Spirit of Grace Ministries
Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Unstable as Water

By Dennis Pollock


At the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob, by now very old and feeling his life is nearly over, gathers his sons together to speak prophetic words over them. He begins, as we might expect, with his firstborn son, Reuben:


“Reuben, you are my firstborn,

My might and the beginning of my strength,

The excellency of dignity and the excellency of power…" (Genesis 49:3).


This is how the patriarchs and nearly everyone else saw things in those days. Once a man has his firstborn son, he has just demonstrated his might, his strength. He is now a real man because he has a son, one who will inherit all that he has been able to accumulate over years of work and struggle.


So far, so good. These are complimentary words from a father to his firstborn son, calling Reuben his might and declaring that he is the "excellency of dignity and power." I'm sure Reuben was feeling pretty good upon hearing these words, thinking that he would get a wonderful blessing from his father Jacob. It must have been a shock to hear the cutting and deeply negative words that followed: "Unstable as water, you shall not excel…" (Genesis 49:4).


The patriarchal blessing from father to son was a big deal. In their eyes, this was something that could make you or break you for the rest of your days, and Jacob could hardly have been tougher on his son, calling him "unstable as water" and declaring that he would not excel in life.


In this study I want to talk about the concept of being unstable, not as something that applied to Reuben, but as something that affects and afflicts Christians today. Jacob used a metaphor with this "blessing" saying that Reuben was like water. Rocks are stable, hardwood is stable, enormous oak trees are stable, but water is not. It changes shape easily, and if spilled on the ground, it disappears into nothing.


Is it possible that Christians can be unstable? Sadly, it is very possible. I was doing research on a country singer a while back for an article I wanted to write and was surprised at how unstable this well-known singer was in his personal life. This was not just the case in the days before he came to faith in Christ. That much we could have expected. But it was also true after he made a very public profession of faith in Jesus, even decades later. This highly popular country singer frequently shared his faith in Jesus in Billy Graham's crusades, recorded gospel songs, and gave tribute to God and Jesus Christ often at his concerts and in his interviews. And yet he abused drugs frequently throughout his life. I can remember hearing of him going into rehab for problems with drugs after I had heard him share his faith in Jesus at Billy Graham crusades. I thought to myself, "Why would he need to be going to rehab for drug abuse? Is he not a Christian?" In my naivete, I just assumed that drugs were something that was checked in at the door of the kingdom, never to be touched again. And yet reading of this man's life I found that he went into various rehab programs several times throughout his life, even after he had put his trust in Jesus. Billy Graham's son, who knew him well, once said, "He never wavered in his faith, but he wavered in his behavior."


He did have periods of his life where he stayed clean, but after some time he would fall back into old habits and go several years deeply under the influence of amphetamines, barbiturates, and narcotic pain relievers. Then he would go to rehab, get clean, and live that way for a while. And then the cycle would repeat.


Reading about this famous singer and Christian started me thinking about others I have known or heard about who strongly professed Jesus Christ, and yet struggled with various addictions and behaviors most people would assume Christians would never have anything to do with. Some Christian men struggle with pornography. They go to church regularly, read the Bible at least some, and publicly share their faith, and yet alone in their room with their computer or phone, they spend hours staring at naked women and watching couples having sex on camera. It makes no sense, and yet for some men and even women, this is a very real addiction, another case where their profession of faith does not at all line up with their behavior.


Some Christians are unstable in their relationship with God. They go through seasons in which they read the Bible regularly, pray daily, attend church every Sunday, and home groups in the middle of the week. But at some point, they drift away from all this, and the next thing you know they no longer attend church, and their Bible reading and their prayer life have become non-existent. Later, they may regain their spiritual passion, but after a while, they lose it all over again. Like Reuben, they are as unstable as water.


Must it be this way? Is there no grace in Jesus that will enable God's people to rise above these temptations, addictions, and wavering? The Bible assures us that, yes, there is grace in Jesus to enable us to live an overcoming life. No, none of us are perfect, but there is no reason we must be, like Reuben, as unstable as water, falling into flagrant sins and addictions constantly, and living a double life.


It must be acknowledged that we do not start at the same place when we first believe in Jesus. Some people come from stable, loving, happy, functional homes while others come from dysfunctional, unhappy homes where they were belittled, and abused. Some people were sexually molested in their childhood, leaving terrible emotional wounds that do not heal easily. And when we come into the kingdom, we pass through the doors carrying our assorted baggage, insecurities, and flaws. Yes, in Christ we are forgiven, and we have been given a new nature, but we still bear the scars and wounds of the preceding years.


It would be wrong to assume that the very day men and women become children of God, all their issues and baggage disappear. Our sins are forgiven, and our hearts are changed, but usually, our personalities and habits are going to need a major overhaul. It would be wrong for mature Christians to harshly judge new believers who still carry the scent of the world from which they came. But Jesus is a Master at rebuilding and transforming his children and in time He can take even the most broken and wounded believers and make them trophies of His grace.


So while it would be wrong to be too impatient with believers in the first months or the first couple of years of their new life in Christ, it would also be wrong to assume that just because someone came from a traumatic lifestyle, they will automatically and always be wavering, stumbling, failing Christians all their days. Jesus Christ can do better than that!


The key to overcoming life, free from addictions and moral failure, is Jesus Himself. By abiding in Jesus, trusting in Jesus, and focusing upon Jesus, we can walk in victory. Paul encourages us: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 15:58). The opposite of being "as unstable as water" is being steadfast. In another place, he writes: "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). And again, Paul writes: "… Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy…" (Jude 1:24).


Stay close to and abide in our True Vine, Jesus Christ, and you will not fail or stumble. He is faithful!



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