Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Taking the Soul to Task

In James 1:2-4 God’s servant writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know the testing of your faith produced steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” I think we often mistakenly pigeon-hole the implications of these verses to the big issues of life such as financial instability, cancer, unemployment, or the death of a loved one (to name a few). While the instruction of James 1:2-4 certainly applies to these life-altering circumstances, it is not limited to them.

The testing of our faith does not always come in such dramatic fashion. It may come in the form of criticism over an unsatisfactory performance on the job. It may take the form of a personality conflict that impregnates our hearts with sinful thoughts and desires. It may be revealed by the stinging rebuke for sin by a brother who seeks nothing more than we be conformed more into the image of Christ (Proverbs 27:17). These “trials” often reveal pride, selfishness, insincerity, ignorance of God’s Word, rebellion, and more in our hearts and lives.

When the trial is this subtle, what is our response (and do you recognize it for what it is)? And is our response the kind of response that not only honors Jesus, but brings about His desired effect in our lives – the “full effect” as James calls it - which is to make us “perfect, complete, lacking in nothing.”? Do we recognize these more subtle forms of testing as God’s means to produce steadfastness within us?

The kind of steadfastness that James has in mind is called hupomone in the Greek. Hupomone is the ability not only to endure or gut out all circumstances; it is the ability to endure them humbly, and in so doing, see God turn the circumstance into greatness and/or glory. The only way, I believe, that we will develop a steadfastness that has the full and intended effect God desires in our lives when our faith is tested is by taking the soul (heart) to task.

Richard Sibbes writes, “It were an easy thing to be a Christian, if religion stood only in a few outward works and duties; but to take the soul to task, and to deal with our own hearts, and to let conscience have its full work, and to bring the soul into spiritual subjection unto God. This is not so easy a matter, because the soul out of self-love is loathe to enter into itself, lest it should have other thoughts of itself than it would have.”

When the heart is exposed for the fraud that it often is, it generally retreats and deceives, causing the undiscerning believer to embrace a higher view of the condition of the heart than it appropriate (Jeremiah 17:9). It is for this reason that we must always apply God’s Word to our hearts during trials and testing. This is what it means to take the soul (heart) to task.

The author of Hebrews writes: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). May we seek the truth about ourselves as revealed to us through God’s Word for God's glory and our sanctification and joy in Him.


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