There are specific spiritual pitfalls that some of God's people fall into every year. You need to BEWARE of them! In this article, the Director of the Headquarters Guidance and Counselling Office shows what these pitfalls are, and HOW you can AVOID them!
EACH YEAR, God's Church loses fewer members than any other church of similar size. Yet, even one potential eternal God-life gone astray is FAR TOO MANY! Over the years, God's ministers have come to see that there are five distinct pitfalls that have trapped some of the brethren. But they are all easily avoided — if you know how. Let's examine these pitfalls one by one, and see how God shows YOU can avoid them and remain a steadfast, faithful, growing member of the body of Christ.
Pitfall number one is a mortal danger! We have come to see that some who leave God's Church have never been converted. Yet, they didn't know it. Approximately one fourth of those who left over the years have gone out in this miserable state. They had simply never really surrendered their minds and their whole lives to God, never received God's Holy Spirit, and therefore had never produced spiritual fruit. Some of you reading this article could be caught in this snare right now and not be fully aware of it! Never has it been more important to EXAMINE YOURSELF to see whether you are really in the faith. If you aren't positive about the validity of your conversion, you may be on very dangerous ground! You can know one way or the other by simply spending some time in real introspection — if you understand what real conversion IS. To be converted means to be changed. It means you no longer follow the way that seems right to a man, but now you follow the way that is right according to God's Word. But it means more than that. Conversion involves the total, complete, unconditional surrender of the self to God. If you are truly converted, you have experienced a time when you really came to yourself, a time when you could see yourself as you really were. You came to the place where you just couldn't stand yourself, where you literally hated everything you stood for. You came to the place where you could look into a mirror and say to yourself with vociferous conviction and genuine sincerity, "I HATE WHAT YOU ARE!" A truly converted person has experienced, with some degree of emotion, a feeling of real sorrow for having killed Jesus Christ because of his own sins. It is a personal experience, a time of deep remorse where the feeling of absolute worthlessness is almost overpowering. Such a person feels as though he is a "burned-out hunk of junk." He feels as though he is the dirtiest, foulest, rottenest, most depraved, most miserable, most despicable skunk who ever existed — one who isn't worthy of continuing to exist, but worthy only of DEATH! Have you ever genuinely felt this way? Everyone who has had such an experience found only one course of action he could take. That was to go to his Creator God privately in prayer and pour out his heart in genuine unmitigated repentance. One who has never gone through this experience is "kidding" himself about his conversion. Have you ever prostrated yourself before the Great Creator God in heartfelt repentance? Have you surrendered your life in complete UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER and totally committed yourself to God? Do you say, "Thy will be done — not mine," and really mean it — even when severe trials strike your life? Do you now present your body — your entire life — in living sacrifice to God? (Rom. 12:1-2.) Are you really crucified with Christ? (Gal. 2:20.) If you answer "YES" to these questions and are BEING HONEST with yourself, THEN that IS STRONG indication you have truly repented and are converted. If you've never sincerely felt this way, then you need to read such articles as "What Is Real Repentance?", "Should You Be Baptized?", and "What Is a Real Christian?" Then go to God in sincere, heartfelt prayer arid ask Him to grant you repentance. It would also be a good idea to talk to your local minister if you have any doubts about your conversion. God, who cannot lie, will grant you repentance and will lead you to real conversion. Then you won't have to worry about falling away because you aren't converted. You will be converted — and you will knout it! God will give you His Spirit which will produce the positive FRUITS of repentance and conversion in your life! (Gal. 5:22-23.)
Another dangerous pitfall is lethargy. It is that ho-hum, what's-the-use, I-quit, I-don't-care, lazy, lackadaisical, tired, weary-with-well-doing, I-give-up attitude. It is a "disease" more deadly than any putrefying, cancerous sore! More than one fifth of those who have fallen away went out of God's Church because of lethargy! You could be afflicted by this "disease" right now. You may have that hapless, empty feeling that you "can't make it, so why try?" You may be weary, tired, ready to quit. DON'T DO IT! There's a way to overcome — a special foolproof formula revealed by Jesus Christ in your Bible, Mr. Herbert Armstrong began applying that key many years ago. Dozens and scores have used that key to consistently produce zeal, enthusiasm and outstanding spiritual growth over the years. That key is: PUT YOUR WHOLE HEART INTO GOD'S WORK! From the beginning, God's Work has gone through crisis after crisis. We weathered the most recent financial crisis because most of you brethren have your hearts in the Work. You came through when the chips were down. You responded when the call went out. We know most of you are concerned about God's Work. We know your hearts are truly in it because you have put your treasure there! Jesus said where your heart IS, there will your treasure be also (Matt. 6:21). But if you were among the few who were ABLE to help out in the recent crisis, yet did not, it's high time you EXAMINED YOURSELF! This Work of God is the most important activity on the face of the earth today. It pales into insignificance any other work that could be mentioned. The success of this Work is the only hope of humanity. Without it, there is no hope, as Malachi 4:5-6 clearly shows. God is going to intervene in world affairs and save mankind from itself because of this very Work of God! You are a part of the Work that offers the solutions to all this world's ills, and shows the way to escape the coming time of world trouble. YOU have a part in the most important activity on the face of the earth today. There is a real living PURPOSE involved in everything we in God's Work do. How can you be filled with a sense of that purpose and still be lethargic? How can you have your mind on fulfilling the commission Christ has given each of us and be complacent about it? Obviously, you can't! Can you look at the world, see the hundreds of millions and even billions of suffering humanity and remain noncommittal when you know the only hope for all mankind and the future of the world is this Work of God? Can you have your heart in God's Work and yet become weary with well-doing? You cannot and WILL NOT! That has been the living principle experienced by Mr. Herbert Armstrong for more than four decades. As Mr. Armstrong has said many times, you will grow spiritually in exact proportion to the degree you put your heart in God's Work — no more, no less, Do you want to avoid the pitfall of lethargy? Do you want to become zealous, hold fast, endure to the end, grow spiritually? Then PUT YOUR WHOLE HEART IN GOD'S Work!
Pitfall number three can also be avoided, though many have been led lo think otherwise. The desire for sex is no strange thing. It is no stronger than the desire for food, water or sleep — in fact not as strong. We all know that the desire for right and wholesome sexual relationships in marriage has God's blessing. But this rotten world has simply blown the desire for sex completely out of proportion, and in so doing, has deceived many into believing wrong sex drives are unconquerable. Nothing could be further from the truth! Any desire to indulge in inordinate or illicit sex can be overcome — TOTALLY CONQUERED! No one with such a problem is doomed to failure — if he knows how to combat it. One of the most basic scriptures on the subject of sex problems is found in I Corinthians 6:18. It simply states: "Flee fornication." This is a basic principle for all to follow in every type of sexual temptation. You wouldn't try to quit smoking by remaining in a room full of cigarettes and matches. Neither can you overcome the temptations of illicit sex by looking at photographs of naked women in "girlie" magazines and hard-core pornographic literature, going to sex-oriented movies, frequenting topless and bottomless bars, attending burlesque shows or associating with harlots. It just doesn't work. Follow God's advice: "FLEE!" No normal man could be in a bedroom alone with a voluptuous, scantily clad "Hollywood sex symbol" and not be tempted! Every man knows that is true, and any Christian man should automatically, as if by nature, flee any such temptation or situation! In many cases the problem is that the man is too interested in investigating the situation, instead of fleeing it as God commands. Somehow the lusts of the flesh can trick our minds into thinking we won't be hurt — that it really isn't harmful, and perhaps is even "good" for us — that ogling naked women is a "masculine" thing to do. Or perhaps we secretly want to "slip," thinking we can always repent later. Listen! God commands: "Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Cor. 6:18-20). When you understand the damage to mind and body which sex sins cause, you can more fully understand why God abhors such sins, and actually DESTROYED whole segments of society for sex perversion (Gen. 19). Over the years, some in God's Church have turned their backs on God because of a desire for inordinate or illicit sex. They've allowed the pressures and temptations of the world to get the better of them. Don't allow yourself to become another victim! If you are being tempted, seek to understand how monstrous sex sins really are. STUDY those parts of God's Word which deal with such sins and their enormity in God's sight. Then resolve to "flee fornication," and seek God's spiritual help with your whole being — draw close to HIM — and YOU will overcome every temptation of this type!
The whole world is in turmoil today. The whole creation is groaning in travail and great agony because of rebellion. Every nation, people or society has its rebels. Our society is literally filled with rebellion on every side, and YOU HAVE BEEN AFFECTED! It is very easy for the carnal mind to fall into pitfall number four — rebellion. A large percentage of those who have left God's Church rebelled against God and His laws — and His ministers whom He has ordained to teach His Word. Many of these departed in anger after accusing any and everyone, except themselves, for their wretched condition. The first one ever to rebel was Lucifer, who thereby became Satan the devil. Lucifer tried to take prerogatives that weren't his. Why? Because of vanity. He thought he was capable of more. He became dissatisfied, and decided to take what he thought he deserved. He tried to usurp God's authority. He tried to ascend above the angels of God and become like God. Lucifer refused to be satisfied with his God-given position, so HE REBELLED. So it is with those who rebel today! Children seem to learn to resist authority at an early age. I have seen small children, when their desires were thwarted, bristle up, contort their faces and turn deep crimson just before they performed some rebellious act, such as kicking their parents in the shins. Rebellious children are often referred to as "little devils." You have heard people say: "He has a little of the devil in him," or: "He sure is a little devil, isn't he?" What they're really referring to is the attitude of Satan in the child. Adults are merely children grown up. They often act the same way, but disguise their rebellion. Rebellion comes in many forms, but it is basically resentment of, and refusal to submit to authority. By nature we want what we want when we want it, and we don't want to be told we can't have it. Because of this fact, it is easy to resent authority. Those who resent authority and correction begin to criticize those in authority. In the Church it becomes easy for them to criticize God's ministers — even Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Every Christian should recognize Jesus Christ as the living and active Head of His Church. Christ is ABLE to handle any problem that might come up. It is Christ's responsibility to direct and correct Mr. Herbert Armstrong, Mr. Garner Ted Armstrong, and all His ministers. Every one of God's ministers is under the authority of Jesus Christ, and they all know it! Do you? How, then, can you prevent rebellion against God and those in authority over you? First, realize what a horrible sin rebellion really is. "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (I Sam 15:22-23). One of the worst sins a man can commit is to rebel against God and His authority. Realize that whenever you resist the ministers God has placed over you, you are resisting God the Father and Jesus Christ who put them in their jobs. When you criticize policy established by God's Church, yon criticize Jesus Christ, the real Head of God's Church. Second, consider the result of rebellion. Study the lives of Saul and Korah and other examples of rebellion recorded in the Bible. Think about the rebellion of Satan the devil, and CONSIDER THE END! This is a tremendous deterrent to rebellion. Third, concentrate on magnifying the fruits of God's Spirit in your life. There is no room for rebellion in the heart of a man filled with the love of God. It is impossible to be rebellious and joyful at the same time. It is impossible to be in the turmoil of rebellion and have peace of mind. If you are putting on love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, kindness, temperance, faith and all the fruits of God's Holy Spirit constantly and continuously, you will never rebel. Those who rebelled against God and His ministers and left His Church in a fit of anger were not filled with the fruits of God's Spirit. So exhibit the fruits of God's Spirit and you'll avoid the pitfall of rebellion!
"Who does he think he is, anyway? What gives him the right to correct me? I may have made a mistake, but...." Have you ever had such thoughts enter your mind? Have you felt hurt, resentful, angry? Of course you have! Everyone has. But wait! We are called to conquer such thoughts. We are commanded to control our thoughts and bring them into captivity to Jesus Christ (II Cor. 10:3-5). Why? Because God knows what automatically follows feelings of resentment, hurt and anger. He knows bitterness will set in if we don't stamp out these feelings. We must constantly be on guard against becoming bitter. All too many who have left God's Church over the years went out simply because they fell into pitfall number five — they became bitter! Bitterness usually begins with hurt feelings, resentment against someone in authority, or anger caused by another human being. Everyone has experienced these emotions many times in life. It is only normal. But if we allow these emotions to foment and fester, then what follows is automatic — a deadly putrefying sore called bitterness. God inspired the Apostle Paul to write: "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore," — when chastening comes your way — "lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees." Fight that hurt feeling which automatically comes. Fight resentment that follows and then the anger that can lead to bitterness. "And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace... lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled" (Heb. 12:11-13). Paul warned all Christians: "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice" (Eph. 4:31). Every time you begin to criticize, judge and fret because your feelings have been hurt — stop! When you feel resentment or anger welling up in you — stop! When you feel the festering, putrefying emotions that lead to bitterness come over you — stop! Stop and ask: "Who is in charge? Why am I hurt? Why am I angry? Take hold of yourself. Control your feelings! Don't set yourself on a course that will lead you OUT OF God's Church!
You CAN Overcome!
All human beings are precious to God. He says in His Word that He wants ALL men to eventually be SAVED! (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9.) Since God is so concerned with all humanity, how much more concerned is He about those of us who have already come to the knowledge of His truth — those who are in the process of becoming God? Brethren, we are partakers of a fantastic heavenly calling — a calling so stupendous it's almost unbelievable! We are called of God to become His born-again sons — to become members of the very GOD FAMILY! He doesn't want even one of us to become a miscarriage!! Just how much is God willing to help each of us to make it into His Family? The answer should be obvious. God is aware of the pitfalls mentioned in this article. He is aware that Satan the devil is roaming about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (I Pet. 5:8). That is the reason God has provided us with all the help necessary to overcome. The Apostle Paul understood and had the help God makes available. That's why he said: "I CAN do all things (overcome all obstacles) through CHRIST which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13). So can YOU! So be POSITIVE. Know you can avoid and overcome each of these pitfalls because God will strengthen you through the power of His Spirit (Zech. 4:6). By exercising God's Spirit, you can Master the flesh (Rom. 8:12-13). Through His Spirit in you, you can CONQUER and escape EVERY TRIAL AND TEMPTATION (I Cor. 10:13; Eph. 6:10-18). Yes, I mean Y-O-U! There is no reason or excuse in all the world for you to become a spiritual fatality — a spiritual "shipwreck." Think of that, and let that conviction sink deeply into your consciousness! And always remember — and take to heart — the words of the Apostle Paul: "If God be for us, who can be against us?... we are more than CONQUERORS through him that loved us..." (Rom. 8:31, 37). Brethren, God IS with us — as long as we are with Him! So take heart. Don't be discouraged. Remember — GOD is on our side, helping us, leading us, giving us strength through His Spirit! And no power in heaven or earth can withstand God!