. We talked about how does God speak to ordinary people? And we learned that God speaks to ordinary people through His Word.

We learned about how to talk with God, and how we can actually pray and He’ll answer. And remember Luke chapter 11, that there is actually a way that ordinary, regular people like us can talk with God.

We learned how to rekindle our spiritual passion. How we don’t go through the motions and take unleavened bread, and a little grape juice or wine and pass it around and play games. We relive and remember who Jesus is and what He’s done.

All these ways… the early church were committed to, what? The apostles teaching, and to prayer, and to the breaking of bread, and to fellowship. Those were the cores of the early church.

Now, in this last message I want to remind you that those practices, even by born again believers who love God, who want to have intimacy with God, those practices, those

paths that can draw us into intimacy, those conduits of grace, occur in a hostile environment.

They occur in a world that is pulling you away from God, and pulling me away from God. And so I want to talk about following Christ on the path of paradox.

I’m going to suggest that Jesus’ teaching will be counter-intuitive. He’s going to ask you to do just the opposite of what you think. The world, and the world system, and even much of Christianity is going to say, “Do this, do this, do this,” and Jesus is going to say, “If you want intimacy with Me, no. Do just the opposite to get where you really want to go.” And He’s going to say, “There are barriers to intimacy with Me.”

And what I want to do in our time together is first look at the barriers to intimacy, and then second I want to look at how to overcome those barriers, because this series is not about just developing activities to get in the Bible on a regular basis.

This is not a series about learning to pray more deeply and hearing God’s voice. This isn’t just that so the Lord’s Supper will be more meaningful, or that we’ll just have koinonia at a new level.

This is about you and your God, you and Jesus, building and developing a relationship from the heart, and the soul, and the mind, that is tight and connected, and dynamic, and revolutionary in your soul… so much so that it comes out in your mouth, and so much so that it comes out in your actions.

So much so that you treat people differently, you think differently. That more and more and more, little by little by little, you become the kind of person that we all long to become. You become like Jesus.

But that doesn’t happen automatically. Let’s look at the barriers to intimacy with God. I’m going to suggest that there’s three. First, there’s the world’s system. You might want to jot that down.

I did a little review word study early this morning on the cosmos. Notice what it says in 1 John 2:15 through 17. It says, “Do not love the world nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him.” Well, what is this world your talking about? “For all that is in the world: one, the lust of the flesh; two, the lust of the eyes; and three the boastful pride of life is not from the Father but it’s from the world. The world is passing away and also its lust but,” get this, “the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

If you like to write and doodle while people speak, and it kind of helps you think, every time you see the phrase “the world,” underline it. The world, the world, the world. Notice how many times it’s repeated.

This isn’t just the actual, physical world. The cosmos, or the world, in the New Testament here is an idea for the shorthand phrase to describe a system. The cosmos is an organized system and strategy… a type of thinking. A world or a worldview.

One expert says, “It’s a shorthand phrase to describe a system of humanity in bondage to sin and resulting in death.” The actual, literal word for the word “world” here is “age.” And it’s used elsewhere, as in “the god of this age.” And you want to know who the god of this age is? Satan. Or “the wisdom of this age.” Or “the rulers and the principalities and the powers of this age.”

In other words, there is a world system. In other words, you are in a dynamic, spiritual conflict and there are three enemies. One is your flesh. The second is the supernatural enemy, Satan. And the third is this world system.

And this world system has the development of three major components that want to draw you away from God. And what it promises to deliver is joy, happiness, fulfillment – all the things you want. But it offers it in the wrong way.

And here’s the number one way: The lust of the eyes. Second, the lust of the flesh. Third, the boastful pride of life. Every human being struggles with those at all times.

If you do a little study, think back to the Garden of Eden, the very first temptation. And if you study the passage carefully, you will find the temptation centered around three things: The lust of the eyes, “Ooh, it looks good for eating.” Then it was the pride of life, “This will make you wise, it’ll make you like God.” And then the sensual, “Mmm.” The taste.

If you go to Jesus, in Matthew 4, when He’s being tempted, how is He tempted? Same three things. See every human being, who wants to walk with God, will battle these three areas in their life. There is a world system that wants to tell you that there is a sensual means of fulfillment.

And whether that’s sex, or whether that’s food, or whether that’s hedonism and pleasure, there is a world that says, “If you can get enough of the sensual things that you want,” and if you want to figure out what that’s like just turn on the TV and watch a few commercials. Walk out the checkout stand.

The world system in magazines, TV, movies, billboards is telling you the same message. One, lust of the flesh. Lust of the eyes. What your eyes can see, you can have it, you can control it, it’ll make you powerful, it’ll make you significant. If you look like this, dress like this.

In fact, now the lust of the eyes has gone to our bodies. It blows my mind that people will allow people to do major surgery and their chin used to be like this and now it’s like this. And their ears used to be like this and now they’re like…

I mean, I mean making over a living room is one thing. You know? Making over a motorcycle is one thing. Making over a car is one thing. But when people have come to where there’s some idealized version of, “That is beauty,” and they makeover their entire bodies, boy, there’s something pretty sick and scary about that.

The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. The lust of the flesh is sensuality. The lust of the eyes is materialism and money. And the pride of life is significance through competency, power, and control.

And there’s not a day that I don’t struggle with that and there’s not a day that you don’t struggle with that. But there is a world system. It’s a calculated, organized system. Those are the areas that the enemy tempts you on.

These things your flesh automatically are drawn to. You’re a human being.

The second barrier is the world’s deception. In Mark chapter 4, Jesus has taught about the Word of God as truth, and He compared the Word of God to a seed that goes into the ground, and many of you know the story and there’s four different types of soil that represent the hearts of men.

And the third type of soil He describes here: “And there are others,” speaking of seeds that are the Word of God, “on whom the seed was sown among the thorns. These are the ones who have heard the Word but,” notice, “the worries of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the Word and it becomes unfruitful.”

Real life occurred. There was a new birth. There was a growing environment and two things are happening and they’re parallel. Real, genuine life change is occurring. The Spirit of God has come into a human heart and the Word of God is being received and it’s beginning to grow, it’s beginning to grow, it’s beginning to grow.

Life change is occurring. The Spirit of God is producing peace, and joy, and changes in relationships. But simultaneously there are thorns. And as this new life in Christ is growing the thorns are wrapping themselves around it and choking out the life.

And if you want to underline three phrases, He tells us exactly what chokes out the life in a believer. It’s the world’s deception. Notice the first, “the worries of the world.” Literally, the cares. Just the demands, the everyday stuff.

The second is the deceitfulness of riches. It’s not money. It’s not that money is bad. It’s the deceitfulness. It’s the promise… that money says that you don’t even understand, I need money to get here, to go there, because when I drive that car then I’ll be…

I need money to have that kind of education, at that school, and my kids need to go there because then they’ll be successful, and then I’ll be significant, and because everyone will look at me as a parent who had kids who went to that really famous school. I need money so that…

It’s deceitful. It sucks us in and we don’t even know it’s happening.

And then the third thorn is just the desire for other things. It doesn’t even mean bad desires. Just desires. The worries of the world choking in our day, if I put it in our language, it’s busyness. It’s just flat out busyness. It’s the new worldliness. We are so busy, busy, busy we don’t, we talk more about time with God than spending time with God. We talk more about loving friends and loving our family than loving our friends and our family.

And we have the right intentions, we don’t want to be that way, busy, busy, busy. And it chokes out God’s Word.

The deceitfulness of riches - I think we all don’t need a lecture on materialism. The issue has nothing to do with “are we materialistic?” The only issue is how much, and what’s the damage right now in the world that we live in, beginning with the guy talking.

And the last one here is the desires for other things. I see these just as distractions. Often they’re not even bad. They’re just distractions but they choke the Word out.

We had our backyard, we moved into a house and we had a guy come and, you know, we had this ivy. And I didn’t think much about, in fact, I thought it was kind of pretty to tell you the truth.

And there was this ivy that went all the way through the back and the fence and, you know, he walked around and said, “You got a real problem and you gotta get rid of this,” and so I thought, “Well, you know, well I’ll spray something.” And he said, “No, you can’t spray stuff. You can’t spray stuff. It’ll never go away. This stuff,” he said, “you gotta pull it out by the roots.”

And then he went around and showed me how this beautiful, little vine had gotten in our fence and just broken the boards. And I’m thinking, “How in the world can a plant do that?” And then he showed me some shrubs and how when the ivy went around… he said, “It’ll kill everything.”

And then I said, “Well, how much would it cost?” And then he told me and I thought, “Is it really that serious to get rid of?” You know? He said, “You know, I’m not fooling you. It is.”

And he pulled all that stuff up and then we sprayed Round Up and everything and you know what? Three months later, guess what, it’s starting to come back. These thorns never go away.

Busyness, distractions, materialism – that’s the battleground.  It’s in this context that we follow these paths of drawing near, and koinonia, and getting into the Scriptures, but you’ll have to do something radical to pull out these thorns. You won’t subtly grow out of these.

And they’re deceitful. I mean it’s not like it’s something bad. I got a good buddy who had a radical conversion at the church in California… couple, three years before I got there. I mean this guy was like way, way out there and, God radically saved him and he grew, and grew, and grew, and just had an amazing testimony and ended up the head of one of the major teams in the life of the church that ended up, giving all this money and helping all these people. And he was put up as sort of the poster boy of, man alive, that is the kind of people we want to produce.

And about ten, eleven years into it, he and his kids got real involved in soccer. Anything wrong with soccer? Absolutely not. Well, a couple of his kids got pretty  good so they got on the traveling team. Well, they got on the traveling team, well, when does the traveling team play? They play on the weekends. Well, you know, we got tons of services and they go to this one, and maybe to that one, and maybe they’ll go to this other one.

And then pretty soon he and his wife found, “Well, this is good and we’re meeting some people and we want to share our faith.” So, they get on a coed soccer team. It was just a distraction.

Three and a half years later, one of the most radically committed leaders in our church is getting phone calls from his wife saying, “I don’t love you anymore, and I don’t want to stay married to you, and I don’t want to go to church,” and his kids are turned off and you know what? They are really good soccer players now, and he and his wife got a couple of little trophies on their coed soccer team, and first of all they missed now and then, and then their priorities shifted.

You know what? Is playing soccer wrong? Are you kidding me? But it was just a distraction. And he ended up as a guy who never dreamed that he could drift… because when you’re drifting, when it’s getting choked out, you’re the last to know.