Overcomers: What Are We Overcoming and What Are We Living For?

Yesterday I met a boy, Johnny, for the second time. The first time was several years ago. He has been burned over his entire body. The last time I met the sister who plucked him from the fire like a burning brand, not without significant injuries to herself. (Story as told by mom)

Obviously, I haven’t been through anything like he’s been through, but I did go through enough in the cancer ward at Vanderbilt to know some questions to ask. Johnny can’t blink. How does he keep his eyes wet so that they aren’t exceptionally painful all the time? I could watch him using what’s left of his hands, and I could see his happy demeanor. I wondered how much of his feet he had—he was wearing boots—and how hard it is to walk.

It can’t be too hard for him to walk. He did splits for us, getting much lower than I could get (and I’m pretty flexible for a middle-aged man). It was another kid, whose name I don’t remember, who freaked us out with his attempt at doing the splits. When he couldn’t get further, he bent his knees to the floor, which just should not have been possible. Everyone groaned and turned their heads away.

Anyway, I’m way off subject.

What promises, what qualities of life, did Johnny lose by being burned over 95% of his body at the age of four?

It depends.

It depends on whether you’re a Christian …

Wait, no. It depends on whether you’re a Bible believer or not.

Our Bodies and Our Dreams

We have to live in our bodies, but they are not on our side.

  • “Oh, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death!” (Rom. 7:24)
  • “I discipline my body and bring it under subjection, lest having preached to others, I myself might be found disqualified.” (1 Cor. 9:27)
  • “So, then, brothers, we are not debtors to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you will die. If, however, by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, then you will live.” (Rom. 8:12-13)
  • “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24)

I could go on for a long time. There are a lot of verses like that.

We have our dreams. We want to grow up, make our mark in this world, get a good job, get married, be comfortable, retire without poverty, etc.

God has his dreams. God dreams that we will climb up on the altar and present our bodies a living sacrifice, which the apostle Paul seemed to think was just a “reasonable” thing to do (Rom. 12:1).

Johnny has had some of his dreams—along with his hands, ears, hair, and almost all his skin—taken away.

Certainly, any dreams he had of a comfortable, easy life are gone.

Is that a loss? Or is it a head start over the rest of us?

Our hope is to be born with all our limbs and no damage to our brain, get through school without a broken neck, go to college, get a job, get married, move into a nice home in a suburb or on a farm, never go hungry, retire with a nest egg, and send our kids on the same path.

The American Dream.

God’s hope is that we will be exactly what he wants us to be (see links above), that we would enter his kingdom through many troubles (Acts 14:22), that we would become perfect through trials that we have traversed with joy (Jam. 1:2-4), and that we would be filled with hope by many tribulations (Rom. 5:3-4).

Jesus hopes that we will hate our souls in this world so much that we would fall into the ground and die. In this way he hopes that we will never be alone and that by hating our souls in this world, we will keep them eternally in the next age. (Jn. 12:24)

My little children, do not love the world, nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 Jn. 2:15)

Can We Really Do This?

Teachings like this take my breath away. They terrify me. “My brothers, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment” (Jam. 3:1).

I confess I have loved the world in many ways. I pray that it is true that those ways become less and less each day. I remind myself daily of two things:

  1. Sin doesn’t have power over me. In obedience to Paul’s command, I have chalked it up as true that I am dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 6:14,11).
  2. I get up every day with a clean slate because his mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). I don’t even have to wait until morning because if I stay in the light, Jesus’ blood cleanses me all the time (1 Jn. 1:7).

Let’s be awesome for our Redeemer! His power in us is great!Let’s be holy as he is holy because it is not with silver and gold that we are redeemed, but by the precious blood of our King, like a lamb without even one spot or blemish (1 Pet. 1:16,19).

We can’t climb these heights alone, which is why I press so hard for a restoration of the idea of the church as a family, the household of God that we can join as sons and brothers and sisters, not as servants or “attendants,” sitting down for a show once per week, or even joining for ministry. We need deliverance, and it only comes from Jesus Christ, both by being attached to the head and by being exhorted—daily, saith the Lord—by the body (1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:14; Heb. 3:13).

I will add one final point, though I know this is a LOT for a blog post.

A friend told me yesterday how much he was moved by the testimony of a late-second-century Christian:

You forbid, yet commit, adulteries; we are born men only for our own wives. You punish crimes when committed; with us, even to think of crimes is to sin. You are afraid of those who are aware of what you do; we are afraid even of our own consciences, without which we cannot exist.
   Finally, from your numbers the prisons boil over, but there is no Christian there unless he is accused on account of his religion or has deserted it. (M. Felix, The Octavious)

He told me, “It’s one thing to know that we are commanded to live a certain way, but when you hear from people who are actually doing it, then the conviction really sets in.”

Compassion requires us to feel something for accident victims like Johnny. But let’s not mourn for Johnny. Let’s mourn for ourselves and our bondage to our bodies (Rom. 6:16). Let’s “lament and mourn and weep” and cry out, “Deliver us from this body of death!” until our lives are an inspiration and hope for Johnny and for all around us. (Jam. 4:9; Rom. 7:24)

Not my will, but thine be done. After all, it’s just our “logical” response to the great love and sacrifice of our Lord (Luk. 22:42 & Rom 12:1, where “reasonable” is the Greek logikos).

By the way, Johnny keeps his eyes wet by rolling them up and around under his eyelid. It gets tears on them despite his burns. Someone else with a similar issue showed him how to do that. Otherwise, he had to use a gooey, uncomfortable eyedrop. Now he doesn’t have to.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to Overcomers: What Are We Overcoming and What Are We Living For?

  1. Paul Pavao says:

    Hi Ruth! Can I change your question to what does Jesus mean by that? In this post, I really just quote the words from John 12; I don’t interpret them.

    I will tell you how I interpret them, though. Theologians like to say that our soul consists of our mind, will, and emotions. I think I agree with them, though I have no authority for that. Just as we have to overcome the desires of our body, so we must overcome the desires of our mind, will, and emotions.

    The word “hate” is a good one there. By nature, we long to fulfill our desires. There are desires that seem awful, even to ourselves. For example, we may be tempted to punch a little kid in the face for his behavior, but we know that would be terrible. Many of our mental and emotional desires, however, do not seem evil to us. “I want to be this. I want to do this. I don’t feel like doing that today. I like this; I should buy it.”

    I think Jesus is telling us to beware of our own souls. We have to die to its desires, surrender to him, and learn his desires.

    That sounds awful, but God promises us that if we will delight in him, he will give us the desires of our heart. I think that means both that he will fulfill desires we have had if they are in our will and that he will put new desires in our heart that are from heaven.

  2. ruth says:

    overwhelming makes overcoming nothing short of a miracle. Are we really to hate our souls? what do you mean by that? It doesn’t feel like love put that way. Though I think I can see it as loving God as motivation for life in contrast to endulging self.

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