Published Saturday, January 26, 2013
By JOHN CROTTS
Faith Bible Church
Last weekend the Atlanta Falcons played the San Francisco Forty-Niners for the chance to represent the NFC in professional football’s biggest game – the Super Bowl.
This year the recently new general manager, the new coach, and the new quarterback all did what they hadn’t been able to previously accomplish – win a playoff game. Sadly, they came up short in the Championship.
The Falcons dominated the early part of each of the last two week’s matches against the energetic Seattle Seahawks and the Forty-Niners, building 20-point and 17-point leads respectively. At the end of both games, however, the opponents took the lead.
Against the Seahawks, Matt Ryan completed two excellent passes and Matt Bryant drilled the game winning field goal with just seconds to play to gain the victory for Atlanta. Against the Forty-Niners, however, the forth down pass fell a little bit short.
As a fan, I know there is a fine line between playing hard to win, and becoming overconfident. With such a pair of large leads, did the Falcons confidently slip into neutral? As a pastor, I see a similar balance that Christians must strive for.
It is right to run the spiritual race in such a way so as to win the prize (I Corinthians 9:24). But it is deadly to cross the line into spiritual pride.
First Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” After calling Christians to restore other believers who fall into sin, Paul adds, “...Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Becoming too confident always leads to spiritual defeat.
Spiritual overconfidence has two components. The first is underestimating the opponent – taking our sin too lightly. The second is exaggerating our assessment of our spiritual strength – assuming we are strong enough to overcome any temptation.
If a football team underestimates its opponent, it becomes a target for an unexpected comeback. In the Christian realm, it is vital to know your enemy so that you might properly prepare for the fight. Certainly, the world system in which we live is opposed to the Lord and his people. The devil and his hosts are also out to devour unsuspecting believers.
But I think the enemy which conquers most Christians, most frequently is the enemy within. The Christian has a new heart, but there still remains within every Christian a principle of sin.
The Bible refers to this principle as the flesh. It wars against our best desires. It deceives our thoughts. Our emotions can be overcome by the flesh’s trickery. (See Galatians 5:17, and James 1:13-15).
The flesh is capable of tempting us to commit any sin imaginable. If you say proud things like, “There’s no way I would commit adultery,” or “I can’t believe that Christian girl would do such a wicked thing,” or “He should have known better since he says he repented of the same thing last month,” you are severely underestimating the flesh. You are in clear danger of an unexpected defeat!
Overconfidence also assumes that your spiritual strength can outmatch any temptation that comes upon you. This is obviously closely related to underestimating the enemy, and it leads to equally disastrous results. When people tell me that they never struggle with temptations, I can only assume one of three things.
It could be that such a person is not a Christian (see I John 1:8-10). After all, before someone becomes a Christian there is no battle, because there is no real spiritual desires to obey God. If you are floating in a river on raft, you are not fighting the current, you are riding it.
Only when you attempt to go against the current, does the battle begins.
Another possibility for one who claims not to struggle against temptations is that the person is a brand new believer. Such a person may not have experienced much of the conflict involved with trying to please the Lord. Or they may not be able to describe the new battle they are now engaged in.
A third possibility is that the person that claims not to struggle is heading for a big fall! That is the nature of the Bible warnings I quoted at the beginning of this article. It is a sign of spiritual immaturity, naiveté and pride to think you are so strong that temptation is not a fight.
This is NOT to say that we are all tempted in the exact same ways. You may be very tempted by a certain sin, that I take little thought of. On the other hand, you may not come close to sinning in ways I shamefully fall into.
We should both be making every effort to humbly help one another. There is no room for pride since we both are failing our Lord, even though in different ways.
This is also not to say that we are alone in the fight. If you are a true believer, you have the Holy Spirit of God indwelling you. He gives us great encouragement and enablement in the battle against our flesh.
Galatians 5:17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
The Bible says that we should never put our confidence in our own flesh (Philippians 3:3; Jeremiah 17:5-10). Instead we must strive to be humbly dependent upon the Lord and the power He supplies through the Holy Spirit. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
I know the Falcon players and coaches were every bit as thrilled as their fans to earn that huge win in the playoffs against the Seahawks. I don't think that they wasted time patting themselves on the back, though.
They worked hard and played well against San Francisco, resulting in an outstanding season falling just a bit short.
Pastors love to see their congregations taking their walks with God seriously. Yes, we all rejoice when God gives us a spiritual victory, but let’s never relax and just pat ourselves on the back. There is more kingdom work to accomplish this week!
Don’t be spiritually overconfident. Humbly take your sin seriously and work very hard to discipline yourselves for godliness. Always strive to depend upon the Holy Spirit for the strength to overcome temptation.
Always stay faithful to your team – your church family, and your coach, general manager and owner – the Lord Jesus Christ!