As a child I was not encouraged to form my own opinion about things and had to obey my parents without question. If I felt something was unfair, it made no difference; instant obedience was the rule. My parents, who loved me, inherited vestiges of traditional British, Victorian values like, 'Children should be seen and not heard', which, although not actually insisted on, were at least mentioned from time to time.
It's amazing how God allows circumstances to enter our lives which are perfectly designed to pierce the heart of the old nature in us and to bring it into submission to the Holy Spirit. The process never ends while we live, and involves repeated lessons and discipline until we finally obey and start to act in the opposite way to which we were used to behaving.
Being brought up to be obedient, submissive, considerate and unselfish has its advantages, but if these are simply qualities which have been learned by following rules, although they may help a person to get on with others in a social situation, they are still part of a person's old nature. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was to know both evil and good. This fruit was and is forbidden, but our first parents ate it. The result was that Death entered the world. They could have eaten the fruit from the Tree of Life, but they didn't. As a result, their internal nature was corrupted and thus they became mortal.
So it doesn't matter how good a person is brought up to be, or how much he obeys the laws laid down by parents or society; because he is descended from Adam, as long as he is unchanged in his internal being, he is corrupt and will die. Though originally created FOR the love of God, (as God said, it is not good for man to be alone) he will be separated FROM the love of God forever. If, however, a person receives eternal life by the revelation of Jesus and what He has done for us by His death and resurrection (Praise God!) then he has the chance to be transformed bit by bit, into the new Man, in the image of Jesus Himself, and while his mortal body will die, his spirit and soul will be saved and he will be given a resurrection body. What a marvelous truth!
Fine; that's all clearly explained in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Unfortunately, it isn't clearly lived out in today's Western church, and is therefore not understood by the vast majority of those who have been given new life in Christ. The result is that while the Word of God may have been sown into their hearts and may even have germinated, it may take years for it to grow, or it may never come to maturity. A seed may be germinated, but due to the condition of the soil or the soil's environment, that seed might never even break the surface of the soil and come into the light. To put it another way, a person may well be saved, (germinated) but he might never actually be 'born from above'; 'see' the Light of the World, and therefore may never truly know Jesus. I know that most people in today's church think that being 'saved' and being 'born again' are synonymous terms, but when you consider how much apostasy, selfishness, unbelief and hardheartedness there is in the churches, one must eventually come to the conclusion that something is gravely wrong. Jesus said, 'By their fruits you will know them.' You don't get bad fruit from a good tree. If the fruit is bad, then the tree must be bad as well. If a person says he has been saved, but subsequently lives a life based on corrupt principles, then it's clear that no matter how good, intelligent, respectable or educated he may be, he has never really come to know Jesus practically and lives by the worldly, natural principles he picked up from his parents or from society.
I'm digressing. Once a person is really born from above, into the Light, the process of discipleship begins. The food he needs is the Word of God, which is interpreted to him by the Holy Spirit who indwells him. No matter how good a person may be; once he is a child of God, he will have to reckon that 'good' old nature to be crucified and dead as much as the criminal of the first degree who comes to faith in Jesus. Before God, no-one is good - not one. All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags, as Isaiah says. It's a process of working out, by the faith and grace of God, in practice - what we already are said to be in name.
Often however, due to the nature of the environment we are in, we have bad examples to follow and pick up wrong teaching. God be praised; His Spirit is at work, and eventually He brings us back to the truth. He uses circumstances as lessons in our lives to do this. Everything is of use; whether good or bad. Everything which happens to us is intended for our good (Romans 8:28); most obviously, those things which we see as negative. These things cut across our will. We are faced with the choice; to agree to the will of God in allowing 'bad' things to happen to us, thereby saying, 'No' to our own will, which releases the oil of joy into our lives.
Things which we see as positive may feel good, but these things are just as useful, if not so obvious. Here it is just as important to submit to Him, otherwise we'll relax our guard, and be surprised to find out how much pride and self-righteousness is still there. In my experience, positive situations have often caught me out. How often I thought God had worked through me, only to reveal how self-absorbed I was.
So nothing which happens to us is to be discarded as useless for our growth. How quickly, however, we discard things which seem unpleasant to us! How quickly we reject situations where people misunderstand and misjudge us. How quickly we reject people themselves for doing so, when in fact, their misjudgement is allowed in order to test us. Will we hold it against them, when in fact, it is our Father who graciously does not permit them to understand us in order to see what is in our hearts? It has taken me so long to come to any wisdom I may now have, due to, (thank God for them) the painful experiences of losing things and people close to me, that I can no longer now hold anything against anyone who has yet to go through the painful dealings of God in the same areas, and does not therefore understand me.
Again; it's amazing how God allows circumstances to enter our lives which are perfectly designed to pierce the heart of the old nature in us and to bring it into submission to the Holy Spirit.
In the last three years I've been through what has simply been the most excruciating time in my life, without the slightest ability to explain to those closest to me who were most affected by it and had the most to lose because of it. Through it, however, I have been learning how much I have always been influenced by my fear of man's opinion. I always wanted to be 'good'. I wanted people to approve of me and think I was a good person. Ultimately, the question boiled down to - Who am I living for? Am I living for God? Is He my Lord? Or am I living to please others?
In situations when closest family and friends are unable to understand things God does in our lives, and in their natural pain, reject us, will we buckle to external pressure, choosing human comfort above the comfort of the Holy Spirit? Will we choose being acceptable to the world or even close friends and those we admire, rather than being cast outside the city walls, stoned and crucified, having our name dragged through the muck? If Jesus went through the same, should I expect anything else? Do I care more about man's judgement than I do about what God thinks of me? Is it about my righteousness, or about His?
If He has told me to do something, then why do I doubt because of what people may think? Do I believe Him? Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac. Isaiah was told to wander naked for three years. Hosea was told to marry and remarry a prostitute. Mary was told that she would conceive the Messiah before she was married to Joseph. Jesus was told that He was to die for the world and then resurrect from the dead. Have I heard Him?