Hidden Sins, Pet Sins

Bill Rudge

Sea of Galilee photo by Bill Rudge

Many Christians hold on to hidden and pet sins—seemingly concealed from others and supposedly overlooked by God. Actually, there is no such thing as secret sin. God sees and knows everything. The psalmist said: “You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence” (Psalm 90:8).

Are we Christians who use words or participate in activities that dishonor the Lord, but have done them for so long that the initial conviction of God’s Spirit has been dulled? Have we become desensitized and no longer feel remorse or guilt? Or do we rationalize why it is “not that bad” and condone our actions with the excuse that probably everybody—including Christian leaders—are doing them.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit and your own conscience once convicted you about certain sins, but you made excuses and persisted in wrong attitudes or behaviors. The Spirit is grieved from willful, unrepentant sin and will eventually cease from convicting you. Therefore, do not falsely conclude that your hidden or pet sins are no big deal. They are a big deal and need to be overcome.

Dr. Adrian Rogers insightfully said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

If you mistakenly turn your shower water to cold, it shocks your system and you will immediately jump back. But if you gradually turn the water cooler and cooler, your body begins to adapt and you hardly notice the transition. So too, people can fall away from the Lord, gradually becoming lukewarm and complacent, then cold and calloused without realizing it. Eventually they condone a lifestyle that contradicts their profession of faith: they have forsaken their First Love.

We must never become complacent or tolerant of willful sin in our lives! Instead, we can diligently seek to be set free by walking God’s pathway to triumph—transformed by His Spirit and through His Word, to live victoriously as champions in a great contest!

We must repent of repetitive, willful and hidden sins, and make Him Lord over every area of our lives. We must not tolerate and justify secret sins, saying, “Well, you know, I can’t be perfect; everyone has problems. So, I am going to hold on to my jealousy, my gossiping, my gluttony, my greed, my arrogance, my lust. I will continue in this relationship or practice even though it is contrary to Your Word. I am going to keep looking at pornography and continue in immoral relationships. I will keep watching immoral and occult movies. I will keep on doing this or that but I still love You Lord, and I still want to serve You.”

John Blanchard states: “No man can prove that he is a child of God without showing the family likeness.” Ephesians 5:1 tells us to be imitators of God, and Romans 8:29 indicates that we are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ. Clean out the hidden and pet sins in your life that hinder your walk with Christ. Purity of heart and life are essential to experiencing the Five P’s of the Lord: peace, provision, protection, presence and power!

Three Levels of Christian Life

Most Christians go through three levels of commitment. First is Feelings. That’s okay if you are a new Christian, but if you have been walking with the Lord for several years, it is unnatural and unhealthy to run around in the spiritual diapers of feelings and experiences. It’s time to grow up.

Second is Commitment. This is where we live by obedience and commitment, regardless of how we feel. It is where we do what God’s Word says, what His Spirit directs—whether we want to or not.

Thinking of commitment as the ultimate level, I lived that way for many years. However, there is what I call the Desire level. But before I tell you what it is, let me explain how I came to discover it.

While in Phoenix in the summer of 1988, I was reflecting on my relationship with the Lord and everything that had been happening: the Middle East where my family and I were caught in a potential hijacking and hostage situation and all the trauma associated with it; the death of my father from a heart attack; my wife diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor; the Oregon wreck in which our car was totaled in a four-vehicle collision; the tire blowout and frightening near-accident with the next rental car I was driving through Arizona. I reflected on these and other related incidences (I later wrote about in Strength through Weakness booklet) and asked the Lord why they were happening. He impressed on my heart these three levels of commitment, especially the third and ultimate dimension of our Christian life—the Desire level.

You should know that as you enter the Desire level, the things and attractions of this world will dim in comparison to knowing the Lord. You find yourself despising things you once loved and loving that which you once disdained!

Excerpts from “Reaching Your Maximum Potential in Christ” by Bill Rudge. To request a copy of this book, free of charge, write to Bill Rudge Ministries, P. O. Box 108, Sharon, PA 16146-0108.

The Act of Forgiving

by Jim Weikal

Jesus is very clear in Matthew 6:15: “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

Many of you know the joy, the comfort, the emotional release of being forgiven by someone dear to you. But what have you done to forgive someone else? Have you reached out to them? The same joy you felt at being forgiven you can now allow them to experience.

I know what you may be thinking. “You don’t know how deeply I’ve been hurt.” And you’re right. But verse 15 above doesn’t leave much room for unforgivingness does it? Jesus’ example in Luke 23:34 certainly sets a high and lofty principle: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

“Well,” you say, “Jesus was the Son of God. I’m not.” So what do you do with Stephen who was stoned in front of the apostle Paul? “They went on stoning Stephen as he was calling out and saying, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ And having said this, he fell asleep’” (Acts 7:59-60).

Forgiving like Jesus moves us closer to being like Him. Forgiving like Stephen shows us that it is possible.

How Can God Forgive a Murderer?

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

There are a few things to consider concerning God’s forgiveness.

First, His forgiveness does not remove moral responsibility and consequences for one’s actions.

Second, an outward profession does not always indicate an inner commitment to Jesus Christ. In other words, only God knows the heart of each of us to accurately determine whether or not one’s repentance and request for forgiveness is genuine.

Third, we are all sinners who fall short of God’s standards. So, while the actions of a murderer are of greater consequence than the actions of a liar, both violate God’s moral laws and are guilty. However, through the sacrificial death of Jesus, forgiveness is provided for all who believe and receive God’s unmerited grace.

From my perspective, the real question is not why would God save a murderer, but why does God save anyone – since we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)? The only answer is the depth of His love for all of us (John 3:16). Consider a parent who loves both the child who behaves and turns out good, and the child who struggles with poor decisions in life (drugs and other reckless behavior). The good child may experience more of the parent’s blessings than the reckless child. But the parent still loves them both and carries with them a hope that one day their reckless child will come home and experience the same blessings that they have provided for their other child.

The holiness and justice of God demands that all sin is punished. However, the mercy and grace of God provides forgiveness for our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).


Bill Rudge

All through my younger years I was often told that what I planned to do was impossible. I was repeatedly told: “You can’t do it! You are too young, too small, too weak, too poor. You will never make it. You might as well give up!”

So, as one who never really had much potential and was often considered the least likely to succeed in high school and college, who would have thought that one day I would start a ministry that would grow into an international outreach which was to have an impact on tens of thousands of youth and adults?

My wife and I arrived at Bible college as new Christians, still in our teens, with little money and no jobs. Early on I was voted in one class to be the least likely to succeed in ministry. Nevertheless, I finished all four years with good grades, even though I had to work 40 – 60 hours a week on an assembly line at a window factory, along with classes and homework. By my senior year, I was running a growing youth group for a country church and teaching exercise and self-defense classes at the college and YMCA.

A few years later, the president of the college from which I had graduated called to book me at their new campus in Virginia. He asked me to address the student body on “Reaching Your Maximum Potential,” and how we had developed a successful, multifaceted ministry.

Since then I have been blessed to train hundreds of staff and volunteers—many of whom are serving in churches, ministries or missions—as well as training missionaries, pastors, chaplains, military personnel (enlisted men and women, and officers) and leaders of various ministries and organizations. The Lord has also opened doors for me to speak at several pastors’ and leadership conferences in the U.S. and other countries.

Bare Beginnings

In August of 1977, with virtually no money, staff or facilities—just a lot of God-given determination—Karen and I started this ministry in the upstairs apartment of my parents’ home. I used the kitchen table as a desk and Karen kept the ministry records in a file cabinet in our bedroom. Few people thought we would succeed. Many said, “Others have tried and failed; you will too!” Nevertheless, with God’s help we persevered and for over 45 years have witnessed Him do the impossible.

Recently, after speaking at a local church where I had mentioned in my sermon about being voted least likely to succeed at Bible college, an older man told me that he remembered when I started my ministry. He had said to his wife, “He’ll never make it.” He paused and said, “I am so glad you did make it!”

Philippians 4:13

There are many other stories I could share—examples of how God has enabled us to accomplish that which others thought impossible. In reality, people were right for thinking I did not have much potential. However, I have built my life and ministry on the belief that I can do all things because Christ strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). I think God chose me—the least of all—to display His transforming power and to vividly illustrate that if He can use me, He can use anyone!

One of the reasons we have such faithful volunteers and supporters is that they know I am going to do what I say I am going to do. If I believe God has led me to do something, then nothing or no one will stop me. I will persevere until it is accomplished. I will never give up until the Lord either fulfills what He led me to do, or gives definite, new direction.

I have always enjoyed a challenge. It seems the more obstacles I face and the more opposition I receive, the more determined I become. Countless times throughout my life and ministry, I have had to face the cold reality that circumstances say, “You cannot do it,” and people said, “You will never do it,” but God’s Word reminds us, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Three-Legged Race

Speaking in the city of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, for a series of engagements, I designed a special outreach including relays and an obstacle course in a neighborhood that was nicknamed “Hell’s Half Acre.” It was like a time warp back to the 1960s and was similar to the neighborhood where I had been raised. Both the youth and the adults loved the competition.

Before the start of a three-legged race, Steven, a youth of about twelve years of age, hobbled over to me with a crutch. His leg was badly crippled, yet he asked if he could compete in the three-legged race. He said, “I don’t need a partner as I already have three legs.” I told him to go for it. He competed with fervent determination and nearly won the race. Before sharing my testimony following the competition, I acknowledged this youth for his courage, determination and attitude, then awarded him a Reaching Your Maximum Potential T-shirt which he appreciated and greatly deserved.

What Is Your Dream?

Proverbs 29:18 says:

Where there is no vision [revelation], the people are unrestrained [out of control], but happy [blessed] is one who keeps the Law.

To have determination that never gives up, you must have goals, dreams and vision. Believe that through Christ you can do it. Be willing to pay the price at all cost, and be motivated and empowered by His Spirit to persevere no matter what the challenge.

What goals and vision has the Lord given you through study of His Word and prayer? If you do not have any, then spend time in Scripture, prayer and fasting, and God will put His goals, His dreams, His vision and His desires in your heart. One of the reasons I am still in the ministry and still excited is due to my goals and vision for the future. When I achieve one goal, God gives me one or two more. That keeps me motivated. I often pray: “Lord, put Your goals, dreams and vision in my heart. Give me unwavering faith to believe You and the motivation and determination to persevere.” And remember, anything worth doing is worth doing with excellence. Strive to be the best you can be at whatever you do.

Determination of a Navy SWCC and SEAL

My oldest grandson, like his uncle BJ, excelled in soccer; playing for two national traveling teams. However, he gave up a college Division I soccer scholarship to enlist in the Navy and try out for Special Forces. His determination and never-quit attitude was already honed through the many difficulties and hard training he experienced in soccer. His self-imposed intense workout routines helped prepare him for the severe and extremely rigorous training at Special Forces—crawling through broken seashells and then, with open wounds, crawling through fresh sewage and repeatedly enduring freezing cold water.

My brother Ken gave an insightful quote: “If you want to be the best, you have to face the worst.” The additional challenges my grandson has faced for remaining faithful to Christ have been almost incomprehensible, but so far, with God’s help, he has overcome.

He enlisted in the Navy at age 18 with a goal and a dream to become a SWCC (SpecialWarfare Combatant Crewman). During Navy SWCC Selection, after many were either sent home or quit, a SWCC instructor asked him, “Are you going to quit?” “They will have to kill me” he replied. What he endured was horrific but he refused to give up and by age 19 he achieved his goal of Naval Special Operations Forces.

During the prestigious graduation ceremony in Coronado, the commander mentioned that my grandson gave up a college scholarship to play soccer. He then enthusiastically said to him, “Welcome to the pros!”

I have had the opportunity to speak several times at an Arab Center in California to people who have known suffering and persecution firsthand. The group consists of men, women and young people from various countries throughout the Middle East (some are Arabic instructors at the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey in California) and U.S. military personnel. It is an incredible place to speak because there is also a meeting of Jewish believers going on at the same time in the same building. People from both groups ask, “Where else can Arabs and Jews get along so lovingly?”

However, the point I want to emphasize concerns a Navy SEAL. Following my message, many waited to talk to me, to ask questions or obtain free copies of my books. One young man was halfway through his training to become a Navy SEAL (that along with SWCC is probably the most difficult and rigorous military training available). He asked me to pray for him. After doing so I looked him in the eyes and asked, “Are you going to complete the training to become a SEAL?” He responded without hesitation as he looked me in the eyes with confidence, “Sir, they will have to break every bone in my body before I will quit!”

The attitudes of determination and resolve modeled by both these young men are needed by all believers in our commitment and service to Jesus Christ!

Never Quit; Never Give Up

One of the most important exhortations regarding the end times—repeated several times in Revelation and elsewhere—is to persevere: be faithful even to the point of death, hold on till the end, have patient endurance, be victorious, overcome, stand firm, endure to the end and do not shrink back.

After speaking at Petra Cafe in Fort Stewart, a young soldier said to me: “I want to go home, sir.” It was understandable for him to be homesick and want to quit the Army, but giving up should not be an option for a believer, nor even be in a Christian’s vocabulary.

My desire is to turn the hearts of the people back to the Lord and to inspire them to walk in faithfulness until He returns. As believers in Christ, we must have the attitude that no opposition or obstacle will cause us to give up in defeat. Instead, we must endure to the end in our commitment to Him. We must persevere, remain faithful and never give up until the Lord fulfills what He leads us to do or He gives us clear, new direction.

The Apostle Paul was in prison at Rome, knowing that his time on earth was about to end. Yet with faith and determination he wrote these powerful words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8:

…The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.

Paul’s commitment to Christ resulted in unwavering faith and determination—even to his death. Ask God to instill in you the kind of determination Paul had: to never give up and to remain faithful to the very end.

God has taken that little bit of determination in my youth; has redirected and increased it, and enabled me by His power to do what was seemingly not doable. In upcoming books on The Impossible and Adventures in Missions, I document some of the many difficult situations the Lord has enabled me to overcome through unwavering faith in Him, obedient determination and persistent perseverance.

Determination means refusing to give up no matter how daunting the obstacle, how intense the opposition, how rough the road, or how difficult the battle, but to persevere until the very end and victory is achieved. Never forget, if you consistently, persistently, incessantly and unrelentingly believe and never give up, you will accomplish what others thought to be impossible!

Courage to Stand Alone

by Bill Rudge

Throughout Scripture, we discover that living for God requires believers to occasionally stand alone.

Joseph was thrown into a pit by his brothers. He was all alone, rejected and sold as a slave into Egypt. In Egypt, because he honored God and spurned the affection of Potiphar’s wife, he was thrown into prison. Nevertheless, Joseph continued to honor the Lord and eventually God exalted him to the second highest position in Egypt and used him to save his family from starvation.

David went out alone to meet the giant Goliath. He desired to honor the God of the Bible and shut the mouth of Goliath who was mocking the Lord and intimidating the whole army of Israel. David’s attitude was one of confidence and faith in the Lord.

Elijah, a prophet of God, had an encounter on Mount Carmel against hundreds of prophets of Baal.

Daniel was taken captive to Babylon as a youth. He was ripped from his homeland and separated from his family and friends. In that difficult situation Daniel determined that he would honor the God of the Bible. Daniel was delivered from the power of the lions and prospered during the reigns of Darius and of Cyrus the Persian.

Queen Esther displayed tremendous courage in revealing to the king of Persia, her husband, that she was Jewish. Her bravery, as recounted in the book of Esther, was instrumental in saving the Jewish people of the Persian Empire from being killed. To this day the Jews celebrate Purim, a joyous Jewish festival which commemorates the day Esther saved the Jewish people from a threat of national genocide.

Hebrews 11, the famous chapter on heroes of the faith, frequently uses the words “by faith” which could also easily include “with courage.” Let’s consider a few of them: By faith [and with courage] Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By faith [and with courage] Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith [and with courage] Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Consider the courage of Stephen as he boldly spoke in the power of God’s Spirit to the Jewish Sanhedrin even though it would cost him his life. The Apostle Paul was forsaken by everyone (except the Lord) and had to endure persecution alone. Nevertheless, he bravely stood for Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

All the New Testament writers, except for John, were martyred for their faith. John, the head of the church in Ephesus at the time, was exiled to the Isle of Patmos.

During early church history many Christians were tortured, burned at the stake, thrown to wild animals or beheaded. Some were made to serve as objects of amusement. Others were clad in the hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs. Some were crucified. Others were set on fire to illuminate the night: it is said that Emperor Nero had Christians set afire as human torches to light his gardens.

Being persecuted for faith in Jesus Christ and God’s Word has continued throughout church history. Multitudes of believers have been stoned, drowned, had their brains beat out with clubs, tongues cut out, were stretched on racks or wheels until their joints were dislocated or bones broken, had boiling tar poured over them, were roasted alive like a pig on a spit, dragged through streets by horses, had their stomachs cut open and grain put inside and then pigs let loose to feed on the grain and their intestines, noses or hands cut off and many other horrific tortures.

Christians throughout the world today suffer a wide variety of increasing hostilities and oppression such as loss of freedoms, jobs and income; confiscated property and imprisonment; intensifying persecutions such as being forced into servitude; forced to watch as spouses or children are executed, raped or taken as sex slaves; their houses and churches burned to the ground—sometimes with entire congregations inside; having toes, fingers, hands, noses or heads cut off; and other atrocities—only because they believe the Bible and are committed to Jesus Christ.

During our tenth Holy Land Adventure, we had a meeting with a pastor in Bethlehem who shared his amazing testimony with our group: He had been shot multiple times; his church had been set on fire and the windows broken on several occasions; his brother was martyred in Bethlehem by three men with machetes. Yet still he courageously proclaims the Gospel in this extremely dangerous environment.

I can tell about Josef whom I met while speaking at an Arab Center in California. He had been Saddam Hussein’s English interpreter during the first Iraqi war (Desert Storm). Being a Christian and falsely accused as a traitor, he was tortured for several months. Instead of denying Jesus Christ he chose to believe Jesus’ words: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

There are many others in the U.S. and across the world I have either met or have heard about from eye witnesses who have suffered much for the cause of Christ. By God’s grace alone can we endure such atrocities. These courageous Christians are part of God’s elite “heroes of the faith” whom God will one day richly reward! He has prepared a city for them; the splendor of the New Jerusalem is only partially unveiled in Revelation chapters 21 and 22.

Ultimate Peer Pressure

In Revelation 13:8 we are told, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him [antichrist], everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain.” This will be the ultimate in peer pressure, conformity and compromise. Deny or die! For all who refuse to worship the image of the beast will be killed.

If you cannot resist peer pressure now, then you had better let God infuse you with His power because there is coming a day in the near future when all of society will be in total rebellion against the Lord and hostile toward His people; the cost will be high to stand for Jesus Christ both before and during the Tribulation period.

A case in point: After several conversations with a retired Marine, he admitted the evidence for Christ was overwhelming and said, “You have convinced me, but I have a problem. I don’t like to be laughed at.” I replied, “You can either stand alone for Christ now or one day stand alone before Him.”

Becoming a Christian was not an easy choice for me as a teenager because of the stigma of being considered weak. It was a perception I did not want my peers to have of me. Wanting to be considered tough, I hung around with the toughest of guys which meant rebellious and wild behavior. Looking back I realize how foolish and weak that really was. Besides, the “toughest of the tough” is Jesus Christ who will defeat all His foes with the brightness of His coming and the words of His mouth! That is whose side I want to be on—the One that wins in the end and for all eternity!

Let us get a proper perspective of courage: Goliath was rough and tough. David was smaller and weaker; he tended sheep while his older brothers went off to war. David wrote psalms and sang songs of praise to the Lord, while Goliath was a crude, boastful, mighty warrior who intimidated both the Philistines as well as the Israelites. Yet who do we remember as the brave and powerful one? Not Goliath but David. It took far more courage for David to face Goliath than for Goliath to combat David.

I have seen tough people cry like babies when sentenced to prison; been there when supposedly brave men and women were terrified in the face of impending death; heard arrogant boasts dwindle to fearful cries; witnessed extremely strong people become exceedingly weak.

Choose real courage and true strength—not the distorted perceptions of people who are influenced by foolish and boastful words or wild and unrestrained behavior. These may impress for a brief time those who are easily astonished by such verbosity and physical displays, but in the end they will look just like Goliath—a defeated fool.

That Great Multitude

Throughout the ages there has always been a remnant of God’s people who have had the God-given courage and strength to remain standing, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

You may be facing strong peer pressure today; feeling like you are in the shrinking minority because almost everyone at school, college or work rejects the Bible as God’s unique revelation of truth. However, one day you will be with the billions of people since Creation—heroes of the faith, prophets, kings, warriors, disciples, martyrs from every generation throughout history, men and women, children and teens from across the globe—who resisted the pressures of their day and became part of that great multitude who will inherit all that the Lord has prepared for those who love and honor Him; believers from throughout the ages will live with God forever. Those already in Heaven will one day be joined by a vast host.

On that Day when Jesus Christ establishes His eternal Kingdom, those whose names are written in the Book of Life will receive all He has prepared for those who love Him and obey His Word. We will have endless time to enjoy and explore the wonders of a restored paradise on Earth and share in the countless adventures that await us throughout the expanse of the entire universe. We will never cease to be amazed by the glory of our God and overjoyed with the blessings He will lavish on His children.

By contrast, those who reject God’s offer of salvation in this life, to enjoy the convenience of compromise, pleasure, popularity or prestige will be named among the “cowardly” mentioned in Revelation 21:8. They will forfeit God’s blessed Kingdom, quarantined from His glorious presence.

Don’t succumb to the seductive spirit of this age. Don’t compromise your faith and fashion your lifestyle to the current cultural trends and popular morality standards. Be encouraged, rather, by the throngs of people who have gone before you and whose testimonies spur you on.

Be a part of the millions of people alive on this planet today who faithfully serve and honor Jesus Christ in spite of ridicule, oppression, hostility, persecution and someday, possible martyrdom. I promise that you will never regret serving Jesus Christ. And I assure everyone who rejects or refuses to accept Him that they will eternally regret that decision.

Believers throughout the history of the Church have fought in the “arena of life” to proclaim the Gospel. Now it is our time to stand strong in the “arena” for Christ. We must not shrink back or cower in fear. That great cloud of witnesses, in fact, all of Heaven, is watching and cheering us on!

The world does not need more wasted lives, burnouts, conformers, compromisers or those who cave to all the peer pressure. What we do need are those with God-given courage to stand up and make their lives count. Instead of being influenced by the world, let’s influence our world for Jesus Christ!

It has been said that a strong person stands up for him or herself and a stronger person stands up for others. But I say that the strongest of people stand up for their testimony of Jesus Christ and God’s Word.

As a teenager, my idea of a man of God was that of a weak, foolish, boring, cowardly person—a real loser! After many years of living for Christ, I now know better: The wisest, strongest and most courageous decision of my life was in receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and living for Him. My idea today of a true man or woman of God is of a person strong, wise, adventurous, courageous—a true Champion!

Self Control – The Essence of Strength

by Bill Rudge

From traveling and ministering throughout the U.S. and abroad, and receiving thousands of letters from around the world, I have discovered that one of the biggest problems youth and adults face is the lack of discipline and self-control. Almost all the problems people have and the trouble they get into—whether the result of drugs and alcohol; sexual immorality or lust leading to broken relationships, unwanted pregnancies and STDs; overeating, stealing, lying or gossiping; jealousy, bitterness, revenge, outbursts of anger or acts of violence—all could have been avoided had they exercised discipline and self-control.

Weakness Defined

Before coming to Christ, I was out of control in virtually every area of my life. As a result of my foolish, rebellious, out-of-control behavior, I paid the price with injuries from head to toe. I tell youth I speak to in schools or who are going through our obstacle course: “You are free to make almost any choice you want, but it is like being on a high roof, you can jump off if you want. You are free to make that decision. Once you jump off, however, you are no longer free. You are now a slave to the law of gravity which will splatter you on the ground below. So make wise choices!”

Proverbs 25:28 states: “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” In biblical days cities often had walls built around them which made them strong and easy to defend fortresses. But if the walls were broken down, the inhabitants were vulnerable and defenseless against an enemy’s attack. The biblical inference of being without self-control means that one is without strength, weak and powerless, while the person exercising self-control is strong and powerful.

Alexander the Great was a powerful man who conquered and then controlled most of the known world. His empire extended from Greece to India. But he could not conquer his lusts. He died at age 33 after taking ill following a prolonged banquet and drinking bout. Is that real control? Is that strength? Is that what you want in your life?

Consider many of the rock stars, movie actors and great athletes who were so idolized. They flaunt their out-of-control behavior and rebellious lifestyles; many covet their fame, money and power. However, the outcome of their lives is often tragic. This is not what God desires for you.

Proverbs 16:32 says: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” You can go out and conquer a city—even conquer the world—but if you cannot tame your spirit, you have not achieved the strength that God wants you to have.

I have known those who could do phenomenal, almost superhuman, feats. Yet they were unable to restrain their tongues or their tempers. They were powerless to control their lusts, jealousy, hatred, bitterness, worry or fear. Is it really that impressive, and is there any real benefit, to being able to do incredible feats while the rest of your life is out of control? Far more important than external displays is the inner molding of one’s character and spirit.

At a maximum-security prison in Florida, I spoke in a large room filled with inmates. I opened by saying: “You are not here because you are strong; you are here because you are weak. Anyone can take drugs, indulge in alcohol, beat their wife, rob, fight, vandalize, shoot someone or engage in other out of control behavior, but it takes true strength to have self-control. So, today, I want to talk about true strength.” Following my message all the men—many who were huge from lifting weights—lined up to shake my hand and said as they looked me in the face, “Thanks for telling it like it is!”

The Strongest Person

Before I became a Christian, I thought Christians were weak. That is one reason why I did not want to give my life to Jesus Christ. I later discovered it takes more strength to live for Christ than any other lifestyle out there.

Do you know who is the strongest person who ever lived? Jesus Christ. He was frequently in situations of extreme pressure and in volatile environments, but He always kept His composure (even when He was driving out the money changers). He was in control of all situations; nobody controlled Him. He let them crucify Him. Before it was His time, He walked through crowds (Luke 4:30), hid Himself and went out (John 8:59) or escaped their grasp (John 10:39); He silenced them with His words (Luke 20:40). Nobody controlled Jesus Christ. As I read the Gospel accounts, I see that Jesus always operated from a position of love, wisdom and self-control.

As a young Christian I maintained an extensive, intensive and rigorous weightlifting and martial arts training program. I would accomplish more in three hours a week and achieve a higher level of conditioning and efficiency than most others did in ten hours. However, God diverted my course as His Word revealed to me what constitutes real strength. Although I still exercise and train on my own, the priority of my life is devoted to achieving true strength as exemplified by Jesus Christ. My desire for physical strength and power has been superseded by something far more important—inner strength, character and spiritual power.

Developing Self Control

There are countless examples in all of our lives, as well as from others throughout history, that show the adverse consequences of not having self-control, and the great benefits from having it.

Many people have made mistakes while being out of control in some area of their lives; but no matter what you have done, there is hope. A man nearing the age of 70, who had squandered his life on reckless behavior, felt he could never be forgiven for all he had done and was doomed eternally. The Lord instantly spoke to my heart the following words: “There is no sin the Lord cannot forgive, except the sin that is not asked to be forgiven.” This man who had fallen into hopeless despair for his wasted life accepted again the Lord’s offer of forgiveness (1 John 1:9). A few years later he died as a powerful witness for Jesus Christ.

We must be motivated to change and the Lord knows how to motivate! He convinced me (through both Scripture and the adverse consequences myself and others were experiencing) that my former way of living led to death and destruction. That motivated me to take steps to bring my life under His control. One reason I fast, exercise, eat nutritiously and limit my viewing of movies and programs to that which is profitable is to help me develop self-control.

Follow the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy to flee youthful lusts and evil desires and pursue righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22). I have given many self-defense clinics in schools and for other groups. “The most important principle,” I would say, “is to use wisdom in avoiding places, people and situations in which you know a confrontation or an attack is likely to occur.” Similarly, to overcome temptation for which you have a weakness, avoid places, people, internet sites, movies, music, magazines and so on that would entice you into sin and into compromising circumstances. Stop and consider the consequences before temptation gets out of control.

If you want to change your behavior, you have to change your thought life. Mental discipline is crucial (2 Corinthians 10:5; Romans 12:2; Philippians 4:8). If you want to control your words and actions, learn to control your thoughts and attitudes. Coaches tell players, “You give up first in your mind; then your body quits.”

In Matthew 15:19, Jesus reveals that sin begins in the heart. He states: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” If we are going to overcome the temptations we face daily, we must effectively eradicate the preliminary thoughts before they can control and enslave us.

What you program into your mind will eventually manifest in your thoughts, attitudes, words and behavior. Your thoughts lead to attitudes. Your thoughts and attitudes produce an emotional response. Your thoughts, attitudes and emotions lead to actions. Your actions lead to habits and patterns. Your habits and patterns lead to a lifestyle. Your lifestyle determines your destiny!

That is why God puts so much emphasis on the heart and the inward man. He knows that if you are going to gain victory over your behavior and actions, you must control your thoughts, attitudes and emotions.

If you fill your mind with jealousy, you will eventually end up in bitterness and gossiping. If you fill your mind with hatred and revenge, you will end up verbally, and possibly physically, abusing people. If you fill your mind with lustful thoughts and sexually explicit movies, books and music, your involvement in sexual immorality is inevitable.

If you fill your body with junk food, you will eventually develop a junky body. If you fill your mind with garbage, you will eventually develop a garbage thought life, mental attitude and lifestyle. It is inevitable; it’s just a matter of time. What we watch, read and listen to does affect us.

It is not surprising that so many people have lustful thoughts and sexual problems! No wonder so many cannot control their tongues, tempers or appetites, or are controlled by worry, fear, jealousy, bitterness and hatred! Just consider the degenerate materials that program their minds and the voices they are listening to.

Live by the Spirit

The Lord has taught me that thoughts of worry, fear, jealousy, bitterness, anger, revenge, pride, lust or greed that come into my mind are intruders that will destroy me if allowed to remain. God tells us to “Resist them!” Fight against them as though you were fighting against an intruder in your house who was attempting to rape and murder your family. In such a situation I am sure you would stand and fight and endure until every ounce of strength was gone. You must say, “I will not tolerate these negative and destructive thoughts. I choose right now by an act of my will to resist them. ”

Most Christians think all they have to do is avoid watching, reading or listening to that which is bad for them. While Scripture tells us to avoid things that are unprofitable, it also admonishes us to replace them with that which is beneficial. We should watch, read, listen to, and associate with that which will be positive influences in our lives and inspire us to conform to the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

We have freedom in Christ. However, if something controls you, you no longer have liberty, but enslavement. God wants you free.The choice is yours: Will you be controlled by the lusts of the flesh that eventually lead to destruction, or will you be transformed by the Spirit of Christ, the fruit of which leads to tremendous victory, blessing, peace and joy (Galatians 5:16-25)?

Galatians 5:23 reveals that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, not of will power. If you try to develop self-control merely with your own strength and self-effort, you will be continually frustrated. You need God’s Spirit to help bring your life under control. He will enable you to apply the biblical principles necessary for developing self-control.

When I surrendered my life to Christ, He radically changed me. As I sought the Lord with all my heart, and through the study of His Word, memorizing Scripture, prayer and fasting, His Spirit transformed and empowered me—enabling me to develop the fruit of self-control.

The closer we draw to the Lord, the more we will be conformed to His likeness and the more we will manifest the fruit of His Spirit and walk in victory over that which formerly controlled us.

Nothing but the Lord

The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:12: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable [beneficial]. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered [controlled] by anything.”

The Apostle Peter reminds us that by what a person is overcome by this they are enslaved (2 Peter 2:19). I do not know about you, but I do not want to be controlled or mastered by my temper or my tongue. I do not want to be conquered by lust, greed or fear. I do not want to be enslaved to destructive behavior such as immorality, stealing, drugs or alcohol. I do not want to be victimized by peer pressure. I do not want to be dominated by sinful thoughts, attitudes, emotions or actions. I only want to be controlled by my Lord. I want to bring every area of my life under His control and walk in His love, wisdom and strength.

It Takes Time

Although my life was dramatically changed when I accepted Jesus Christ at the age of 18, it took time to develop the self-control I have gained from walking with the Lord and growing in my relationship with Him.

It takes time to develop self-control and the discipline to overcome old habits and patterns. Self-control is developed gradually the way fruit grows and ripens on a tree. After giving my life to Christ, I did not wake up the next day with the ability to control my temper or my thoughts and desires. It took time and effort. Spending time throughout the years in prayer and fasting and applying the truth and principles in God’s Word has been life transforming and worth it all.

Equally important to the gifts of the Spirit are the fruit of the Spirit. Although the fruit of discipline and self-control may be one of the hardest to develop, it is also one of the most beneficial and rewarding. Too often we only want to deal with the symptom, but God wants to deal with the root cause. Suppose there is a spider’s web in the corner of your ceiling, and you sweep it down. Why is it that the next day it is back again? Because you did not deal with the real problem: the problem is not the spider’s web; the problem is the spider. Get rid of the spider and the web will not come back.

What is needed more than instant deliverance, or an easy technique or formula that deals only with the symptoms is a consistent life of discipline and self-control. As one who was totally out of control, I am telling you that if God can change me and bring my life under control and give me the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual discipline and victory that He has, He can do it for anybody.

Never forget, the essence of true strength, is self-control—being under His control!