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Living Above the Snake Line

volume 19, number 46, October 29, 2020

“May those who wait for Thee not be put to shame through me, O Lord God of hosts.” -Psalm 69:6

In a day like ours, when so many professing Christians seem to have no problem with continuing in habitual sins, which lead, on the one hand to despair and loss of hope of any progress in holiness; and on the other hand just giving into the sin which will enslave them, it is necessary that we learn to live above the snake line. Bob Phillips, former pastor with David Wilkerson of the Times Square Church, New York City, illustrates the possibility of growth in personal holiness by referring to the snake line in Wyoming. Rattlesnakes are a real problem in the mountains of Wyoming, but as one ascends higher and higher into the mountains, eventually the high altitude prohibits rattlesnakes from surviving there. So, the higher one hikes in the mountains the less possibility of rattlesnake bites. Due to the believer’s genuine union with Christ, due to the stunning fact that the old man (all that he was in sinful living prior to regenerating grace) has died, due to the glorious truth that he now has everything he needs pertaining to life and godliness; real, measurable, continual growth in holiness ought to be experienced. While the so-called doctrine of Christian perfectionism is unbiblical, the Scriptures, nonetheless, do call us to pursue perfection. Jesus told us that we are to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Paul told the Colossians that He proclaimed Christ, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that he might present every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). James tells us that we are to allow endurance to have its perfect result, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4). And James also says that a man who is able to bridle his own tongue is a perfect man, able to bridle his body as well (James 3:2). In each Scripture just referenced, the word for perfect is teleios which has the meaning of completion, perfection, final step, supreme stage, maturity.

King David, in Psalm 69:5 is confessing his own sin to the Lord, acknowledging that God sees all things (Psalm 139:1-4). The writer to the Hebrews, in speaking of God’s written word’s power to convict and sanctify, says that it is able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of the human heart (Hebrews 4:12). This reality drives David to cry out to the Lord for His presence and power. David is very concerned that his loyal subjects may become embarrassed, be put to shame, by his sin. Any man or woman in any place of prominence—within the family, in the church, in the work place, in the community—ought to fear the same thing. Nathan told David that his sin with Bathsheba caused the Lord’s enemies to blaspheme God (2 Samuel 12:14), and while David later repented and was restored (Psalm 32, 51) the consequences of his sin remained, even to this day. 

My friends, are you engaged in any kind of secret, lurid, sensual, objectionable behavior that could cause those under your authority to be embarrassed, devastated, shamed? Is your speech foul, perverse? Men, have you really considered what a thirty minute liaison with another woman would cost you? Have you thought through the shame and embarrassment this would cause your children, grandchildren? How do you think you would feel, coming home to your wife and children, having to admit to them that you were just fired from your job because you had stolen from the company? How would you explain it to your friends? Have you contemplated the shame of telling your Sunday School class that you must step down from teaching because you were fired from your job because you were caught looking at pornography while at work? 

Is it possible to live above the snake line? Can you make some measure of progress in personal holiness? It is possible to come to a place where many of your former sins are no longer much of a threat? Take the former alcoholic or drug addict, for example. He can and should see progress to the point that these sins no longer bring him down. While we are always susceptible to the world, the flesh, and the devil; while we are always capable of backsliding, retreating from an upward trend of gospel holiness; it is still possible for tangible sanctification to take place in the believer. Surely this is what Jesus has in mind in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7); what Paul is after in his lists of how believers ought to be living (Romans 5:1-4, Galatians 5:22-23), and what Peter expects for those who have all they need pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-8). Some well meaning preachers today give you the impression that it is not possible to “live above the snake line.” We hear them say in their sermons, “Your life is a mess. We all are a mess. Just give your life to Jesus. He loves you anyway. He will not reject you. Your life is like a newspaper that has been torn in many pieces. You cannot put it back together again.” While it is certainly true that we have nothing to do with our justification, it is patently false that we have nothing to do with our sanctification. Effort is required. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). “Letting go and letting God” is unbiblical. It is certainly true that none of us can put our lives back together again, but it is also not true that we need not be concerned about growing in personal holiness. You are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect. You are to strive for perfection. A concert violinist, in preparing for a recital, will strive for perfection in her performance. She will labor hours upon hours, honing her skill, doing all she can to leave no stone unturned. While she may not reach utter perfection in her performance, she nonetheless comes much closer to it than if she is merely “winging it.”

So, how do we make progress in sanctification? I suggest three things. First is self-examination. The Psalmist in Psalm 139:23-24 is one we ought to emulate. He says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me, and know my anxious thoughts. And see if there is any hurtful way in me, lead me in the everlasting way.” Take any passage where you find commands, and ask yourself specifically, “How am I doing?” Don’t “blow this off” by saying, “We all sin. None of us can keep the law. Why bother with it? Jesus loves me anyway.” You are to “bother” with it because Jesus expects you to manifest your love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15, 21). Don’t heal yourself too quickly. Allow the Holy Spirit to bring you low, to convict you, to humble you, to give you a true spirit of contrition.

Remember, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, Thou wilt not despise,” (Psalm 51:17). Second, run to Jesus for the grace of repentance and forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10, 2 Timothy 2:25). The remarkable, unfathomable truth is that Jesus is quick and ready to forgive His people when they come humbly to Him, acknowledging their sin. He will restore you, taking your sins away from you as far as the east is from the west. But you must come to Him in sincere repentance, willing to make restitution for your sin if necessary. If you have stolen, then you must pay it back. If you have lied, then must confess it to the recipient of your lie. And third, you must continually “feed the lion and starve the pig.” Your flesh and indwelling sin are like a pig that eats anything, including the most horrid filth. Are you taking in filthy movies, television programming, “hanging” with people whose language and lifestyle are ungodly? Are you allowing your mind to “go there” into all manner of prurient debauchery? Instead you are to feed the lion, that is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus, who indwells you by the Holy Spirit. Lions don’t eat vegetables or garbage. They eat meat. You are to feed the lion in your soul the meat of God’s word. You are to saturate your mind and heart with the infallible, inerrant, inspired word of God. As you feed the lion, you will starve the pig. You then will find you more readily are living above the snake line. You will find yourself progressing in gospel holiness. And if you begin to fall back below the snake line, when you find yourself again exposed to the poisonous snakes of this world—your indwelling sinful lust, the seductive and adulterous sinful generation of this world, and the temptations of the evil one, run back afresh and anew, to Jesus. Cry out to Him very specifically, “Help me, Jesus. Please give me your holiness.” As you draw near to God, He promises to draw near to you (James 4:4). 

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