I recently purchased a book recommended to me; and though it is very old, it is among the best books on writing. I was informed that it should be among the first books that an author should read so that he can make his craft a little bit better. Though I am not a beginner (I have been trying to write stuff for 40 years), I thought I would give it a try and see what it said. Besides, it was only a penny (plus shipping) on Amazon, so I was not putting my family in danger of not eating for the next week. So I went ahead and bought it.
The book is, Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande. Ms. Brande eschews teaching writing techniques in this book. She does not think it is necessary. As a matter of fact, she considers it pretty much a waste of time. You can get that from reading some other book or taking some sort of writing class. But most writers do not want to do that. They want to do it on their own for a while and then maybe get a few pointers or whatever. But if you take high school or college English, you should be able to write.
What she emphasizes, though, is that if a person really wants to be a published author, he has to overcome the bad habits—the bad attitudes—that keep him from putting words on paper. He then, also, must instill good habits and those good habits must be enforced by a rigorous schedule and very stern application, that you have got to really take a hold of yourself and do it—set your rear end on that seat and write!
So a writer should not let fear, thoughts of unworthiness or inability, any kind of distraction, or any kind of excuse that might pop up, to keep him from writing. He has just got to do it. He has got to take the time and make the effort.
Her point reminded me of another book I had read fairly recently within the past few years. It is also on writing (or maybe more generally on art). It is by a man named Steven Pressfield. I do not know if you are aware of him, but he is the writer of Gates of Fire from which I took my sermon on the three hundred Greeks of Thermoplyae several years ago. He did it much better than I did in my sermon, by a long shot. It is worth a read if you like history and historical fiction. He also wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, which you may have heard of, which was made into a movie. And recently he wrote a book on the Israelis and their war against the Arabs titled The Lion’s Gate.
But this book that he wrote on writing is called The War of Art. Of course, he takes off on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and just turns the title around. Because the way he looks at art from a personal standpoint, as an artist, it is war. You have got to have the attitude of a soldier, which I will get to shortly, to be able to do real art. Otherwise you are just dabbling.
Pressfield spends the first two-thirds of his book describing the same sorts of things that Dorothea Brande does, but he gives the general problem a name: Resistance. I will not have to tell you to remember that word because I am going to say it many times during the rest of this sermon.
Resistance is horrible. I can tell you that, being a writer, it is awful. It is the worst enemy there is in terms of being artistic. As Pressfield puts it in his first paragraph:
There is a secret that real writers know, that wannabe writers do not, and the secret is this: It is not the writing part that is hard; what is hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is resistance.
How difficult is it to overcome resistance? Maybe this little story from Pressfield will provide an idea of just how formidable a foe it really is.
Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, 700 kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Anyone ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I will say it anyway: It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.
Now he was overstating it a bit. I have actually seen some of his paintings. I will not comment on them. He did paint a little bit, but obviously he dropped it at some point to become an agitator.
Artists of all sorts experience resistance. But maybe writers do the most acutely, I do not know. Maybe that is just because I am looking it from a writer’s standpoint. But resistance—a negative, insidious, implacable, powerful force that works to keep us from doing our work and thus reaching our potential—manifests itself in many, many different ways. But the most important facet of resistance that we need to understand, going forward here, is that it is all internal. It all comes from inside. In fact, we generate it. We do it to ourselves, whether it takes the form of writer’s block (and really, writer’s block is just because of resistance in all these other areas), procrastination, self-doubt, or rationalizing things away, getting distracted (actually being depressed and not being able to do a thing).
Some people eat. Some people drink instead of write or whatever. They exercise. They involve themselves in sports and hobbies. They do less important work in the long run. They get out their cellphone and they play on it. They talk. They do whatever it is they do. I even read one man got so overwhelmed by resistance that he took out every single item of clothes that he had in his clothes closet, and in his dresser, and wherever else he had, and he tried on every piece of clothing from underwear to socks to shirts to coats to boots to whatever he had and tried on as many different combination of those things all because he did want to write but could not bring himself to write. He said it took him about three days. He put off writing for three days just trying on one piece of clothing after another.
But it does not have to be something silly like that. Some people, depending on their natures, will go out and party. They will spend their money frivolously at the mall. They will do one thing or another. Some people actually become a drama king or queen, and they will just do all these things: “Oh, I’m sick!” or “I’m the victim of this, that, or the other thing.” Some people, on the other hand, are a little bit more industrious; they will clean, fold clothes, iron, whatever it is.
But every one of these things that I have mentioned are elements of resistance to keep from writing. And, of course, we have got our computers. There is Facebook, Twitter, and Minesweeper—Aric—all these things that we can do to waste time just so we do not have to do what it is that we really feel like we should be doing. But every one of those things that I just described are choices that we make to do those things other than the writing (in this case). So they are all self-generated. They all come from inside. In fact, we could call resistance self-sabotage. We are gumming up the works somehow and we are doing it to ourselves.
Now resistance, if you have not figured it out already, is a part or a function of our human nature. It is a reaction against aspiration. It is a reaction against change. It is a reaction against trying to do something better, greater, more noble. And why would you think that you would sabotage yourself in doing something good or more noble?
Well, the reason is that human nature does not want a person to change for the better—to grow, to succeed—and the reason for that is because human nature is more comfortable in the status quo. It likes things as they are. It likes things comfortable. The human nature that is in us has gotten comfortable at the plateau where we are, or wherever it happens to be, and it does not want to move, does not want to change, does not want to grow. That is because human nature is, at base, selfish and lazy. So it recoils at the sacrifices that growth and success in some worthwhile endeavor always demands.
It does not want pain. It does not want hurt. It does not want fear. It does not want lack. It does not want any of those things that are going to make it feel like it is stretching or growing. It wants to stay just where it is, right there. No problems. And so when we want to do something that is going to ennoble us, or change us, or make us better, and it is of course going to cause us to go through sacrifices for a short period at least, well, human nature puts on the brakes, drags its feet and, well, actually just sits down. It will not move, like a spoiled child. Because something that you are thinking about will upset the apple cart. It does not want that. It does not want upset. It does not want anything like that. It is fine just how it is. Just leave things alone. We will stay right here.
But as formidable as resistance is (and believe me, resistance actually gets stronger the more we love and desire the change we are trying to make, or the accomplishment that we are pursuing, and it also gets stronger the closer we are to the goal because it sees that you are reaching it and it wants to hold you back so you will not reach it), resistance can be beaten.
And what it takes to put resistance down is exactly what Dorothea Brande recommended: Good habits, a strict regimen, a lunch-pail mentality, and a dogged determination to reach the goal. Pressfield writes that the writer or artist must be a professional. He cannot be an amateur writer. If he wants to write, he better come at it like he has got a job, and that job that is going to bring the money necessary for him to eat, and so he had better approach it like a professional. And he has to have a professional attitude about his art. In another place he says:
The writer is an infantry man. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood. The artist wears combat boots.
In other words, he has to be as serious, uncompromising, and committed to overcoming resistance as a soldier is committed to winning a battle. His life is on the line.
I am sure you have already begun to recognize the parallels between the writer, or artist, facing and overcoming resistance, and our spiritual battle in facing and overcoming our faults and sins.
So today we are going to look at resistance on a spiritual level—the resistance that arises to keep us from making progress toward the Kingdom of God and the production of spiritual fruit and of course, of putting on the character image of Jesus Christ—because resistance is working in you. It is working in me. It is working in all of us. Because what we have been called to is a higher aspiration that includes change and sacrifice—all those things that our human nature does not want to do. And so it resists, and it resists, and it resists, and it digs its heels in, and it grabs for any hold that it can and when it has got a hold, it will swing a sword. It will do whatever it can to bring us down. We are in a fight for our lives and we have got to put resistance down if we are going to succeed.
The Bible actually does not speak of resistance like this per se. You will not go to a scripture and read about this sort of resistance in so many words. It mentions the concept by using other kinds of words, and through illustrations and vignettes that are sprinkled throughout Scripture, mostly in the New Testament, but there are some good examples in the Old Testament. That is where we are going to begin, in the Old Testament, where we will find a very familiar example of someone resisting God.
Let us go to Jonah chapter 1. We are actually going to read the whole first chapter. But I want you to see this and think about, as we go through it, the ways Jonah is resisting.
Jonah 1:1-17 Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up. Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load. But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.
So the captain came to him, and said to him, “What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.” And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this trouble has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah [of course, it did!]. Then they said to him, “Please tell us! For whose cause is this trouble upon us? What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew; and I fear the Lord [or “I fear Yahweh” is actually what he said], the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said to him, “Why have you done this?” For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them [silly man!]. Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you that the sea may be calm for us?”—for the sea was growing more tempestuous. And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” Nevertheless the men rowed hard to bring the ship to land, but they could not, for the sea continued to grow more tempestuous against them.
Therefore they cried out to the Lord and said, “We pray, O Lord, please do not let us perish for this man’s life, and do not charge us with innocent blood; for You, O Lord, have done as it pleased You.” So they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.
Quite a story! A lot going on there. You could make a good movie out of that, probably. But, here in this first chapter in the book of Jonah, we are treated, if you will, to three examples of Jonah’s resistance to God’s instruction to preach to Nineveh against their wickedness. Did you catch them all? You probably did.
Right after Jonah was called to do this, he fled to Tarshish, which entailed traveling down to Joppa, paying a fare which was maybe fairly expensive (I do not know how much it would cost to take a boat from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean to Tarshish, but I am sure it was pricey; travel has always been fairly pricey). And then, of course, he left the country. So in this first one he scrammed. He got out of there. His first act of resistance was to get up and leave—to travel, to go, to get out of there, shut up the place, to put it behind him, to go find a new life somewhere else. He was willing to put all of that behind him—all of what he had done in Israel up to that point. Who knows, maybe he was even a fairly well-known man. I read somewhere in a commentary that there are some who believe that he was actually some sort of diplomat or man at court, someone who knew what was going on and had been involved in government or whatever. Perhaps he was, I do not know, but whatever it was that he did, he was willing to give all that up and leave it behind in order to obey the voice of resistance inside of him.
Jonah is now on the boat. The storm comes up. The second thing he did was isolate himself from everybody and go to sleep. Sleep is an outcome of resistance; that you would much rather sleep than do the work—than do what it is that God has called you to do. You can get a good eight hours out of the way—eight hours of your life every day—just by going to sleep and ignoring what you need to do. Some people can sleep a whole day away just so they will not have to do the work that they have been asked to do. A delaying tactic is what it is.
He agreed to be thrown overboard. As a matter of fact, maybe we could call it a suicide attempt. He was willing to give up his life, by being thrown into a tempestuous sea, in order to get away from God. As a matter of fact, in the book of Jonah, there is actually at least three times (once in chapter 1 and twice in chapter 4) where he talks about giving up his life. Here he does it, and he asks twice in chapter four that his life be taken from him. That is how strong resistance was in Jonah that he was willing to give up everything, not to do what God had called him to do.
So it appears that Jonah was willing to do anything but the work of God that he had been given, even to the point of choosing death over fulfilling God’s will. That is how formidable resistance can be. He had a bad case of it. And it lasted through his own death, if we understand David [Grabbe] correctly from his sermonette a little while back, where it is pretty clear in chapter two that he had to be resurrected out of the belly of the fish. So it even went through that period where God showed him His great power and His ability to bring him back from certain death.
And, of course, in chapter three we also have the great miracle that he worked there in Assyria, in Nineveh, where the people repented—these horrible, wicked Assyrians. The stench of their sins had come up before God and that is why He had called Jonah in the first place, to send him over there to preach against them, to see maybe if they would repent. And they did. They called a fast. Everybody fasted, even the animals. That is unbelievable that God was able to bring it about.
And then Jonah was still facing resistance. He was upset. Let us read chapter 4 here.
Jonah 4:1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.
This man had some personality problems, some deep spiritual problems.
Jonah 4:2 So he prayed to the Lord and said, “Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country?”
It is for this very reason that he put up such resistance.
Jonah 4:2-3 Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish, for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!”
Do you understand what he said? “I resisted, Lord, because You’re so merciful to everybody and these stupid Assyrians. They should die. You should bomb them. You should make them like Sodom and Gomorrah. But I knew You are merciful and You’re going to let them off the hook. So I fled.” That is the reason. He resisted because of God’s mercy and kindness. Wacko! He has got some deep problems.
Jonah 4:4 Then the Lord said [I could just hear Him saying this deadpan], “Is it right for you to be angry?”
It is like “Come on, Jonah! You know better than that.”
Jonah 4:5 So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city.
Notice he sat on the east side. It has more to do with his attitude here. Because, you know, Cain went out to the land in the east, in Nod. Whenever the direction is eastward, it is an indication in the Bible that he is going away from God (because God is in the west). And so what we are seeing here with Jonah is that God’s reaction to his little temper tantrum here forced him even further away. He was not going to take God’s rebuke. He was going further away.
Jonah 4:5 [So he sat on the east side of the city and] There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade [with his thumb in his mouth, rocking in the corner because he did not get his way].
That is almost what it is. The language here is that Jonah was sulking. He was mad. He was angry. He was going to go off by himself and sulk while he watched to see what would happen in Nineveh so he might see what would become of the city.
Jonah 4:6 And the Lord prepared a plant . . .
Now, remember, the reason why Jonah was angry and that he had fled away—that he had given in to resistance—was because God was so kind and merciful. Now verse 6:
Jonah 4:6 And the Lord prepared a plant and made it come over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery.
God is killing him with kindness. God is giving him exactly what he had resisted for these other people.
Jonah 4:6 So Jonah was very grateful for the plant [“Oh it is great when God is merciful to me, but not those wicked Assyrians. They need to die!”]
God was giving him a taste of his own medicine here. “Wouldn’t you rather, Jonah, have that plant to cover you, to show My kindness and mercy on you, so that you won’t die out there in the sun?” Of course!
Jonah 4:7 But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm . . .
Do you know that word comes up a few times in this book? God, despite Jonah’s resistance, was prepared to face it and to overcome it. God prepared the great fish. So He was already ready for Jonah’s resistance. And now, here in chapter 4, he prepares not only a plant to give him shade but He prepared a worm to take the plant down! God was way ahead of Jonah here and He was going to work as hard as He could to turn this man’s attitude around.
Jonah 4:7-8 [God] prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered. And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind [here comes that word again] . . .
God was there working, trying to overcome Jonah’s resistance. Now notice the things that He did here. One was very big kindness. He was giving him this plant to provide shade for him. The worm was an act of destruction on the plant, and the east wind was also an act of destruction, as it were. It was something that Jonah was not going to enjoy. It was actually a kind of fiery trial, if you will, that he was going to have to endure.
Jonah 4:8 . . . God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint [I hope he had a bit of hair up there, otherwise he would have had a boil]. Then he wished death for himself [there he is again], and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Rather than just take it, rather than just suck it up and endure, rather than move and find a shady place (maybe go in to Nineveh where he had a whole bunch of friends that he had just made)—but, instead, he is still resisting, willing to die, rather than have God’s pity (have other people live a bit longer, not having to face God’s wrath).
Jonah 4:9 Then God said to Jonah [now He is going to try to reason with him a bit], “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”
He is not giving in, is he? He is allowing resistance to make him argue with God to His face.
Jonah 4:10 But the Lord said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.”
So He was showing the level of Jonah’s mercy, Jonah’s pity towards something that he had nothing to do with.
Jonah 4:11 “And should I . . .
Now think of the ‘I’ here. This is God! What stakes did He have in the game here? Remember He is the Creator. He made those people. Just because they are not Israelites, it does not mean that He does not care for them. They are human beings. They were made in His image. So He said:
Jonah 4:11 “And should I [their Creator] not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and also much livestock?”
“Do you realize, Jonah, that there are hundred and twenty thousand kids in that city? Don’t you think I should have pitied them, the innocents?” “Get a grip, man!” is what He is saying. “Can’t you see the proportions here? I had mercy and kindness on hundreds of thousands of people—a lot of kids, a lot of widows, sick people, whatever—because they repented. That is what they were supposed to do. It was a good thing. And here you are all upset about a plant.”
I just showed you this example to give you an idea of how extreme resistance is, to what extremes it will go to keep us from doing what is right—what God wants us to do. And all of this resistance that Jonah put up, he created himself. He would not have gotten into this mess, as far as we know, if he just said, “Yes Lord, I will go.” But, no, he had to fight it. He had to resist it because of some stupid idea of Israelite superiority.
So it is a good lesson, a good illustration, for us to think about when we begin to resist what God wants us to do. When we hear an admonition in God’s Word that we need to change something, we will immediately resist it just like Jonah did. And we have got to be sure, we have got to be on ourselves to make sure, that it goes no further than that—that we repent of that resistance and comply.
So we see that human nature’s resistance to repentance and spiritual growth is horrible. It is willing to go to extreme levels, even to personal harm and to the point of death, to keep us from doing what God wants us to do. Its attitude, if you want to put it that way, is anything is preferable to change, especially change for the better. And it is easy to see, once we take a step back and look at it and think about resistance, that it is not just human nature at work. There is more to it than that. It is the murderous attitude of the prince of the power of the air attempting to thwart God’s will at any cost. He will take any avenue, take any position. He will do anything you could even think of, if it is going to work to stop us. Now, of course, he has got to have God’s permission to do a lot of these things because we have a hedge about us. But he will do everything and anything, up to the limits of his power, to make us fail. And if he needs to amp up our resistance somehow, he will find a way.
Artistic resistance, that we talked about earlier, is intimidating on its own, but it pales beside Satanic resistance put up against godly change and growth. Let us just touch base on that in Ephesians chapter 6 where Paul writes:
Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Those wiles of the devil manifest themselves as resistance in us.
Ephesians 6:12-13 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand there and fight with what God equips us with—what God makes us available to us to fight with. But we have got to take it up. Resistance does not even want us to take up those gifts and talents and strengths that God has given us. Resistance wants us to forget those things and to rely on ourselves and to succumb to the distractions and whatnot that it throws up. We have got to make up our mind, when resistance rears its ugly head, that we take up that armor and stand—be willing to fight—and not give in.
All right. Let us see another example in Acts 7. We were just here, I believe it was last week, in the example of Stephen and the Jews there, after Christ’s death. I just want to start verse 51 and see the resistance of the Israelites for many, many generations.
Acts 7:51-54 [Stephen is finishing his speech] “You stiff-necked [that is resistance] and uncircumcised in heart and ears [that is a result of resistance]! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers [you are following right in your fathers’ footsteps, resisting all the while; they resisted Jesus Christ in the flesh], who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it [they resisted God’s law].” When they heard these things [notice this phrase:] they were cut to the heart.
They were stabbed right where it counted. Stephen was right on target. He hit them right where it hurt. That is why they were cut to the heart. Their consciences were pricked. They knew he was speaking the truth. They had resisted the Holy Spirit. They had resisted God’s law. They had resisted every prophet that He had sent because they wanted to do it their own way. They did not want to give in to God, they wanted to give in to their own natures, and so they accompanied resistance. They did what resistance wanted them to do rather than stand firm under the law and doing what God wanted them to do.
Acts 7:57-58 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears [it is kind of silly to think they shouted him down], and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him.
Now you see where resistance took them this time? To act like fools and to kill a man. Because they were not willing to give in to what God wanted them to do—to make the sacrifices that they needed to do to believe, to understand, to make that change. All of that was resistance. And they succumbed to it again and they are still succumbing to it. They still have not changed. Only some of them have that God has been able to get through to, like the apostle Paul. You know, it does say in his calling there, “Why are you kicking against the pricks?” “Why are you resisting? I’ve been trying to get at you, Saul. I’ve been trying and trying, and you just keep going the other way and taking My people to prison.” Because Paul was here. It says:
Acts 7:58 And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
At this point, Saul was resisting just as much as the rest of them. But God got through to Saul finally. He had to blind him. You see how strong resistance can be.
Now let us go to another example. I am sure you are familiar with this one too. Let us go back to the book of Matthew, in chapter 14. We will start in verse 23 and go down through verse 33. This is Jesus after the feeding of the five thousand. He sent the boat out. And then it says:
Matthew 14:23-27 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on a mountain by Himself to pray. And when evening had come, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea [the Sea of Galilee], tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary. Now in the fourth watch of the night [very early in the morning] Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost [a spirit]!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I . . .”
Now “It is I” is a terrible translation. It should be “I AM.” If you look in your margin, that is exactly what He said: He told them basically “I am the Creator God, I AM.”
Matthew 14:27 . . . do not be afraid.”
“Hey, I’m in control here” is what He was saying. “I control the sea. I control the lightning. I control everything that is going on. The waves don’t bother Me. I’m their Creator. So don’t be afraid.”
Matthew 14:28-29 And Peter answered Him [I am sure this is why he answered Him like this] and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water [still a little bit of doubt there, obviously: “If it is You”] So He said, “Come [very confident].” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus.
He stepped out like he was on dry land, and walked. The wind and sea were not affecting him. He did not plunge down into the water. He was walking on it, just as Jesus had said. The command was “Come.” He obeyed. And so he overcame resistance initially. And that was good. Peter gets a gold star for at least getting out of the boat. And then, it always seems like you do so well at the beginning and then something comes up. Well, in this case, what came up was more wind, more waves: Distraction.
Matthew 14:30-33 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
So what was Peter doing here? He was asking Jesus basically, “What do You want me to do?” And Jesus said, “Walk on the water. Come! I’m the Creator. I will help you. I am here. Walk to Me.” So you could say that what Peter was doing was he was imitating Christ’s walk amidst all the boisterous activity and adverse conditions of this world. And so he did fine. He stepped out on faith initially and all was well. So he did succeed for a short time.
But when he got thinking about the conditions on the Sea of Galilee, and how impossible it was that he was actually walking on water, and having the question cross his mind “What in the world am I doing out here? It’s fathoms below me!” that is when he began to sink. The resistance that was in him reared its ugly head again and it spawned doubt and fear. He got distracted by the waves and the wind, and he took his eyes off the goal. He was looking at Christ walking right toward him and then he looked away and noticed everything else and he began to sink. Because he was not longer looking at the Standard that he was supposed to uphold: Jesus confidently striding across the water.
So he sank because he gave in to resistance even though he had proven to himself that if he just did it the way Christ wanted him to do, he could walk on water too. But, instead, he paid attention to his immediate concerns and failed.
Now Jesus’ question here is very instructive: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty, confidence, belief and faith in Christ and His power to transform us into His image. That is the main overall defense against resistance: That you have faith and confidence; that you rely on Jesus Christ.
Maybe even a better way to put it, we will add a little bit of action into it: It is faith coupled with response. Because, remember, faith is dead if it is not active. It has got to move. It has got to do something. It has got to respond. So it is faith coupled with a movement forward toward Christ. Because you cannot stand still. That was part of Peter’s problem. I am sure that when he was walking out there, confidently on the water, he was fine—he was making strides toward Christ. And then, when he saw everything, he probably stopped and looked around. And you cannot stop because when you stop, you sink.
So it is a moving forward in faith toward Christ, keeping our goal clearly in mind at all times. We can never take our eyes off of Him because if we do, our aim is going to go toward something else, and we will be off the mark. We have always got to be seeing Him as our target.
If Peter, maybe in another timeline, had instead only ignored or discounted, or considered the physical around him to be of less importance than Christ, he could have walked all the way to Jesus and then walked with Him all the way back to the boat. But he did not because he had human nature.
I am saying we all fail and we are all going to fail, but we have always got to react in faith with movement toward Christ. That is how you overcome resistance. As they said about the writers, you have got to sit down and write. Well, when Jesus tells us to do something, we have got to move forward in faith and do it.
Resistance is strong and immediate and very formidable. Most of us usually give in to it rather than walk toward Christ. It is the way we are. We are weak, fleshly human beings. But we have got to start having a better batting average as we move forward toward the Kingdom of God. We have got to keep trying to respond in faith properly every time we see something like this come up.
Let us get to very brief admonitions from the apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 4. These are very similar so they are going to sound nearly alike. And they are being shortened to the point in being nearly alike, basically saying the same thing.
Ephesians 4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Let us get the other one, in I Thessalonians 5.
I Thessalonians 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.
So we have “Do not grieve the Spirit” in Ephesians 4, and “Do not quench the Spirit” in I Thessalonians 5. Both of these admonitions urge us not to resist the guidance of God through the Holy Spirit.
Now you cannot necessarily translate the words here as “resist” but that is the idea that it is trying to get across: Do not resist what the Holy Spirit is urging you to do. “Grieve,” in Ephesians 4:30, is specifically “to cause sadness or sorrow.” Do not cause the Holy Spirit (talking about God’s Spirit—God, Jesus Christ) pain. Do not cause Him grief because you are not doing what He said to do. You are not doing what He is trying to get you to do. So he is saying: Do not resist the Holy Spirit, overcome resistance and do what He wants you to do, and God will be pleased. He will not be sad. He will not sorrowful. He, instead, will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That is what He wants you to do. Do not grieve Him. Make Him happy by doing what He wants you to do.
The other one is “quench,” and this is like quenching a fire with water. The idea here is do not stifle the Holy Spirit (or do not smother, or do not suppress the Holy Spirit). It even goes as far as extinguish the Holy Spirit because, if you keep that up, that is what is going to happen in the end. And so you have a lot of different versions of the Bible that use the word “quench” but occasionally one will say “extinguish.”
I have seen these other words too: “Do not stifle the Spirit” or “Do not smother the Spirit” or “Do not suppress the Spirit,” meaning we are putting it down in order to do something else that we would rather do. We are giving in to resistance instead. So resistance wants us to ignore God’s prodding through the Spirit because we think the process of change that it promises to put us through would be too difficult. So we put it down—we ignore it, we stifle it, we suppress it—and that is to our hurt.
Even though Christ is offering us a lifeline through that very same Spirit—He is offering us all the help that we need through that—we still reject it and it is kind of depressing to think about. That is why Paul is admonishing us “Don’t do this. Don’t grieve the Spirit. Don’t quench the Spirit.” Instead, welcome the Spirit of God and comply with the Spirit of God.
Let us go to Mark 9. What He is speaking about in verse 42 (the paragraph marker in my New King James says “Jesus warns of offenses”) is He is actually warning us about sin in general and the things that we do. He does not necessarily use these words—that we are actually giving in to resistance—but that is what we are doing. We are going to run down all the way through the end of the chapter here, about eight verses.
Mark 9:42 “And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”
Now He is telling us “Okay, this is a very bad thing that has occurred—these offenses and such.” So what do we need to do?
Mark 9:43-48 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye makes you sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’”
What is Jesus saying here? He is saying that these sins are very bad. They cause a lot of problems. They are not only bad for our character, but they cause division between people—upset the peace of the congregation, of the church—and that is not good. So what needs to be done is that we need to take whatever measure is necessary to make sure we do not do them again. And so if it means cutting off a hand (He does not mean it literally, He is giving you an extreme here)—it would be better for you to do whatever it takes, whatever the sacrifice is, than for you to commit that sin again and cause further division within the church.
So take a hold of yourself, and bear down, and do what you have to do so it never happens again. Whether it is a foot, a leg, an arm, a hand, a tongue (that one really gets us into trouble, does it not?), we need to really practice severe measures. Paul calls it mortifying the flesh—killing it off—in order not to sin and break the peace and of course, having therefore cut yourself off from God as well through sin.
So He is telling us here “Look, this is war. And if you’re out in the middle of the battlefield and you’ve got to cut off your foot (because unless you do that, you are not going to be able to win the victory) then you better do it.” I do not know when you come across a situation where you would have to do that. But all I am saying is that Jesus is saying: “Be prepared to sacrifice anything and to take whatever measure is necessary, within what is good and right, to overcome that sin.” Do not let resistance (to use the theme of the day) cause you to fail, to hold you back, to keep you from doing what is right.
Then He goes on. This is the very next section here in Mark, verses 49 and 50. I want you to see this. He gives three, what they call, salt sayings—three sayings about salt. The first one is found in verse 49 and the last two are found in verse 50.
Mark 9:49-50 For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt [that is the first saying]. Salt is good [this is the second saying], but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? [And the third one:] Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another.
The three salt sayings:
The first one, in verse 49, literally says “everyone will be salted with fire.” The New King James has changed it to the word to ‘seasoned’ because it helps us a little bit better to understand what He means. What He is saying here is that we will all be tested and proven in our saltiness, as it were. We will be seasoned, if you will, by experience. We are all going to have to go through these experiences, these trials, so you might as well get used to it. Nobody gets away with going through their Christian lives without these fiery seasoning trials.
Then He goes on and He speaks about sacrifice because the imagery here is of a sacrifice. What you have got to understand is that you are the sacrifice. Remember, we are supposed to be living sacrifices before God. And so every sacrifice has to be seasoned with salt. He is saying here that if you are truly going to be a living sacrifice to God, then you are going to have endure these salty trials. So you might as well just accept that fact. These are good things. The image of salt in this particular passage is of salt as a preservative, as a purifier, and of course it gives flavor as well. Salt does all kinds of different things.
The second salt saying, in verse 50, is that salt is a good thing. Salt preserves, purifies, and imparts flavor. It does all these things and all of that is wonderful. That is a benefit, not only to us but to the world. We are the shining light on the hill. We are supposed to be the example that they can look to. God wants us to be salty in this way. He wants us to be different and pure before the world.
But if we always give in to resistance, our salt will soon lose its flavor and all of its other abilities. It will not do its job. And so the salt, then, is no longer salty. The warning here that He gives at the end of the second salt saying is “Careful! If you lose your flavor, it can’t be restored.” Remember, He had just talked about the Lake of Fire—Gehenna fire—just in the last five verses or so, three times at least. He is saying “Watch out! If you allow yourself to lose the salt—if you give in to resistance, if you allow yourself to lose the flavor—it cannot be restored. You can always come back when you have a little bit of salt flavor left. But if you let it all go, you end up in the fire. That is good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot.”
The third salt saying, in the last half of verse 50, says: “Have salt in yourselves and have peace with one another.” What Jesus is saying is that despite the barriers and the distractions that resistance throws up, we must be constantly building the saltiness that God desires. It is because of saltiness that we are acceptable to Him and helpful to those around us. Because in this case—in this passage of using the salt—that is the distinctive difference. So He says “Have salt in yourselves.” Make sure it is a part of your character—this goodness of God, this thing that makes us different, this holiness. Build it up, despite resistance.
And if everyone is building it up and we all become salty together, guess what the product is? Peace. We are all working together. We are all going toward the same goal. We are not interested in offending one another. We are not interested in setting one against another in any form. We are all moving toward the Kingdom of God and the image of Jesus Christ. So we have peace.
Let us finish in I Peter 5. We all know this very well. James says something very similar (in James 4:6-10), but I think Peter’s is a little bit more to the point. Notice the steps he advises us to take in terms of resistance.
I Peter 5:6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time . . .
I Peter 5:7 . . . casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Point number two: Cast your cares on Him, trust Him, have faith. Is it not what Jesus told Peter (Matthew 14:31)? Do not try to go it alone. Take the help that He is going to give, that He offers freely through His Spirit—all the skills, all the strengths, all the things that He promises by His Spirit. Take advantage of them. Do not worry about your life as it were.
I Peter 5:8 Be sober . . .
Point number three: Be serious about your calling, about overcoming, and about spiritual growth. It cannot be done carelessly. It cannot be done offhandedly or flippantly. You must be in control of yourself at all times. So take charge of the path that you take. Own it.
I Peter 5:8 . . . be vigilant . . .
Point number four: That means “be watchful.” Keep your eyes open. Because your enemy will attack anywhere, everywhere, in any intensity that he can. Be on guard. He is always trying to trip us up, so we have to keep our eyes open for tricks and temptations.
We will just go down to verse 9. It says:
I Peter 5:9 Resist him . . .
Point number five: Simple, right? “Resist him” meaning resist resistance. Do not listen to it. Give it a deaf ear. Do what God wants you to do, not resistance. So fight it. Take it on. Put on the whole armor of God and stand. Do not run from it. That is the worst thing you can do. Do not be a Jonah. Make resistance run from you. You have the power. It is in you through the Holy Spirit. Use it.
I Peter 5:9 . . . [be] steadfast in the faith . . .
Point number six: Be confident that God has your back and that His promises are sure. He will give you the strength and the character and the gifts and whatever it is you need to overcome. Just remain steadfast, moving forward.
He also says:
I Peter 5:9 . . . knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.
Point number seven: “Remember that you are not alone.” You have brethren that are going through exactly the same things you are. And if they are not exactly what you are going through, they have probably gone through one that is very similar and they are there to help. We can join hands and defeat this. They can be there to help us in any kind of suffering that we may be going through. So take heart that we are in this together.
I Peter 5:10 . . . may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
Point number eight: Remember that God, though He allows you to suffer for a time, will more than make it up to you by perfecting you, by establishing you in His Kingdom, strengthening you, and settling you in peace and victory. As Peter says in the next verse:
I Peter 5:11 To Him be the glory [for it is He who really gets the credit for overcoming our resistance] and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
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