“It is possible to live a life of complete victory over sin – an overcoming life.” Matthew Ibrahim’s own experiences proved something that many around him didn’t believe possible. And even better… he is not the only one.
The Matthew I know is quiet, intelligent and funny. It’s never hard to sense his warmth, even if all he does sometimes is give a smile and say hello.
We first got to know each other a few years ago, when we lived for a time in the same city, and went to the same Christian fellowship. I heard later about how he had shown up there quite unexpectedly one day, at the age of 19. I often wondered why Matthew had come, and why he had stayed. This year, we met again, and I finally got a chance to hear his story.
A great disappointment
Matthew’s longing for a deeper life in Christ started when he was very young.
“When I was six or seven years old, I asked my mother, ‘After I pray for Jesus to come into my heart, do I have to do anything else to go to heaven?’ ‘No, that’s all you have to do,’ she said.”
That was the teaching of the church they attended, where forgiveness of sins was the main theme. “I remember feeling glad, because I wasn’t a very obedient child.” But at the same time, Matthew thought things might become different one day.
When he was baptised at the age of twelve or thirteen, he thought the day of real change had come. He looked forward to being able to put on a new life—the life of Jesus—through baptism, just as he had been told in his church. For him it was like putting on a new jacket that said, “I no longer live for myself, but for Christ.”
But when he woke up the next day, he clearly remembers how terrible he felt that nothing had changed. “I have never been so disappointed in my life. I was unhappy that my old sinful nature that I had inherited, was still controlling me.”
At church Matthew heard the teaching of “Once saved, always saved” preached, which made it almost unnecessary to try to stop sinning. But he came to see that the Bible actually had a very different message: “There are so many verses in the Bible about making every effort to go in to the kingdom of heaven.”
He was very excited for this verse in 2 Timothy 2:21 (NCV): “All who make themselves clean from evil will be used for special purposes. They will be made holy, useful to the Master, ready to do any good work.”
Hold out in temptation
“There are lots of temptations to impure thoughts flying around in a young man’s mind.” At the age of 15, living a pure life became more and more important for him. “I cried out to God for help!”
Matthew got converted powerfully and spent many hours reading God’s Word and praying when he was alone. Here he got powerful “spiritual weapons”. He learned that he could say No to these impure thoughts when they were still small.
Although he didn’t know it at the time, he had begun to follow Jesus’ example of taking up his cross daily. Just like Jesus, he asked God to help him when he was tempted, and God heard his prayers. He started to understand that he didn’t have to give in to what he was tempted to. “It became clear to me that we have to hold out in temptation.”
Praying gave Matthew power, and he made a choice: to hate his lusts and sinful desires and say No to them, which the Bible calls “crucifying” your lusts and desires. For the first time, he sensed that he could overcome these sins!
“I felt a very great joy!” Compared to how he felt after he was baptised, this experience was quite different: “It was a firm proof from the Spirit that this was the life I needed to live.”
Proof before my eyes
However, temptations can be very strong, and it did not take very long before Matthew fell again.
Then, as he kept seeking, Matthew was led in a miraculous way to a fellowship that believed that sin could be overcome. They spoke about the “way of the cross” - the way where you crucify your sinful lusts and desires - the way a disciple should walk on after receiving forgiveness of sins.
“What I had believed before was confirmed: it was possible for me to live a constant, overcoming life, every day, in thought and in deed.” He also saw living proof of God’s promises before his eyes! “I was very impressed that these people understood God’s word and put it into practice in their lives.”
In the church services Matthew heard testimonies from men and women about their faith and their battles. As he listened to them, the Spirit also worked in him. “What the others spoke about in their testimonies was exactly how I experienced it in my life. The Spirit started pointing out things in my own life that I had to put off and change.”
“Seeing how others take it in their personal battles and situations is a great help for me, and hearing their desire for the new life that we can get through the gospel gives me a longing for the same life. It’s a constant reminder that it really is possible to live a life in which we overcome sin!”
“If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” Matthew quotes from 1 John 1:7 as he shares his experiences with me. “This fellowship is not because we agree about the teachings, or believe the same things on paper, but when we live the same life, and overcome in the same areas, then we get a deep spiritual bond that can’t be described by words.”
In this way, a brotherhood is formed of many faithful men and women of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. “That is something I don’t believe could exist without the message of the cross, and an overcoming life.” Matthew smiles, like someone who has made a great discovery - one which he would like to share with all those who also want to live this life.
The most valuable thing I can give
“The most valuable thing I can give, is proof that this life is real. It is possible to live a life where I overcome all sin. In Brunstad Christian Church we have many examples of people who live this life. They walk on the same way that Jesus walked – a way of overcoming sin. And the forgiveness of sins is just the start of this long and wonderful walk in faith that we can have here on earth.”