Friday, May 27, 2011

Complete Renovation

What is the end game?  We know the healing process is about removing the pain we inflict on ourselves, others and God when we embrace evil.  But what does it look like when there is nothing left to heal?  No more infection.  No more addiction.  No more pain from what we choose and then what we do.  Make no mistake; the end game has always been about complete and total perfection.  The scariest text in the Bible uttered by the disciple prophet John during his revelation of the end of our world … “let he who is holy, be holy still” becomes words of hope, rather than a curse of doom.  You might call it “Destination Enoch”.  You might also call it the most nerve racking phenomenon a Christian will ever expect to experience.

We have already discussed how difficult it is to measure progress in our journey to perfection.  But to have arrived at it presents the greatest fundamental danger – believing you are perfect when you are not.  The most dangerous condition any Christian can find themselves in is to believe they are not doing wrong, when scripture points out otherwise.  Almost every Christian can name you a few examples of friends they have that meet this condition.  And almost never does their own name make the list.  It is one thing to struggle to submit to Christ in order that He give us the victory over something we once struggled against.  It is another not to ask for victory because we feel there is no need to.  Our entire journey to perfection is one of Christ fixing one flaw after another.  Sometimes along the way we have discovered that the sin we longed so much to get rid of, was merely the tip of the iceberg in our lives.  What we formerly thought as mountainous requires a new definition when we truly see what must be altered in our characters.
So how do we bridge the gap of asking God to change what must be changed, when often we may not be sure what that is – to finally arriving at His work being done in us?  It is much easier for those who die in Christ.  They will arise from the grave absent all defects.  In the twinkling of an eye their entire characters will finally see perfection.  But for those who are alive and remain – we stand before the throne of God – without a mediator.  There was always a veil of Christ between us and the Most High until He journeys to earth to bring us home.  It is then that the fateful prophet’s words echo so loudly.  It is then that the work of Christ to save us is ended once and for all.  No more are prayers of forgiveness to be offered, as forgiveness has been granted.  No more the desire to embrace evil as now all those remnant of the Lord long only to do and love as He would.  It is a great day.  And it precedes His second coming.
Enoch saw this fulfilled in his own life.  Some modern Christians belittle Enoch’s accomplishments because he was able to live 360+ years before translation.  They argue he had more time to perfect himself than we do living only a third or less as long.  They argue that pre-flood the people did not face nearly the temptations of our modern world.  After all we don’t believe they had radio, TV, films, the internet, cheap access to crime of all types, and the affluence and time to abuse these things.  But these assumptions are based on the premise that man is evolving to a higher state and simply because knowledge will increase before His coming, it must by comparison be greater than in times of old.  But Christ Himself counters this argument by comparing the end of the world to the days before the flood.
One must remember Christ lived in the times of the Roman Empire when Jewish life was hardly worth the effort of a roman cross.  Forests of crosses decorated Judea as the people continued to rebel against the oppression of Rome.  It was a common form of a torturous death.  Life had little meaning in the time of Christ, and yet He points to the age of Noah as being worse.  How much more evil would Hitler have been, if he had access to the other 90 percent of his brain?  How much more evil would scientists be if they had similar abilities?  Would men who could easily gather gold from the ground, and had easy access to any raw materials find themselves affluent in a short period of time?  Would they indulge in all manner of perversions, perhaps even seeking to blend life forms mixing and splicing DNA until they “created” dinosaurs, centaurs, cavemen, and other such mixtures that God had nothing to do with?  Yes it is only speculation, but speculation based on logic and the demonstrated attempts of modern man since beginning to understand DNA.  In short, Enoch lived in a world far worse than our own.
Environment is not an excuse.  Christ lived a perfect life despite the conditions of His birth, oppression of a foreign government, persecution of the established religion, and ignorance of His chief disciples.  Enoch walked with God so closely, He found himself translated to heaven – as did Elijah some years later.  It is possible, as scripture tells us, it was done.  In order for Enoch or Elijah to reach heaven and pick up where Lucifer left off, something in them had to reach perfection itself.  Their characters had to have been made into total harmony with the government, principles, and values of our God.  They could not see this city and still harbor evil in any form.  Even the slightest evil would have precluded them from reaching this goal we all seek.
Sometimes our compromises blind us.  We follow the commandment not to bear false witness, by trying hard never to tell a lie under direct examination.  However, we shade the truth through omission, or carefully selected language chosen so as not to offend.  Little white lies as they commonly known are often embraced even by Christians in the “greater” effort of not hurting the feelings of another soul.  Enoch had no such moral dilemma.  God requires no such dishonesty on our parts, nor does He offer us any.  The truth is the only language God speaks.  He does not hide the truth from us.  But He does not use the truth to kill us either.  God speaks His truth in love and only love.  His motivation is never to inflict pain, but actually to remove it from us.  His truth may at first seem harsh to us, but as we come to embrace it, we are liberated and made free by it.  This is the beauty of His truth.
No, both Enoch and Elijah were perfect before they walked through the pearly gates.  As we will be, and those who die in Christ will be.  Our journey then has a destination.  We are not on an endless road that never arrives anywhere due to the exceptional size of our evil.  No matter how much work Christ has to do in us, it is a work He is able to complete.  Herein comes another test of trust.  Do we trust Christ enough to believe He will complete His work in us in the allotted time?  We may not doubt His ability, rather doubt our steadfast willingness to submit and see it done.  Regardless of our fears, can we still trust Him to save us?  This was the same dilemma Adam faced.  He loved God.  He loved Eve.  He could not imagine how love could be greater than justice.  Adam failed to trust God to find a way and sin was born into the world.
It is now, here in our world, that we are faced with the same issue that plagued Adam so long ago.  Can we trust God enough to find a way to make perfect in us, what we have never been able to affect?  Can we trust the love will find a way, even when we cannot imagine what that way could be?  I love my wife and my family – can I trust God to save them?  Can I risk losing them eternally to remain faithful to God no matter what choice my spouse, my parents, my children, or any that I love make?  This is where Adam failed, and I must succeed.  Christ Himself risked eternal separation from God while hanging on that cross.  The weight of sins he carried that he had never committed was so great, he thought the stain may be enough to eternally separate Him from His father.  He could not see past the grave.  He did not know what would happen.  It was nothing close to a done deal.  And He submitted to the will of His Father anyway.  He died NOT knowing.  He risked it all, on a level we will never understand.  And the magnitude of love was so defined.
Yet as our world grows more wicked and our memories more acute, we will remember keenly the past and our sins in it.  Satan will not simply give up on us, write us off as being too late to plague.  He will attack those who submit even more fiercely than those under His sway.  We will be public enemy number one in his doomed kingdom.  And of course even though he lies, he has the truth of our past on his side.  He will torment us with sins we have committed, suggesting that we are not really sorry.  That we are only afraid of the consequences of our actions, not beyond the desire to do them again if we could get away with it.  He will suggest that lack of opportunity to sin is not the same thing as lack of desire to sin.  He will suggest that the pain we have caused others in our past is TOO great to be truly forgiven by them, nor should it be let go by us.  He wants us to have eternal guilt.  He wants us to focus only on our sin, not on its cure.  Our minds will search for sins we thought we might have buried even from our conscience mind.  It will be an agony of looking under every rock in our soul to ferret out anything that still needs Christ to fix.  It will be the time of Jacob’s trouble for us.
Environment will matter for nothing.  The fact that this mental anguish comes at a time when the plagues are falling, Satan is loosed and running amuck in the world, men are out to persecute and kill those who will not yield their morality to the edicts of the majority – these things that would normally paralyze a man with fear mean nothing to those marked as saved.  It remains the mental agony of knowing we come from a life of sin, and being unable to detect any further sin in our lives.  This agony is a product of our history.  It can be reduced if we can remember it is our Christ who is faithful in His work in us.  It is He who saves us and not ourselves.  We can put our faith, our trust, and our anguish in Him and His mercy to us.  Our actions will reflect His motives.  And the world will be blessed by what we do, even as they attempt to kill us for doing it.
We do not really know when this work will be completed in us.  We only know it will be complete before the Lord returns.  However this does not preclude it happening significantly earlier than that.  It begs the question, will we know it when we see it, and are we the thing preventing it from reaching completion now?  I pray it is not my stubborn desire to hold on to sin, that keeps the Lord from completing His work in me today.  I pray it is not my lack of steadfastness in surrendering to Him each day and each evening that delays His work in me.  I pray that He ends the evil in the world, and the evil in me completely.  There is nothing here worth holding on to.
The trust we build in Christ to save us here in our world of sin is the trust that keeps us from stumbling into sin for the rest of eternity.  Lucifer became Satan over a dispute regarding ideas.  He had no prior knowledge of sin, and had only the wisdom of God’s counsel to trust that his new ideas would lead where they did.  Lucifer did not trust God more than his own wisdom, and sin was born into the universe.  We who must learn to rely on Christ to save us in this world, can safely rely on Him to keep us from evil for the rest of eternity.  We who have discovered that His only motives are to show us what love means on a one-to-one basis, can be trusted to continue His love for us forever.  The work He does in us here will echo for all eternity.  It will bear ceaseless fruit for the ages.  It is not just a never ending process – it is one that will reach maturity and our lives will never be same because of it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What Does Progress Look Like ...

Healing begins with submission to Christ.  But a beginning is merely a beginning.  What does progress look like?  Is it measurable?  Can we see it?  These questions come to mind by those who are new to the process when spiritual experience is young, regardless of age in years on the earth.  We all want to look in the mirror and see someone who is better than they were yesterday.  But does daily submission equate to measurable daily progress?  Surely when a person is physically ill and is recovering from their illness they feel better every day.  Does this translate to the process of salvation?

In business we develop sets of metrics to measure trending.  An anomaly in sales does equate to radical success or failure, it is simply an anomaly.  Failure in the life of a Christian who daily submits to Christ, but then forgets is a similar anomaly.  The trends count.  It is not that any day determines our fate.  But a series of days predicts our outcomes.  Little decisions add up to big ones.  When we submit and begin to allow Christ to make decisions for us, we begin to experience a better life.  The way we think about things changes.  The way we love each other changes.  The way we want what we want changes.  These things accumulate over time.  A business looks at its bottom line, but a lender looks for its progress over time.  Progress over time is a better indicator than merely last quarter’s results.  So it is in our Christian lives.
But the decided difference between the business world, and the Christian life, is WHO does the work.  It is far easier to measure the results of what I do, than to attempt to measure the results when I do not understand the process, am not responsible for the work performed, cannot dictate the direction, and must only play the role of humble observer.  It is our humility that enables Christ to begin the transformation.  We begin by stating up front we CANNOT accomplish the goal for ourselves.  The work then belongs only to Him.  We remain with colored glasses, warped viewpoints, and no real history of success.  To measure the success of an employee is far easier than to measure the success of our boss.  We rarely understand the full dimensions of what our boss is responsible for.  We may think we know, but once given his/her position ourselves, we quickly find we did not know nearly the half of the story.
Christ then is our leader.  His methods are beyond our understanding.  He is the only one who can affect the hearts of the people.  I can debate with you endlessly about a point of view we disagree about.  We can argue what the “facts” are for hours when we have a dispute.  But I cannot hope to influence you to “love” me.  Love in point of fact cannot be compelled.  Yet Christ is capable of reaching the most ardent resistor and melting their hearts with His love.  People soften attitudes when we pray for them and ourselves.  It is an amazing phenomenon, one a human could never hope to achieve, yet Christ does it daily.  In an argument between us, prayer can alter how we BOTH think and feel.  Often our disagreements are abandoned altogether when put next the love of Christ in our hearts.  How can one hope to measure the progress of change in the human heart?
The danger in attempting to measure our progress is twofold.  First, we are tempted to take our eyes off the process itself, submission to Christ, in favor of trying to determine where we are, how much farther we have to go, etc..  We do not yet know the full extent of the work Christ must perform within us to truly and completely rid us of the desire to sin and embrace evil.  We only know what has been revealed to us thus far.  As stated before, the full picture may well be more than we are able to truly handle without abandoning all hope.  Second, once we begin to enjoy the benefits of the victories we can put our fingers on, it is tempting to think that somehow “we” accomplished something in our spiritual lives.  We again take our eyes off Christ, and start focusing them only the victories He has given us.  Our tendency is to think that “our” prayers did this, or that “our” study of His word did this, or that “our” efforts to help others somehow affected the change in hearts and lives.  But the only role “we” truly play is one of humble submission.  We remain unable to expound on “how” we accomplished these victories because “we” had nothing to do with them.  They are the gift of Christ to save us from ourselves.
Comparative righteousness means nothing.  I cannot measure my victories by number because I do not know how many will be required.  I cannot measure my victories by content or type, because all have equal pain associated with them, and all ultimately share the same fate for every evil.  Therefore I cannot say that I am “more gifted” than you in the changes that occur in my life due to my submission to Christ; for “my” victories are only mine in that they were GIVEN to me.  This is the primary reason why judgment of others is such a futile waste of human effort.  Judging another does nothing to bring them closer to Christ, rather it only sends them farther away.  Even those who experience victory should not make an effort to “then” judge others.  They should remember in humility their own journey may yet have far to travel, and leave the judging of others up to God.
While a concrete set of metrics is not something we can apply to spirituality and our journey towards the perfection Christ offers; there is a noticeable difference in how we begin to “feel” and “think” about His will and His precepts.  Scripture begins to take on deeper meaning to us.  Texts that we once read and obtained a cursory blessing from, we now re-read with new eyes, and with the submission of our will to Christ, we are led to new and deeper truth.  The blessing we gain is ten-fold what it was in the past.  It is not about negating what we have come to know.  It is about making it broader, deeper, and more profound.  This is what is referred to as “spiritual discernment”.  It is the opening of our eyes to spiritual truth because we have FIRST submitted the entirety of our lives to Christ.
Something else we begin to notice as the burden of self-inflicted pain is lifted more and more.  Our time seems to multiply.  Where we once spent countless hours regretting our sins, trying to avoid committing our sins, dealing with the pain of committing our sins – we are now no longer burdened with any of this.  Those hours are reclaimed.  We are freed to think about other things.  We are given the “rest” Christ promises when we take on His yoke.  This is liberating and exhilarating.  To have more time available to spend with God allows us to seek truth even more than was possible in the past.  His gifts to us just keep multiplying, each building on the other, as we learn to submit more and more.
The paradox of our healing can be found in the realization that comes of how Holy our Lord is, and wicked we are, even as burdens are lifted from our shoulders.  It is not a cause to take pride in.  It is one to increase our humility.  The mark of progress in the Christian life, is not the prideful boasts of one who believes themselves rid of a previous sin, it is the humility of one who realizes they have far to go.  Those who appear so forgiving of their enemies, so supportive of the failing, so concerned for others in pain – these are the hallmarks of one who has been touched by Christ.  When a Christian is quick to condemn in others the things that have only recently been removed from themselves they reveal their conversion experiences to be incomplete.  Judging others, condemning the sins in others, is not the task of one who knows their own sins to be greater than those of their brethren. 
To enumerate the pain that sin brings is different than to condemn the slave who is held by it.  Christ never excused the sin He found in the wounded, instead He offered to remove it from them.  Souls were made pure in His days on earth, as well as in our days, and in the days of Enoch.  Submission of the will is the healing we all seek.  The healing process removes the focus from sin, and places it firmly on the cure – Christ.  As we continue to behold Him more and more, we are molded more and more into His image.  Our submission enables Him to create within us perfect obedience.  Not just our actions, but our motives, our thoughts, our ideas, our desires – everything.  Total healing for mind, body, and soul.
We should concern ourselves less with trying to measure the success He gives us, and focus on only maintaining our submission to Him to see the process reach fulfillment.  I do not know when God will be able to finish His work within me.  But I pray to see that day before I die.  I wish to know what it is like to be completely devoid of evil in every form.  I wish to serve to the capacity He can envision, unclouded by my own desires and tendencies.  I do not want partial healing any more than I want partial forgiveness.  I want to be fully saved, fully purged of evil, in absolute and complete harmony with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  I am without words to measure where I have come, and where I must yet go – but I am not without hope I will one day see His promise fulfilled in me.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Perception of Reality ...

To admit one is an alcoholic is the first step in finding a solution to the problem.  Though most of us are not afflicted with this uncontrollable addiction, we refuse to see our condition with self-interest is as great or greater than the desire in an alcoholic for just one more drink.  We too are addicts and slaves, but to self, if not the bottle.  And like an alcoholic our perceptions of our condition are colored by the disease we are enslaved to.  We do not truly see our condition.  We do not truly recognize our peril.  We do not rightly foresee the results of the evil we engage in, and the pain that will inevitably come from our actions.  To begin to heal, we must begin by recognizing how our condition colors our reality, and ask to have our perceptions corrected.  We must admit, we are unable to accomplish this in any way.

Perception is reality.  It is so entirely easy to focus on a particular evil in our lives as being “our problem”.  We contend with it.  Loathe it.  We despise ourselves for engaging in it.  And in the process of becoming obsessed with its removal, we ignore the many other problems that go unnoticed.  We fixate on solving a particular evil that grabs our attention and ignore that perhaps it is not the most dangerous evil we are embracing.  For instance, an alcoholic may believe it is his drinking that lays at the root of all the evil in his own life.  But a more objective review, might reveal that it is his refusal to accept help in any form, that prevents him from finding a solution to not only his alcoholism, but relief from every other evil in his life as well.  While he fixates on trying to stop drinking himself, he openly engages in all manner of other evils and hardly recognizes their impact.  In this instance, it is humility that would open the doors to healing, both for this addiction to drinking, and for all the other evils Christ would be able to free him from.
I have sometimes heard the prayer … “show me the evil in my heart,”  This is truly a dangerous prayer.  Yes we need a reality check from time to time to realize our imperfections and keep our dependence upon Christ to heal us.  But a complete picture of our evil might cause us to lose hope that we would ever truly be cured of it all.  Our God is merciful to us, in that He only reveals a little at a time, as we are able to process it.  The true extent of our evil infection is in fact, terminal.  We suffer from a fatal disease that has only one cure – submission to Christ.  While a hurting infected person craves a cure, if they lack the humility to submit, a picture of their condition might only inspire complete despair.  It takes time for the Savior to humble our will, our minds, and our lives to the point where we are able and willing to accept His healing.
It is said a doctor does not make a very good patient, and a lawyer does not make a very good client.  Perhaps it is because having a level of expertise in their respective fields, colors their ideas about how best to treat themselves or represent themselves in court.  A more objective analysis, i.e. one that is provided by someone else looking out for them, may often be better that what they had imagined for themselves.  Christians are similarly stunted when it comes to self-diagnosis.  We see very little in the mirror of our true selves that needs to be adjusted, yet think ourselves expert at diagnosing others.  We sometimes take our diagnosis of ourselves or others a step too far, believing we are capable of writing a prescription that will “heal” the patient.  We have no such skills.  Not for ourselves, or for others.  Our best and only hope is call on our Master Physician to heal us all.
The problem with our disease is that warps our thinking and our perceptions by default.  Self-focused thinking warps the mind to believe it must be done, it cannot be neglected, and if another suffers for our need, better him than me.  These become our core values.  They are exhibited in our actions and worse our motives.  They drive our bad decisions, and create ripples of pain in those we love.  We are blinded by the disease we carry and it is a common disease.  To look to another human for an answer, is to ask another person with a varying level of infection, how to avoid infection at all.  Humans do not have the answer.  Divinity alone is required to recreate what has already been warped within us.  To restore His original intent takes His hands alone.  We can encourage each other.  We can console each other.  We can love each other.  But we cannot heal each other.  We cannot change our own desires, let alone those of another human.  This was not supposed to be our role.  Our job is to give the hurting, the name of our physician and let Christ do the healing.
But as the disease warps the mind to the negative, healing restores the mind to the freedom and joy that is a part of His intentions for us.  Imagine being a freed slave for the first time.  True freedom.  Not being told when to eat, or limited as to what to eat; not being forced to work or play or do anything.  Our addictions force us, or compel us, to do that which we would not.  Healing removes those horrible cravings of slavery.  We no longer have to fight against them, they are removed.  The chains are lifted.  We are set free.  The shear enormity of the time we have, no longer obsessing with the pain of the past, is in itself a gift from Christ.  The liberation of being unbound to the weights that would drag us down, make us feel as if we could run with the wind.  We become free to sing, to dance, to express our joy at the freedom He gives us in our souls.  Our earthly surroundings become meaningless trappings to a heart that has been freed from the evil that once bound it.  It ignites a passion within us, to experience even more freedom, even less pain.  Healing is the only kind of good addiction.
Gratitude from a heart that has begun to experience true healing can motivate us as well.  Freedom resets our colored perceptions and causes us to see truth more clearly.  We begin to want to express our thanks for this gift.  It is not enough to merely utter the words “thank you” over and over and over again.  We cannot be contained just shouting them.  We feel as though we want to do something to show our gratitude.  We begin to want to share in the feelings God has from serving us.  And as we begin to share ourselves with others we discover what it feels like to love like God loves.  When our love affects someone else, when disinterested benevolence finds an object, we begin to rightly perceive what service is all about.
It is all too easy to give to the poor to quell a guilty conscience.  It is too easy to perform some standard amount to giving, in order to “prove” we are a good person.  Too often, work for others is not really done for their benefit alone; it is done to put check marks on a list of perceptions of holiness; or to attempt to feel better than the next guy in the pew.  Motives matter.  When our service comes from an unchanged heart, our disease colors our motives to the point where we miss the true value of serving.  Service is then a chore, a burden, a responsibility.  It drains our human strength, tires us.  Instead of finding the freedom from service, and boost to our morale, we limit its blessings with improper motivation.  But a changed life, and freed heart, can hardly be made to be still.
To discern the spiritual truth in our Word from the Lord, we must allow Him to create within us a spiritual nature.  To be able to properly interpret His Word, our motives for studying it must conform to His leadership and not our own ideas.  Our perceptions cannot be trusted.  Our ideas are affected by our disease.  And thus our results are less than perfect.  But with submission to Christ comes healing.  And with healing comes discernment.  And with discernment comes wisdom.  And it becomes a spiraling cycle leading up to the throne room of God our Father. 
There is NO cap on how good, good can truly be.  There is no limitations to joy.  There is no sky-based-limit to how far we can take this healing process.  Our limitations are only founded in our unwillingness to let go to Him, what we cherish.  Our perceptions, colored by our disease are what limit us today.  But they need not.  Rather we can relinquish them to Him, and allow the healing to commence and grow and grow till we realize we are no longer limited in any way.  This is the process of sanctification.  This is the joy and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are no caps on happiness any more.  There are no chains capable of holding us back , that He is not strong enough to break.  We have truly been freed to love.  So let us love and explore love like God Himself has done on our behalf.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Failure and Relapse ...

Every ball player on planet earth will tell you that taking your eye off the ball is rarely a good idea.  Imagine swinging blindly at a fast ball pitch coming near you at 90+ miles per hour.  Or imagine trying to catch a pass from the quarterback while running at full speed and gazing into the bleachers.  The alley-oop pass in basketball becomes a thing of the past.  Indeed the only way to win the game is to focus on the immediate needs in front of you.  It is not enough to look at the ball only once as it leaves the pitcher’s hand then to close your eyes and swing.  You must maintain visual contact with the ball along its trajectory until contact with the bat is made.  Doing it once is wonderful, but a single hit does not a career make; rather a consistency at the plate makes for a great player.

So it is with us in our spiritual life, learning to submit our will to Christ is not simply a singular event.  By nature it could not be.  For if the weight of all existence rested on only one decision that we were permanently bound to, we would be in fact slaves to our own decisions.  To truly have freedom of thought, one must be able to create, and to change their minds as they wish.  This freedom is required to truly understand what love is.  It is also a dangerous freedom in that it allowed Satan to break trust with God and pursue self-interest resulting in the evil we know today after eons of life in perfection.  It is also dangerous in that it would allow you to relinquish God and pursue your own self-interests, forsaking the victory that was once His gift to you.
Even God is able to change His own mind.  Take for example our wickedness nearing the time of the great Flood; it made God “repent” that he had made mankind.  Our evil was so great it made God “sorry” that He made us at all.  And scripture foretells it would be similar in our day as it was in Noah’s.  Also we can look at Hezekiah, who pleaded with God not to die, and God granted the wishes of Hezekiah over His own plans.  God told Moses not to plead with Him any longer on entering the Promised Land, not because He did not love Moses, but because He loved Moses so much He did not want Moses to persuade Him to change His own mind.  Even Christ in His moment of agony, was completely free to forsake the weight of our sins that were upon Him.  He could have not risked His own permanent separation from His Father, and left us to the fate we deserved.  He was free to do this, as we did nothing to earn His sacrifice.  But He followed through despite His ability to change His own mind.  That by definition is love – a freewill choice to love - despite the ability choose not to.
So it is in our Salvation, we are not permanently bound to the evil we once pursued, but nor are we the slaves of a loving God.  We remain free to choose throughout our existence here and in the Heaven that is to come.  Daily decisions are required.  Daily choices must be made.  Not the choice of whether to sin or not, in this world that is no choice at all; rather the choice to submit and trust or not.  Our sports analogy echoes the words of Christ when He says … “by beholding we become changed”.  What we focus on affects us.  When we focus on Christ and the submission of our will to Him, we become changed into His image.  Our urge to sin abates, disappears, and is gone forever.  But as we look away from Christ, becoming too busy, or too distracted to remember to submit our will to Him; we become susceptible to failure and relapse.
There is little worse feelings than to blow a winning record.  Imagine the disappointment of a team who is going undefeated in a season, only to lose a game due completely to simple careless errors.  It is not that the opposing side was better, stronger, or more determined.  It is simply that our team got complacent, relaxed, and unfocused.  We begin to rely on the history of our records, than on the mechanism that achieved the results.  And once a game is lost in an undefeated season, the record remains tarnished for the duration of that year.  However, the next year begins the records once again, and another season can be started with the hopes and dreams of seeing it completed undefeated once again.  So it is with us in our spiritual warfare.  We do not fight our enemy, we allow God to fight for us.  But failure does not mean hopelessness.  No need to make excuses for our loss, the reasons are clear, and the blame always falls to us.  Our champion never fails, but sometimes we fail to put Him in the game.
The question falls on us, how will we deal with our own defeat.  Judas saw his own mistakes as insurmountable.  After all, he betrayed the very Son of God to His enemies and His death.  The death of Christ was something Judas saw himself as personally responsible for.  But Judas was not alone.  Peter too, by denying his very association with Christ, betrayed His Master who only hours before he had sworn to die for.  Peter too, left the scenes unfolding in the death of Christ, in shame and defeat.  Judas chose to allow the weight of his crimes to overcome him in hopelessness.  His failure defined his destiny, NOT because of the wishes of his forgiving Lord, but because of his own choices to abandon the hope of forgiveness and reform.  Judas sealed his fate by making permanent his choice to abandon hope, we can only wish he found redemption in the seconds before his death, but God alone can judge. 
You see Judas and I have much in common as he does with you as well.  We are both equally responsible for the betrayal, torture, and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Christ had to die for my personal sins, not just those of Judas.  It was then my hands on the hammer and nails, the whip, the crown of thorns.  It was me who did this, whether by action at the time, or by behavior since.  This responsibility is mine personally as every time I fail, I cause the need for this sacrifice in order that I might be forgiven.  To grow callas to this idea, to become indifferent that my failures require this price, is to forget the enormity of what was done in order to redeem me.  To be content with forgiveness alone certain that it must occur again and again simply by neglect is again to ignore the enormity of the cost of my crimes.  I must accept the forgiveness Christ offers as Peter did.  But I must also accept the life changing power of Christ in absolute humility as Peter did, in order to become changed.  Notice the humility in Peter’s response to Christ’s question … “do you love me?”.  Where before Peter would have answered from the certainty of self-pride and arrogance, he now responds in abject humility and defers even the answer to this basic a question to the wisdom of an all knowing God.
Peter had not yet achieved perfection, but his journey towards it had begun based on his humbling himself, and subjecting his decisions, desires, and will to his Savior Jesus Christ.  Judas chose not to allow or begin this process; instead he internalized the enormity of what he had done and chose to seal his fate in death.  Our failures must not be allowed to be the end of our journey.  Our relapse over victories once given need not be a predictor of our ultimate outcome.  Instead we must accept the forgiveness they require and then return to the method that will prevent their reoccurrence.  Our God did not leave us ignorant of the way to keep His laws, bind His precepts in our hearts, and awaken a spiritual discernment in our lives – all of these begin at the foot of the cross, and continue as we like Peter submit ourselves to His designs.
The greatest danger of failure is the willingness to repeat it again and again.  Our preferences become actions, which become behavior, which become habit, until they define us.  This cycle of slavery has the side-effect of warping our minds to enjoy what we do, despite its painful consequences.  Over time if left unchecked and un-submitted, a war begins to wage over whether we even want to return to the victories of our Lord, or remain in the state we find ourselves.  Once the evil of our hearts overtakes the desire to return to God, our minds reject the only hope we have of redemption.  Should we continue in this state, our salvation, our redemption becomes lost.  Not because God removes it from us based on our behaviors.  But because we choose to remove ourselves from His forgiveness and victories He would offer.  In short, we freely reject His gifts, and choose the slavery of self instead.  This is the condition we began life if prior to our encounter with the Savior.  And though regrettable, it is a condition we can return to if we let slip the daily decision to follow our God.
We do not achieve perfection in a moment (until Christ’s return), neither do we choose to leave God forever in a moment.  The decisions trend over the course of our lives in one direction or the other.  God does not compel us to follow Him.  Unlike Adam, God understands that true love must allow the object of its affection the choice to reject it.  God craves our love, and wishes ONLY to love us fully.  But love itself demands we remain free to decide what we do with His great love.  Our victories are certain when grounded in Christ, for they are His gift to us.  The change in our minds and hearts that enable us to become one with His laws and precepts are His great gift of salvation to us.  A failure need not pull us away from God.  But we must not allow a failure to define a change in direction away from our victories.  Let us instead seek forgiveness and ask again for the humility and perseverance to submit ourselves to our Savior, that His work of perfection in us may continue without the painful recurrence of relapse into evil.