In Matthew 17 Jesus comes upon a man who pleads with him to heal his son. This boy is an epileptic and the scriptures tell us he “suffers terribly, for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water” (Matt. 17:15).
Falling often into the fire, and often into the water.
When reading this passage I felt the Lord was saying to me that this is a picture of many people’s Christian walk. I know it was of mine at one time. In the margins of my bible next to this verse I have written the words:
Falling into both hell and baptism. How often I walked in both!
I remember all-too-well the days when I “suffered terribly,” moving back and forth between the realities of hell and baptism, fire and water, porn and confession. It was a miserable existence, one that played havoc on my conscience and my spirit day in and day out. For years I stayed there in the middle, bouncing back and forth, indulging in my flesh Monday through Saturday and then pleading for grace on Sunday.
Fire and Water. Hell and Baptism. It’s a miserable way to live.
And the enemy of our souls wants to convince us that this is the place everyone else lives as well or that there is no other home but this. He causes us to defend ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, minimizing our own sin while magnifying those of our neighbors. When we get busy comparing ourselves to one another it’s easy to believe the lie that the Christian life is always one of hell and baptism, fire and water.
Steve Gallagher, in his book Living in Victory, describes this life between hell and baptism this way:
What is freedom, and what is bondage? Many Christians try to have it both ways. They want the freedom of living their own lives, inviting God’s presence on their terms, but never entering into the life of liberty in the Spirit that God intends for them. Undeniably lukewarm, they possess the worst of both worlds. They neither live in horrible, outward sin nor in the wedded bliss of the first love. Since they love their lives in this world, they will not abandon their lives to Jesus. Therefore, they do not really get to enjoy the pleasures of sin nor the glorious, overcoming life in the Spirit. Instead, they live in a dismal, gray world which exists between the two extremes – all under the nice sounding title of “being balanced.” The reality is they live in a spiritual ghetto (pg. 150).
If you are indulging in both habitual sin and religion, waffling back and forth between hell and baptism, then you are in this spiritual ghetto Gallagher describes. You are what James called the “double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).
The way out of hell is to always look to Jesus. Paul says we ought to keep our mind on things above, not on things of the earth (Col. 3:2) and that our goal is to become mature in Christ, looking like him, not others (Eph. 4:13). The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to “consider Jesus” and to “look to him” who is the “founder and perfecter” of our faith, so that we might not grow weary or fainthearted as we struggle against sin. We have not, the author reminds us, resisted to the point of shedding blood like our Lord Jesus had (Heb. 12:1-6).
When I compare myself with others around me, and justify my behavior, desires or sins based on what others are doing then I will never change. Jesus called this path the “broad way” and said many are on it, and it’s end is death and destruction (Matt. 7:13). That way is the way of hell. It is not difficult to find any number of enablers, both in and out of the church, who will tell you, “boys will be boys,” or “you aren’t hurting anyone.” Worse yet, the devil will gladly tell you what you want to hear, causing you to be proud of yourself that your private sins of lust are not nearly as bad as the public sins of your peers. This is the broad way that leads to hell.
But when I compare myself to Jesus, always looking to him rather than others, two truths come into better focus for me:
1. How unlike him I am.
2. How much I need him to change me from inside out.
When I compare myself to Jesus rather than the world around me I see how much and how often I fall short of the glory of God and deserve judgment while simultaneously, by the grace of God, can know His mercy and love. That He who knew no sin would die for me who is full of sin is a game-changer. As the beautiful hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” declares, seeing Jesus pours contempt on all my pride and this love so amazing, so divine, “demands my soul, my life, my all.”
If you find yourself falling into both fire and water, hell and baptism, then you must first repent of your lack of faith (Matt. 17:17) and believe that God desires you to be free from this sin, and has the ability to do it. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and this most certainly includes your enslavement to unholy desires and lusts. You cannot compare yourself to others any longer but only with the holy, righteous, perfect Father in heaven who bought you with a price and therefore has rightful claim on how you use your body (1 Cor. 6:20).
There is no joy like the joy that comes with knowing that you know that you know that you are walking in purity and in holiness with Jesus Christ. Yes, it will cost you much, and require a complete transformation of your mind (Rom. 12:1-2) and heart (John 3:7), but it is worth it! Jesus did not die on a cross for you and I to live in a spiritual ghetto, bouncing between hell and baptism, fire and water, but so that you and I could be new creations (2 Cor. 5:17)! He whom the Son has set free is truly and wonderfully free (John 8:36)!