The other morning I was sitting out on my second-story porch for my quiet time. It is one of my favorite spots in the whole world. Below the porch is our little fish pond where both fish and frogs make their home. This provides much entertainment for our grandchildren.
That particular morning, as I sat on the porch alone, I took a moment to watch the fish, as they were doing something very curious. You can see from the photo below (which is a snapshot I took that morning), that the fish has its head into the waterfall. It looked like it was trying to go up the waterfall and then, discouraged, he would swim away. Only to come back again a few seconds later. This went on for quite some time.
I found out later from my knowledgeable husband that there is something about the oxygen at the bottom of the waterfall that the fish like and so they will congregate there. But, from my vantage point on the porch it really did look like the fish was trying to swim up the waterfall and failing every time.
It reminded me of my life as a Christian. We are all called to “swim up a waterfall” –or, in other words–do the impossible. We are to die to self and crucify the flesh and live only for Christ. This is as impossible–perhaps even more impossible–than swimming up a waterfall. And, yet, this is our calling as believers.
Mark 8:34 — And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Romans 6:6 — We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.
Ephesians 5:8 — or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
Galatians 5:16-17– But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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.
I Peter 2:11 — Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
So, we know that we are to leave our flesh and swim up the waterfall to holiness. This goes against our innately selfish nature which demands to be pleased and coddled. Our hearts demand we listen to our feelings and our minds work in creative ways to make excuses and to develop logical reasons why we can do what our flesh is demanding to do and still be guilt-free and “godly”.
But the Bible is very clear that we cannot do both. We cannot please self and God. We cannot love God and love the world. We cannot be obsessed with fulfilling our personal dreams of glory and fame while furthering God’s Kingdom. These things are mutually exclusive. They cannot be done at the same time.
There are only two kingdoms.
There is the Kingdom of Light. God is the light (I John 1:5) Jesus Christ is the light of the world (John 8:12) We have been rescued from darkness to light! (Colossians 1:13) Being rescued, we are now children of light (I Thessalonians 5:5). We are to walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8).
There is the Kingdom of Darkness. Satan is the head of this kingdom and the whole world lies in his power (I John 5:19). Natural man loves this kingdom (I John 3:19-21). Natural man is blind to the the light (Acts 26:18). As children of the light, we are to turn away from the darkness (Ephesians 5:11) and to never partner or commune with darkness and its children (2 Corinthians 6:14). This kingdom of darkness is represented by both the flesh and the world, which Satan uses to war against our souls and to keep mankind in darkness.
Every choice we make, every action we take, every thought we think, and every word we say furthers one of these kingdoms.
Now, with this in mind, let’s go back to our adventure of swimming up the waterfall. As children of light, swimming up the waterfall becomes possible. It is possible to live a righteous and holy life that is pleasing to God. Notice I didn’t say easy. It’s not easy.
But here are a few things to keep in mind as we strive to swim up the waterfall to holiness–
1. We must first make our way to the bottom of the waterfall.
We can’t be righteous without salvation. We can’t even get to the bottom of the waterfall without it. If we are not saved, we are unaware that the waterfall even exists. It is only when our eyes our opened, that we recognize which direction we are to go. And this direction is in complete opposition to the direction of the rest of the world. We will be mocked, viewed as odd, and may lose our reputation by going this direction. Remember, we can’t have the world and Jesus, too.
The old hymn puts it like this: Take the world but give me Jesus.
Too often, modern-day Christians would prefer to sing: Give the world and give me Jesus.
But it is simply not possible according to James 4:4. Swimming to the bottom of the waterfall means turning our backs on the world.
2. Not making efforts to swim up the waterfall indicates a serious problem.
Many are those who’ve said a prayer for salvation as fire insurance and they aren’t even making their way to the bottom of the waterfall. They are still swimming in the opposite direction with their worldly friends. They haven’t given up the things of this world and they are still focused on furthering their own kingdom. They are people who are living solely for themselves but think they are saved because they said a prayer. This person may very well be–and probably is– a false convert! (Matthew 7:21-23) I hate even saying this, because I know that describes so many that we all know and love. But we can’t mince words because their eternity is literally at stake. If you know someone who thinks they are a Christian but who is still swimming out in the pond, pray for them. Really pray for them.
3. We can’t do it alone.
As I watched the fish turn away again and again, I assumed he was just discouraged and tired. I found out later that he wasn’t, of course, but it was a great analogy for our own efforts to get up that waterfall. We try and try, using our methods and our self-discipline but we just don’t make it. That’s because we are trying to attempt it without the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to live a godly life without the Holy Spirit. We are to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). This is the only way to make possible a holy life that is pleasing to God.
4. We must discard distractions and secret sins.
So often, we get so frustrated that we aren’t making progress up that waterfall. But if we really examine our lives, we may understand just why that is…
We have either crowded our lives so full that we have no time at all to give any effort or intention to this calling of living a pure and holy life.
Or we are holding on to secret sins that we just aren’t willing to turn away from. It may be an unwillingness to give up a grudge against someone or a love for the world’s entertainment or style that causes us to compromise our purity. It may be laziness or gossip. But, oftentimes, if we are really struggling to make progress in our Christian life, there is some sin that we are nurturing and feeding and unwilling to give up.
Or, perhaps, we haven’t yielded to God’s sovereignty in the happenings of our lives. We try to live a godly life, but, inside, we are angry and discontent and upset about how things are going. This makes it almost impossible to get up that waterfall because we don’t trust God. Instead, we are wary and disbelieving. This lack of faith stymies our Christian growth severely.
5. We will never reach perfection on this side of Heaven.
One of the things that makes this such a hard thing is that we will never reach perfection. We, like that fish, are always trying, always trying, but we will never arrive at the top. This can be discouraging and sometimes we may think: Why even try? So let’s unpack that a bit. Why is it important to keep trying to get up that waterfall?
First, we keep trying because we are told to do this (I Peter 1:15). To live a life of obedience to our wonderful Savior, we strive to live holy and pure lives.
Second, we keep trying because we do grow and change and bear much fruit, through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (Psalm 92:12-14). If we have been a Christian for more than a year, we can look back and see how we have grown and changed. This is very encouraging as we face new challenges and sins that discourage us. God is growing us to be more like Christ, be it ever so slowly.
Third, we keep trying because God uses our efforts to build His Heavenly Kingdom (Colossians 1:24-29). Our efforts to live a holy and pure life shine as a bright light in this dark world. We should look different in every way when compared with those around us. Remember, there are only two kingdoms: Light and Darkness. Children of light should never resemble children of darkness. This includes being loving and kind, but it also includes what we watch, how we dress, what we talk about, and every other little and big choice we make in our lives.
So, my dear readers, keep swimming up that waterfall. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t try to do it alone because we are not alone! We have the Holy Spirit to strengthen, comfort, and guide us. May we cast off the things that distract and tempt us. May we intentionally live as children of the light, because that’s exactly what we are if we have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ alone!