Long Night's Journey into Day: The Path Away from Sinby James Emery White
Begin the journey toward a transformed life!
Many of us look at our lives and wish we could experience lasting life-change. We long to live in the light of our relationship with God, but find that we often reside in the troubling darkness of temptation. It's time to step onto the path that God has/b>
Struggling with life's dark side? Longing for change?
Begin the journey toward a transformed life!
Many of us look at our lives and wish we could experience lasting life-change. We long to live in the light of our relationship with God, but find that we often reside in the troubling darkness of temptation. It's time to step onto the path that God has laid out for us, the only path that will lead us toward the life we long for. It's time to embark on a Long Night's Journey into Day.
Using three keys found in Scripture, you can embark on the journey that leads to personal transformation. Lay hold of the desire, knowledge, and power that make it possible to move away from sin and replace it with life-giving virtue.
As pastor and author James Emery White examines the eight basic sins from which all others grow, he also reveals the virtues that counter each sin. By recognizing sin for what it is and practicing the virtues that offset it, we can journey toward lasting life-change that draws from God’s incredible power.
Find out what can happen to a life lived in full partnership with the living God. Set out on the path of personal transformation, the life that becomes a Long Night's Journey into Day.
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Long Night's Journey into DayThe Path Away from Sin
By James Emery White
WaterBrook PRESSCopyright © 2002 James Emery White
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Path Away from Sin
Joining with God for the Journey
Every day, approximately one hundred prison inmates are released into the streets of Huntsville, Texas. Though there are fifty-eight prisons holding more than 130,000 inmates in the state, male prisoners are always released from the prison system's state headquarters at the Huntsville unit.
Former inmates emerge from a gate in the red brick walls wearing ill-fitting lime-green short-sleeved shirts and bearing laundry bags stuffed with personal belongings. Each man is given an outfit of cheap clothes, a check for fifty dollars, and a state voucher good for one bus ticket out of town. With no one to greet them, most of the men stream past the private homes and prison offices toward the Greyhound station three blocks away. They cash their checks in a nearby store, buy new clothes, and then board a bus to take them away.
Are they free? Yes. Have they been given a new lease on life? Without question. But ahead of each of these men lies a perilous journey. Positioned to greet them as they board the bus is a welcoming committee of prostitutes and drug dealers whose only goal is to ensnare them in their previous way of living.
Welcome to a soberingpicture of the new life in Christ. When you commit yourself to Christ, you immediately become a new creation. You've left the prison of your old nature, and you've taken on a new identity, defined by your relationship with God through Christ. The power of sin to rule your life has been broken, destroyed by the cross of Christ. And you have been raised with Christ into newness of life. A completely fresh life awaits you.
Are you free? Yes. Have you been given a new lease on life? Without question. But as C. S. Lewis's fictitious demon Screwtape counsels his young nephew Wormwood on the intricacies of temptation after his "patient" becomes a Christian, "All the habits of the patient, both mental and bodily, are still in our favour." The interplay between our freedom from the power of sin and our freedom to still commit sin is one of the most perplexing dynamics related to the spiritual life. Understanding that interplay lies at the heart of joining with God for the transformational journey.
The Saints We Are
One of the most sweeping and dramatic declarations in Scripture is that every Christian is a saint. Not will be or might be, but is. Consider the prominence of this assertion, found six times in the New Testament book of Ephesians. Paul begins by writing: "Patti, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints in Ephesus."
With that as an introduction, he continues: "So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God." Then Paul, in talking about himself in relation to other Christians, says, "I am the very least of all the saints."
Finally, in closing out the letter, notice how Paul reminds his readers to keep praying for each other: "always keep on praying for all the saints."
There is no doubt in Paul's mind about the identity of someone who is in a relationship with Christ. That person is a saint. But surely Paul jests. Saints are supposed to be holy, almost perfect people who have devoted their lives to doing the work of God. They are humble souls who persevere despite great persecution. They lead exemplary lives of service and righteousness. Not many of us fit that description, so what does the Bible mean when it calls someone a saint, especially since it calls all Christians saints?
The answer is found in the definition of the word saint, which means "those who are set apart." The moment you commit your life to Christ, confess your sins, and repent-putting your trust in Christ as your Forgiver and Leader-something dramatic happens to your spiritual position. The Bible says you were once dead, but now you're alive. You were far off from God, and now you're brought near. You were a stranger to God, and now you're His son or daughter. You were an alien, and now you're a citizen of God's kingdom. In short, you were lost, and now you're found.
No matter who you are, how you have lived, or what you have done, when you come to Christ for forgiveness and enter into a relationship with God, you experience a dramatic identity change. God declares you to be set apart. Your sins have been forgiven. You've been accepted into God's family. In essence, He has said, "You are no longer what you were, or who you were. Because of your acceptance of what Christ did on the cross for you, your sin, your rebellion, your mistakes, your failures, will not be the last word, much less the defining reality of your life. As far as I am concerned, you are a new creation. You are holy. You are a saint."
I read of a Christian professor of sociology who was teaching a class called "Social Problems" at the University of Pennsylvania. He often tried to make natural use of the course material to stimulate his students' thinking on spiritual matters. During one class, when dealing with the social problem of the world's oldest profession, he asked, "Have you ever considered what the various religious leaders of the world throughout history would have said to a prostitute?" He asked what Buddha might have said, and what Muhammad's thoughts might have been. He raised the question of what the Mosaic Law had to say about this dehumanizing practice. The discussion became lively and intense.
When the time was ripe, he asked, "What do you suppose Jesus would have said to a prostitute?"
A student on the front row raised his hand and said, "Jesus never met a prostitute."
Sensing his opportunity, the professor said, "Yes, He did. I'll show you in my Bible where-" Just as he was about to "whip the Word" on the young man, the student interrupted him. "You didn't hear me. I said Jesus never met a prostitute."
Once again the professor protested, reached for his New Testament, and began leafing through the pages.
Once again, the student spoke out. "You're not listening to me. I am saying that Jesus never met a prostitute. Do you think that when He looked at Mary Magdalene He saw a prostitute? Do you think He saw whores when he looked at women like her? Jesus never met a prostitute!"
The professor fell silent, dumbfounded by the student's insight. He was absolutely right! Jesus never met a prostitute; He didn't look at people that way? What Jesus saw in Mary Magdalene, and what He sees in you, is someone He loves who has been stained by sin and rebellion. But rather than the sin and rebellion driving Him away, it drove Him to the cross so the stain could be removed and you could be white as snow. In other words, a saint.
The Saints We're Becoming
But there's more to the identity that awaits us in Christ than merely being declared by God to be a saint positionally. He also wants to develop us into saints functionally.
When you become a Christian, God has a very clear agenda for your life. It is to make you like Jesus. It is to have you become the person He has already declared you to be. As God announced through the prophet Ezekiel, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." C. S. Lewis once reflected that we tend to think God simply wants obedience to a set of rules, when in truth He wants people of a particular sort. It's as if God says, "You are a saint, now live like one!" But that's not all. He also says, "And I'll help."
So while sanctification, the gradual process of becoming holy, is "God's gift before it is our goal," it still remains a goal. We are meant to pursue God's promise of moral transformation through the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit until it becomes our daily experience. This is why the writer of Hebrews speaks of striving for holiness.
Imagine that Phil Jackson, who coached the Chicago Bulls and then the Los Angeles Lakers to NBA championships, came to you and said, "You've made the squad. You're now officially a member of a world champion basketball team. Here's your uniform, your locker, everything. And don't worry; your place on the roster has nothing to do with your basketball ability. I'm just choosing to accept you, to bestow upon you this identity. But here's what I want to do: Now that you're on an NBA team, I want you to let me develop you into a professional-level player."
This process of transformation is the great enterprise of God. But how is it going to happen? Not the way you might think, for when it comes to life-change, there are five lies that prevent us from submitting to God's transforming work in our lives.
Lie No. 1: It's All About Knowing
Our culture prizes access to information above just about any other value. We equate knowledge with power and assume that information is what bestows knowledge. When it comes to genuine life-change, this devotion to knowledge is a lie that prevents personal transformation.
It's easy to see why we might fall prey to this lie. From the colonial times to the present, information has dramatically reshaped our nation and the world. Beginning with the postal system and roads of the eighteenth century (and the newspapers, books, and pamphlets they carried), the telegraph and telephone of the nineteenth century, followed by the television, computers, and Internet of the twentieth century, it has been information that has transformed our world socially, economically, and politically. As a result, we tend to believe that the way to solve a problem is to gain more knowledge about it.
Actually, this lie contains a partial truth. If we had the ancient biblical understanding of knowledge, we would indeed be starting the journey of personal transformation. The biblical idea of "knowing" was coupled with doing, and it was intensely personal. There was no separation between true knowledge and life application. To have true knowledge of God was to be in relationship with Him and by extension, to have one's personal conduct correspond to that relationship. For example, the oft-quoted line from Psalms "Be still, and know that I am God" was far from a call to quiet contemplation. It was the command to abandon rebellion in recognition of God's rule. Thus Jesus' distressing forecast of the day when He would be forced to say of false believers, "I never knew you," is more accurately rendered "I never had anything to do with you." Similarly, Paul's declaration that Christ "knew no sin" did not mean that Jesus had no intellectual knowledge of sin, but that He had no personal experience with committing sin. The idea of knowing was inextricably intertwined with the idea of doing and, more important, with being. The apostle James ridiculed the idea of the effectiveness of mere information by writing, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that."
The truth is that while life-change often begins with information, and knowledge in its fullest and most biblical sense is at the heart of transformation, change does not come from merely learning about the issue at hand. It comes from taking the issue in hand. That's the biblical understanding and practice of knowledge.
Lie No. 2: I Have to Change Before I Can Experience God's Power
A second lie has to do with our own role in life-change. When it comes to experiencing the power of God, we tend to feel we need to change first, before we can come to God. We believe that only after we've mustered a certain amount of transformation on our own can we connect with God.
This is what the lie looks like:
Life-Change -----> God's Presence and Power
In other words, we believe that our success at changing our own lives somehow leads to an experience of God and His power. It's a lie that sends us into a vicious, self-defeating cycle. We avoid coming to God for help because we don't yet have our lives in order. But when we try to get our lives in order apart from God, we find that we can't, so we never come to God for help. The lie causes us to miss out on life-change because we rank our own efforts ahead of God's.
Here is the accurate, biblical picture:
God's Presence and Power -----> Life-Change
The truth is that personal transformation is an activity of God that flows out of a relationship with Him. Life-change begins not with our own efforts but in our relationship with God, and then through that relationship we begin the great journey toward personal transformation. Coming to Christ begins the process.
Lie No. 3: Real Life-Change Happens All at Once, and Is Once for All
Even those who believe the truth that real life-change is a product of God's power often miss the full truth by believing a third lie. We expect God to change our lives all at once and be done with it. This is a terribly truncated view of the miraculous nature of God's work in a human life.
I once read a story about an Eastern king who asked one of his counselors to give him a sign of the miraculous works of God. The counselor told the king to plant four acorns. The king did, but then fell asleep for eighty years. When he awoke and saw that the acorns he had planted had instantaneously become four fully grown trees, he thought a miracle had taken place. To him, it seemed like only a moment. The counselor then told the king that, in truth, eighty years had gone by.
The king looked down and saw that he had grown old and that his clothes were in rags. He said, "Then there is no miracle here."
"That is where you are wrong," the counselor replied. "Whether accomplished in a moment or in eighty years, it is all God's work. The miracle is not in the speed of its happening, but in the happening itself."
Deep life-change doesn't often happen the moment your relationship with God begins. The Holy Spirit can do whatever He wishes, of course, but He seldom transforms us instantaneously. When you begin your relationship with God, your eternal destiny is altered, there is a radical reorientation of priorities, there is a new life purpose, and there is the power and work of God in your life. But rather than the instant liberation from every bad habit or character flaw you've ever possessed, what takes place is more like the landing of an army on a beachhead. The battle has begun, but it will take time before the war is won.
This is why the apostle Paul wrote to the Colossians to "Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him. See that you go on growing in the Lord, and become strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught." The language in that verse is critical. You have to let your roots grow; you have to draw up nourishment; you have to keep on growing; you have to become strong and vigorous. It isn't something that just happens while you stand aside and watch. It's not simply an event, but a process. And even as the process unfolds, it can often reflect a "three steps forward, two steps back, three steps forward" dynamic.
Lie No. 4: The Real Issue Is Sin Management
Is sin best attacked frontally, by battling each thing that doesn't honor God? Or should we focus on holy living, the opposite of sin, in order to rob sin of its power? Dallas Willard describes the difference between these two approaches, calling this lie "sin management." Instead of becoming more like Jesus by practicing holy living, our goal becomes just the opposite: the minimization of the frequency of sin. Instead of focusing on Christ, we concentrate on the sin itself and work harder at keeping it contained. By practicing sin management, we hope that somehow life-change will creep in.
In truth, seeking to avoid sin and asking for forgiveness when we slip up breeds little in the way of transformation. More important, it falls far short of Christ's vision for our lives. I can seek forgiveness on the heels of every materialistic act, but such contrition will fail to address my ongoing struggle with greed. I can fall on my knees before God after every uncaring verbal outburst, but still leave the grip of anger in my life untouched.
The life-change God longs for, and that we long for ourselves, comes by practicing the life of Christ to the point where it becomes habit and joining that effort to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The church of old, in its great wisdom, understood that the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to an absolute standard of holiness. The answer was not a technique to combat sin but the wholehearted practice of virtue by the power of God. To shy away from this journey cheapens God's grace. Or as the Puritans would say, it would be a union with half a Christ.
Excerpted from Long Night's Journey into Day by James Emery White Copyright © 2002 by James Emery White
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, often cited as one of the fastest-growing church starts in the United States. He is the author of eight books, including Life-Defining Moments, Rethinking the Church, and A Search for the Spiritual. Dr. White holds a Ph.D. from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, with additional study at Vanderbilt University and the University of Oxford. He also serves as adjunct professor of Christian Theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte. He and his wife, Susan, are the parents of four children.
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