A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned my struggle with overeating as well as the freedom that I found in relying on my relationship with God instead of rules. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I may be fighting this battle the rest of my life.
It’s okay for us to have to keep battling something. There are some who believe that freedom can’t exist in an area of our lives unless the problem, temptation, struggle or habit is eradicated forever. But the Apostle Paul demonstrates that isn’t true.
In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul writes about everything he had done as a messenger of the gospel. If there were a superstar checklist, Paul could have ticked all of the boxes. However, Paul says that in order to avoid becoming prideful, a messenger from Satan afflicted him with a thorn in the flesh. Why would God allow this?
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NLT)
Before his conversation to following Christ, Paul zealously followed the law. He gave himself brownie points for all the things that he did for God.
When we give ourselves “brownie points” for how often we read our Bible, attend church or pray, the result is usually pride, rather than faith. That leads us to believe that we’ve earned our blessing or that God should bless us because we’ve been so good for Him. Anyone ever guilty of that? Me, too.
While purely speculation, perhaps the thorn was God’s ways of vaccinating Paul against a re-infection his former legalistic past, which would have undermined the gospel of grace.
There’s been a lot of speculation about Paul’s affliction, but we know three things from 2 Corinthians 12:8-9:
Paul prayed and asked for God to remove it;
God didn’t remove it;
God said that His grace was stronger than Paul’s struggle.
Here’s the hard truth about some of what we face as believers: There are some struggles we will live with until we leave this earth.
Some of you have beat yourselves up or questioned your salvation because you’ve struggled with addiction, weight issues, sexual attraction or some other issue. While God’s grace isn’t permission to sin first and ask for forgiveness later, grace means that you can’t to fix yourself – and that God may have a plan and purpose for your struggle. Therefore, if you’ve accpeted Jesus Christ as your Savior, then your struggle can’t cancel your salvation.
When you question your salvation because your struggle keeps coming back, that’s your fear speaking. Tell it to shut up. Seriously.
One of the key themes of my new Breakthrough Bible study is that God’s grace isn’t based on your performance, rather His promises accomplished through the death and ressurection of Jesus Christ.
As much as I want my emotional eating struggles to disappear, they haven’t. That doesn’t mean that I don’t trust God or that I’m not saved by God’s grace. It just means that like Paul, it’s my thorn in the flesh. I could get discouraged about it or I can choose to see this struggle as a vehicle that drives me back to God. As I experience victory, I give glory to God rather than give attention to myself.
Remember, roses always grow above the thorns. It’s a reminder to me to not focus on my struggle, but that God can use that struggle to make me stronger, which like a rose is a beauitful thing to celebrate!
Ultimately, God’s goal for your life isn’t to make all of your problems go away. But when you allow the Spirit to fight for you (Galatians 5:16), you’ll experience victory. When you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your life, the result is holy living—even if there are occasional setbacks. Even when there are persistent pressures, seasonal resurgences, or surprise attacks, you can face them assured of victory in Jesus’s name.
Have you experienced God’s grace in an on-going struggle in your life? How has that struggle drawn your closer to God?
* A quick note: Even though I cling to God’s grace when it comes to the thorn of emotional eating, that doesn’t mean that I ignore the wisdom of exercising and eating healthy foods; it means that I don’t rely on those things to manage my struggle.
Let go of feeling like you are not a “good enough” Christian and find freedom in Christ by studying Paul’s letter to the Galatians in my new study, Breakthrough: Finding Freedom in Christ.
Have you ever felt that being a good Christian means you’ve got to follow a bunch of rules and measure up?
If so, you aren’t alone! In this six-week Bible study of Galatians, Barb Roose shows us that even the believers in the early church struggled to let go of rule-keeping and performance in order to embrace God’s free gift of grace.
If you’ve ever struggled with feeling like God is disappointed with you or felt trapped by rules or religion, this study will provide a path to discover your freedom in Christ.