By Rev Charles Seet
Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2006-01-01
Text: 2 Chronicles 34:1-3, 29-33
Our topic for this first day of the New Year is, 'How to Be Spiritually Strong.' I think that it is good to begin the year with this topic, as it will help to equip us to face whatever challenges 2006 holds for us. Dearly beloved, if I were to ask you now whether you are spiritually strong, what would your answer be? Perhaps many of us here would not be bold enough to say that we have much spiritual strength in us. And perhaps to be honest, we would have to admit that spiritual weakness more accurately describes our present spiritual state. We must not be afraid to face this truth about ourselves, as it will help us to see our need and prepare us to take the necessary steps to gain spiritual strength.
One way to recognize our spiritual weakness is to liken it to physical weakness. When a person is weak physically, he is lethargic and unable to do much on his own. He always needs to rest or sleep. He gets sick quite easily because his resistance to illness is low. When a person who is weak and always falling sick seeks medical attention, there are two things the doctor would want to do: First, he would want to identify the cause of the weakness - Is there an underlying pathological condition that must be resolved? Second, he would want the patient to build up his body's resistance and health through having a good and healthy diet, taking enough fluids and sufficient vitamins.
The same principles apply to our spiritual well-being. Spiritual weakness results in lethargy in the things of the Lord, and also in a chronic unwillingness and dragging one's feet when serving or doing anything at all for God's kingdom. A spiritually weak Christian also finds Himself falling easily into sin when he is tempted. His low resistance causes him to compromise with the world under the slightest pressure. To deal with such spiritual weakness, we need to apply the same two-pronged approach that is applied to physical weakness: First, the underlying cause of the spiritual weakness must be identified. Second, spiritual strength must be restored through a healthy intake of God's Word.
These the two things are illustrated by our text of Scripture in 2 Chronicles 34, which describes the great spiritual revival that took place in the Kingdom of Judah under the godly King Josiah. At the time when Josiah inherited the throne of Judah, the kingdom was at its weakest state politically as well as spiritually.
The two wicked kings who reigned before him, Manasseh and Amon, had brought the whole nation down into the grossest idolatry that they had ever practiced. It was Josiah's reforms that brought about a welcome change. First Josiah removed the cause of the nation's weakness - Idolatry! Every idol and altar of Baal worship was systematically removed from the kingdom (34:3-5). Secondly, Josiah restored the Word of God to the people of Judah. He gathered them all together, read it to them, and led them in making a commitment to live in obedience to the Word of God.
Verse 33 summarises these two important steps that King Josiah took 'And Josiah took away all the abominations out of all the countries that pertained to the children of Israel, and made all that were present in Israel to serve, even to serve the LORD their God. And all his days they departed not from following the LORD, the God of their fathers.' Now, let us take a closer look at these two steps which are needful if we truly want to be spiritually strong Christians:
I. Remove The Causes that Bring Spiritual Weakness
These may consist of certain sins you have tolerated in your life. Unconfessed sins will rob you of all spiritual strength. Listen to what King David experienced when he did not confess his sin - Psalm 32:3-4 'When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.' Dear friends, if any of you are feeling spiritually weak or dry, perhaps, it is because of some sins that you have been tolerating in your life. If you find that your prayers have become rather lifeless and powerless, and God does not seem to hear or answer them, it may be that you are harbouring sin in your heart. Psalm 66:18 tells us 'If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.'
What you need to do then is to repent of that particular sin, and confess it before the Lord. This is what King David did, as in Psalm 32:5: 'I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.' And in v.1 of the same psalm he tells us 'Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.'
Sometimes, spiritual weakness is due to some bad habits that you have cultivated in your life. For example, the habit of gossiping and backbiting, or the habit of indulging in unedifying worldly pleasures. Some of us spend far too much time playing video and computer games. Some of us may even indulge in surfing the Internet for pornography. Some of us tend to lose our temper at the slightest provocation. Tolerating such habits is not a good thing. But strangely when some Christians are confronted about these habits, they tend to take it lightly and excuse themselves saying, 'I can't help it. That's just part and parcel of my personality. Habits don't really matter, as long as my heart is right with God.'
But these habits do matter - they can drain away all your spiritual strength and vitality. And you must deal with them with the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Please resolve now to make a clean break with these habits. Colossians 3:8-10 'But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.'
Sometimes, spiritual weakness may be caused by idols that we have set up in our lives. In Ezekiel 14:3,4, the Lord tells us how serious this is 'Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them? Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols'
Dear friends, have you set up any idols in your heart? The idol may be a person you love. It may be your possessions, or even your career. As long as you place any of these things above the Lord, they become idols to you. If this is the case with you, you need to rearrange your priorities - Please let nothing take the place that God alone deserves in your life. Now, removing the causes that bring Spiritual weakness is only the first step to be spiritually strong. You need to go on to the next thing:
II. Restore the Convictions that Build Spiritual Strength
Firm convictions from the Scriptures are what you need if you want to be strong spiritually. Do you know that convictions are the backbone of your spiritual life? They keep you from being easily swayed or moved by any strong influence or social pressure. Convictions give you a stability and steadfastness that compels you to keep on going even when everyone around you has left the cause. If you want to be a man or woman whom God can use well for His glory, you must have strong, firm and deep convictions that are entirely your own.
One excellent example of a person in the Bible who had convictions is Daniel. Daniel developed convictions from God's Word that were both strong and firm. And it was mainly his solid convictions that encouraged his three friends to join him in taking a dangerous stand for their faith. This is brought out in Daniel 1:8 'But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself.' The words 'purposed in one's heart' means to establish, set or fix something so firmly that it becomes permanent, unmoveable, and unshakeable.
In modern English such a thing would be called a conviction. This word comes from the word 'convince.' And so convictions can be defined as truths and directions that we are so thoroughly convinced about that nothing can move us away from them. They become a firm, solid bedrock foundation upon which we can build a vibrant walk with the Lord and our fervent service to Him.
You might have noticed that the theme of our church for the New Year is 'Being Built Together for His Habitation.' We can learn more about what this theme is all about in today's weekly, and in the messages of both Sunday services this year. In the first quarter the 10:45 am sermons are all on the theme of 'Building firm foundations.' And we must begin to do this first with ourselves. How? By ensuring that every Lifer has built his or her own firm convictions based on the Scriptures. Dear friends, do you have firm convictions? Are your convictions strong enough to stand up against the pressures and influences of the world?
Some people choose to take the easy way out - depend on someone eles's convictions. If you want to be strong spiritually, you cannot do this. Awhile ago we read the passage concerning King Josiah's reforms - how he removed all the idols from Judah, and how he brought the people back to the Word of God. King Josiah evidently had strong scriptural convictions, but not the people. Their convictions depended upon him and because of this, they only lasted as long as Josiah was alive. The people were so impressed with his zeal and obedience to God that they thought that his convictions must be sound and good, so they just followed him.
But when Josiah died in an unwise battle with Egypt at the young age of 39, all the old sins and idolatry came back almost immediately and eventually led them into captivity. All of that happened because the convictions that they depended on were his convictions, not their own. This is an important lesson for us: We must develop our own convictions. But how can we get these convictions? I would like to suggest three steps you can take to develop convictions from God's Word. The first thing is to:
1. Understand it. Whenever you read, study or hear God's Word, you need to program or discipline yourself to understand it. You must make every effort to absorb it and assimilate it into your life. Feeding upon God's Word is like eating food. Unless the food is properly digested, absorbed, and assimilated into our bodies, it is no use to us. In the same way, unless you fully understand what you must believe and why you should believe it, it will never become a conviction for you.
Psalm 119:34 says 'Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.' If your understanding of a certain scriptural teaching is still quite vague and nebulous, it is going to be immensely difficult for you to live by it. If I were to ask you, why you should do a certain thing that scripture teaches, and all that you can say is, 'Because I think it is good to do it.' or 'Because my pastor says so, and I like him a lot. I think he must be right.' or 'Because that is the teaching that is taught my church'then this plainly shows that you have not yet understood the scriptural teaching behind it.
If you want to have firm convictions, you must ensure that you make an effort to have a good understanding of whatever teaching you receive. Check its scriptural basis like the Berean Christians. Is it really from God's Word, or is it a man-made doctrine? Then relate it to all the other teachings that you already know well. How does it fit in with them? Try to clear up whatever doubts you may have, by asking questions. Don't be satisfied until you have a good personal grasp of it.
Now it must be mentioned here that there are some doctrines that cannot be fully understood by our finite minds until we see the Lord in heaven, like the doctrine of the Trinity, or the balance between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. But whatever God has meant for us to understand in this life, that is what we should do our best to understand.
There is one final way to know if you understand a scriptural teaching: See if you are able to explain it in your own words. If you can explain a scriptural teaching in your own words, then you can say that you have really understood it well. Now we proceed to look at the next step for developing scriptural convictions. After understanding it, we must:
2. Believe it. Why is this step necessary? Because it is very possible to understand what scripture teaches and yet not believe it nor accept it. To believe a teaching of scripture is to give it great value and credibility. Believing means acknowledging that it is trustworthy, reliable and absolutely dependable. In his first epistle to Timothy, Paul used a particular phrase twice, a phrase which brings out this necessary step. Turn your Bibles to 1 Timothy 1:15 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.'
In 1 Timothy 4:9 when Paul was teaching about the value of godliness for the present and life life, he said once again, 'This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.' Whatever scriptural teaching you receive must become something that you regard as being worthy of acceptation - something that take seriously, and you would even be willing to die for, if necessary.
We can all become experts in the fine little details of difficult ethical or moral issues based on the Word of God. But this alone does not necessarily mean that we do personally believe it, and will be faithful to keep it - because we might still regard it as something outside of our lives, as something that we have no personal stake in. This is why we need to take the additional step of believing. We have to involve ourselves in the scriptural teaching by fully committing ourselves to it, and by personally resolving to keep it with God's help.
And when we have done that, then it becomes a full-fledged conviction that will help us to be spiritually strong. But we cannot stop here. There is one more important step to take, and that is to:
3. Maintain it. This is perhaps one step that many of us fail to take. Why do convictions need maintenance? It is because they can gradually wear out under the constant barrage of influence and pressure. King Solomon began his royal career with the strongest convictions that his God-given wisdom supplied, and yet in his latter years, those convictions became so weak and worn that he drifted into compromise, and fell into rank idolatry. If King Solomon had only taken time to maintain the convictions that he had gained early in his life, the history of Israel might well have been very different. What can a person do to maintain his personal convictions?
One interesting phenomenon that we can see in Scripture is the priority that it gives to holding events that serve to remind God's people of their convictions. When the Israelites entered Canaan they went to a place called Shechem to conduct a covenant renewal ceremony. Stone monuments were set up to commemorate the event (Jos 8:30). The same thing happened again at the end of Joshua's life (Jos 24:25). And another renewal took place when King Saul was made king at Gilgal (1 Sam 11:14).
Besides these isolated events, there were also the annual feasts like the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles when all male Israelites were required to come to the Temple, and also the sabbatical year when every man woman and child were required to gather, to hear a complete reading of the law.
Why were all these events necessary? They were necessary because they served to maintain the scriptural convictions of God's people. Today, we also have events like those: Christmas, Easter and Church Anniversary, the Sunday School Dedication that we witnessed earlier in this service, and also the Lord's Supper that we will be having shortly. All of these serve the very useful purpose of renewing and refreshing our spiritual convictions. They cause us to return again and again to those same basic teachings and principles that we cherish.
Every Lord's Day worship service we attend also serves to help us maintain our convictions. Each week we come to God's house with convictions that have taken a rough beating from the world, and after worship and fellowship we go forth with spiritual convictions that are renewed and strengthened to face the world again.
Let us therefore gain the full benefit from all of these conviction-maintaining events by participating in them fully. Do not regard them as just routine events. They serve a very important function for your spiritual well-being. Therefore please look forward to them with an expectant heart.