Evading the Devil’s trap
by Glen Doss, Major –
All of us deeply crave the knowledge of God that comes from grappling and participating with him in all levels of our experience. We were born with the capacity for knowing him, which he himself instilled within us (see Ecc 3:11, John 1:9).
Non-Christians may not realize it is the knowledge of God they seek—I have also seen that lost, scared look in the eyes of some Christians revealing that they, too, are far from the real knowledge of God. Still spiritual babes, they slip into a terrible malaise or else jump on the evangelical bandwagon, claiming theological finality, seeing holiness as a mere possession, not a truth to be lived. Reinhold Niebuhr saw this clearly: “The denial of the finiteness of our knowledge and the false claim of finality is always partly the ignorance of our ignorance. It is a failure in our capacity for self-transcendence” (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 2).
But it is not altogether their fault…for don’t we often tell new believers that at conversion they received all the potential they needed to grow into Christlikeness? Yet, we fail to make it clear to them how to go about it. We simply assume that if they study their Bible, spiritual growth will follow.
We have depended heavily upon the teaching of Biblical doctrine to promote Christian growth; and it has failed. We produce Christians who can wax eloquently about the atonement but relate poorly to God on an affective level. In time they become detached from him, and their spiritual vision fades.
A.W. Tozer noted that just as many scientists lose God in his world, so many theologians lose God in his Word (Pursuit of God, p. 13). The goal of Christian spirituality is not information; it is transformation. God is a person to be engaged with the heart (1 Co 8:1-3, 11).
Clearly we need something to help Christians evade this fatal trap of self-deception whereby they believe but do not grow in Christ or, as James put it, deceive themselves by being “hearers” of the Word but not “doers” of it (1:22-25). They lie to themselves and then believe their own lies. Surely only a true encounter with the living God can save us from such a devilish trap!
I saw this often when working in the recovery field. For example, an intake counselor who has learned the jargon of recovery and AA well, can quote the Twelve Steps by heart and discuss most chemical addictions and their symptoms, begins to see himself as an expert, no longer needing to “work the program.” Consequently, he ceases going to Twelve-Step meetings and breaks all contact with his sponsor. Sure enough, it’s only a matter of time before he “falls off the wagon.” Christians sometimes make the same mistake: Forgetting the true meaning of the Incarnation, they attempt to live their faith in their heads.
In our work with addicts in recovery, my wife Mary and I often directed the new Christian to the Twelve Steps of AA or NA—a proven effective format for spiritual growth as long as the addict works at it. We need something just as effective for all new Christians: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose,” wrote Paul (Phil 2:12-13). The Twelve Steps takes the tenets of the Bible and presents them as a prescribed plan for spiritual growth.
Coming to Christ at age 39, I vividly recall the pain and trauma of my former life without God. Major Dale Hill, my theology teacher at SFOT, made the following comment following my testimony one day: “Glen, you were so close to the flames of Hell you could literally feel them singeing the soles of your feet!” He was absolutely correct; I will never forget the hell on Earth from which Christ rescued me; therefore, I will never cease loving him and passionately serving him. I serve him through working the Twelve Steps in my own life, though I have never been an addict or alcoholic. The spiritual mechanisms of the Twelve Steps consist of repeated confession, surrender, self-examination, prayer, and ceaseless striving to improve one’s conscious contact with God.
Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle explicitly described the need long before the Twelve Steps were born: Spiritual authority, he said, “is not won by promotion but by many prayers and tears. It is attained by confession of sin, and much heart-searching and humbling before God; by self-surrender, a courageous sacrifice of every idol, a bold uncomplaining embrace of the Cross, and by an eternal, unfaltering looking unto Jesus crucified.” (The Soul-Winner’s Secret, p.22)