The following is a guest column by John E. Wagner, an attorney and Episcopal layman in Oklahoma City.

Nearly every regenerate Christian seems to have gone through a time when his newfound relationship to Christ was full of unburdened victory. But as the years pass, believers find that the ups and downs of life, recurring sins, as well as personal tribulations, are very much a part of the Christian walk.

Some become disillusioned or discouraged, and stray from the path. Others quietly abandon their commitment. Jesus explains all this clearly in the parable of the sower and its interpretation (Matthew 13; Mark 4, and Luke 8).

For some, it is that they really do not grasp the implications of their Christian commitment, the ramifications of faith in the Living God. They have not counted the cost. And they are like the seed sown on a path, where the birds come and snatch it away. The birds, Jesus tells us, are the Evil One—Satan, who entices to sin, and spiritual death.

One of the most gripping verses in the whole New Testament, and one that every believer should know by memory, is Second Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” But this verse, so dear to the hearts of believers, is also a stumbling block when taken out of the context of the whole Scripture. It is a gemstone of truth. But it needs to be viewed in the platinum mounting of the full biblical revelation.

The Evil One is still prowling around, seeking someone to devour. The capacity to sin still remains within the old man. Not to understand this is to find oneself ridden with guilt and despair. For we find, alas, that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. Whether it be sin of the bodily appetite or of the psyche or spirit, we have nevertheless sinned. But God has provided the remedy of confession and cleansing. And we can once again walk in the light of his presence and in the fellowship of believers (1 John 1:7–9).

For others, it is tribulation and personal difficulty that is the cause of defection from the faith. Tribulation in some places includes persecution and rejection. Those who fall when these come are likened to the seed on rocky ground, without much soil. They endure for a while, but they do not progress in their spiritual growth. They have no roots through which to draw the Living Water in order to stand against the withering sun of trouble and discouragement.

But God in his mercy and grace has again provided a remedy. “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Pet. 5:7). God gives us himself in time of great trouble so that we draw intimately on his strength, wisdom, and healing power. And with the great Apostle Paul, we know in our hearts that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Finally, others are like seeds sown among thorns, and the thorns choke them out. The thorns? They are “worldly cares and the false glamor of wealth” (NEB).

Recently I talked with two laymen, both elders in their church, active in business and civic life. One has been greatly used by God in his support of independent evangelical ministries—he is, in fact, national board chairman of Young Life. The other’s ministry has been faithfully oriented around the local church—a large metropolitan congregation.

In spite of their differing vantage points, they agreed that the most besetting sin in the Christian community is the diversion of the world, the desire for wealth, the acquisition of things, and the drive for prestige. These constitute the kind of self-gratification that a very materialistic society presses upon us constantly. As subtle as this may be, as distinguished from more overt behavioral sins, it is nevertheless deadly to Christian growth.

Our Lord has told us clearly that no man can serve two masters. He cannot serve God and at the same time pursue money, things, or prestige as ultimate goals.

The Apostle John admonishes us not to love the world, nor the things that are in the world. For, he says, “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16, 17). The world he refers to is not the created order or the people in it, but the evil world system under the dominion of Satan. As the NEB puts it, “Do not set your hearts on the godless world.”

All of this is speaking about a matter of attitude. We are not called to abdicate from society. The evangelical church is not to be monastically withdrawn from the world. It is to be involved with love and compassion in the affairs of men. But it is called to keep a pure heart and a single eye. Our inner motivations, our goals and desires, are to be transformed. Our first loyalties to the Lord Jesus Christ are to be preserved. We are not to be conformed to the world but are to be renewed in the spirit of our minds (Rom. 12:2).

Only Jesus Christ can give this inner renewal, through the infilling of the Holy Spirit day by day. We are to be open to the Spirit and available to the Lord in whatever we are doing.

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This is not achieved in a vacuum of passivity, however. Spiritual disciplines are necessary to a faithful, consistent walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer, Bible study, fellowship with believers, obedience to the written Word of revelation, witness to Christ by lip and life, regular worship and attendance at the Lord’s Supper: all these are channels of God’s presence, power, and grace in our lives. Through them he feeds us and guides us.

We do not earn God’s favor by their performance. But they are indispensable ways by which we respond to his love and manifest our love to him and to our neighbors. And through them God shows forth the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

By them we keep the lines of communication with the Living God open and operative. Without communication, there cannot be a living relationship. These spiritual disciplines are the lines of communication ordained by the revealed Word of Scripture and verified in the lives of Christians through the ages.

How perfunctory these disciplines have become in the lives of many of us, even though in the flush of our first encounter with Christ they were joyful privileges—not dreary duties. Personal renewal and revival must come through a combination of some or all of them.

“As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty” (Matt. 13:23).

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