Chat around the family breakfast table this morning began with a short discussion about trusting God from the perspective of the Israelites and the Old Testament Book of Numbers (chapter 13). We started our conversation over the fact of Israel being banned from entering the Promised Land after their fear and distrust of God was displayed upon hearing the returning spies report about what they had seen in the land of Canaan. Ultimately, the decision of God came to them as follows:
“none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me will see it…” (Full Context: Numbers 13:1, 25-28; 14:1, 6-10, 20-24).
I’m not entirely sure how the shift in our conversation occurred, but we were soon talking about our personal trust in God. More specifically, we started to drill down to our trust in Jesus and the promise of victory he has given to us to walk daily with freedom over sin. There was some lively discussion between my son, Josh, and I about the workings of temptation, trials, and the always-present-nature of the “flesh” aspects of our human existence. My contention was that Christ has won the victory for humanity over sin and death; this means we are no longer subject to the reigning bondage and always losing battle to our flesh nature and its struggle with sin. As the apostle Paul describes in fairly exhaustive detail through his case presented in Romans chapters six through eight, where there was once a struggle between the natures of man… the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the gift of His indwelling Spirit make it possible for men to overcome succumbing to the carnal nature (see Romans 6-8).
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. 21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. (Romans 7:18-23)
Josh seemed to agree with my presentation, but questioned the “daily” victory-in-Christ living. His rebuttal was that each day was a battle with sin and presented the “victory” as a somewhat tiring, tedious, weary, struggle that the Christian is capable of winning, but in reality didn’t seem enjoyable. His big picture view was more positive considering the eternal reward, but from “here” to “there” was an entirely different story. I think more people think like my Joshua than there are people who think like me.
18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living. 19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right. 21 And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:18-23)24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:24-25) 9 But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. (Romans 8:9, 12)
We continued to banter about our respective positions with Josh portraying the daily wars waged against our sin nature and my assertion that each day is not fraught with to-the-death battles (provided we are living in close relationship with Jesus and submitted to the guiding influence of the indwelling Spirit). And then I was struck with an illustration.
Disclaimer: The illustration is not perfect; it can be built upon and it probably has a few holes, but I think it can work for our purposes…
Josh and I both enjoy MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and particularly enjoy watching the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). As I was thinking about our breakfast discussion, certain parallels began to emerge between my portrayal of victorious Christian living and becoming an undisputed champion of the UFC that I thought might bridge my son’s perspective with my own.
I thought of a world class MMA champion… These athletes who participate in UFC competition are the best in their field; a person does not enter the Octagon without being a serious student and highly disciplined practitioner of the martial arts. The true championship contender trains his mind and body for competition; diet, exercise, study, practice of new skills, strength endurance, stamina, dexterity, and flexibility are just the tip of the training iceberg for these artist-athletes. I think the Christian parallel here is that we too must be disciplined in the way we pursue our practice of following Jesus. While Christ won the victory for our freedom over sin, we are co-partners within the community of our Christian faith with personal responsibility for maintaining a state of readiness that keeps us in prime, victory-contending form.
Eventually, the hungry and successful MMA champion contender will reach an opportunity for a “shot at the title belt.” Whoever wins the championship title is declared the UFC Champion of the World and receives an engraved belt proclaiming the title they own. Once the champion has won his title, they are declared undisputed champion. They are not required to, nor challenged, on a daily basis to have their Title Belt taken from them. They are victors. I believe the similarity for the Christian might be that Jesus is our Undisputed Champ. Jesus won the eternal victory over sin and He conveys and shares the ownership of His Title with all that would follow Him. Those who follow Christ with fervor, hunger, disciplined obedience, and faithful perseverance do not have to defend their Title of Victor each and every day. They are, and have been, declared undisputed champions over sin and death.
Josh asked a great question at this juncture. He said to me, “So, are you saying Christians are never or rarely challenged with temptation to sin?” I told him, no, that’s not true…not what I meant to imply. I think similarly to the UFC champion, there might be times that we are called to defend our faith. Throughout the Old Testament and through the New Testament we are told the people of God (Old Testament), and the followers of Jesus (New Testament), are tested in their faith. We are also told that trials and temptations are common to us throughout our Christian journey. We are instructed that these are forms of discipline and testing to purify and mature our faith (James 1:2-4, 12). So, yes, we are called to defend and “fight” for our faith (Title) from time to time. Such is the case for the UFC champion who has to defend his belt periodically. This is also a good time to make the point that the UFC Champion must remain hungry, disciplined, physically and mentally ready at all times to defend his belt. If he becomes lax, lazy, apathetic, and/or full of pride, there is someone who is ravenously hungry who seeks to devour him and take his belt and title. So it is with the Christian. We are foolish if we underestimate our opponent and our enemy. We can be easily overrun if we do not stay alert and highly conditioned to defend our own hearts and faith (1 Peter 5:8).
Mom (Laurie) jumped into the discussion with another great question following my explanation to ask, “Those once a year defenses don’t really equate with the normal Christian life. Are you saying the Christian only gets tested on that rare occasion?” I thought for a minute and replied again… No. I think it is more akin to the UFC Champion who becomes well known because of his accomplishments. Christ is eternally and cosmically known as the Eternally Victorious Son. As His followers, we too are known in heavenly places as well as in the earthly kingdom. We must walk in the same confidence and self-awareness as the UFC Champion; let me explain… The UFC Champion knows his ability and strength. He knows what he is capable of and what his mind and body can do. At any given time, every day maybe, his title might be called into question by some “average joe.” The UFC Champion knows his title is undisputed and he knows that his training is exponentially superior to the average joe… he knows that it is not necessary to prove anything to “joe” or himself by getting involved at all with the taunting of joe. The Christian can assume similar thinking with “daily temptation” by quickly dismissing it for what it is… a taunt or a tease. There is no need to entertain every temptation, and they do abound in our culture and society, but we do not have to be subject to them. It is true that there will be occasion where there will be a serious contender, but with each contender, God has made a way for our successful escape and victory (1 Corinthians 10:13). Our responsibility is to remain ready and in close relationship with our Holy Spirit Trainer-Manager who is with us always. Jesus has won the victory and as His followers, we too are overcoming Undisputed Champions (John 16:33).