Whenever faith tries to base itself on good living, whether the focus be on external morality or on inner spiritual purity, the result is the most sophisticated of all pagan religions. Though it claims belief in God, in practice such religion places no trust in the Lord Himself but only in its own theology. As thoroughly orthodox and as Biblical as this theology may be, it does not represent faith in the living God but in faith itself. Heaven help this religion of good works when it falls on hard times. … True faith depends not at all upon itself, nor upon its own system of piety, but rather upon the Lord alone and His faithfulness. … To have faith is to trust in the faithfulness of our God, knowing that faithfulness is first and foremost not a human but a divine attribute. … Genuine faith is not the faith to do anything at all, expcept to fall to the ground and die. …Consider the roots of a plant. Do the roots worry, or think at all, about producing flowers or fruit? No; they never see what happens above the ground. They never even see the sun or the sky. All they see is the dark womb of the earth, and their only job is to soak up moisture and nourishment from it, to feed in the dark underground of faith. … Paul describes as “taking pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (2 Cor. 5:12). Assuming that the opposite of sin is virtue, they conclude that a righteous life is one that will always be producing the visible fruit that is its own reward. Yet in the vocabulary of the gospel, the opposite of sin is not simply virtue but grace. As Paul puts it in Romans 5:20-21, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Mike Mason, The Gospel According to Job
“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Live a life of love. It almost sounds easy. It offers a warm and inviting, harmonious fix to our relational problems.
Why then would I want to live my life more selfishly? Real life loving requires strength that I don’t have, if I am honest.
Am I really taking to heart the life of Jesus and the instructions to imitate His life of love? He lived love. If our wonderful Lord Jesus gave up his “rights” to reconcile me back to God, someone that did not deserve such mercy, why wouldn’t I want to be transformed to have this same sacrificial mind and heart? Christ Jesus is the maker of all things; nothing exists without Him. He is the Son of God, and He alone stands preeminent above every other power or authority. And, yet, Jesus did not choose to live for Himself or grasp at the “God” rights. His love was a giving, extravagant kind of love.
The very sad reason I chafe at living a sacrificial life of love is that I default easily to loving myself more, more than Jesus, and more than the people around me. I want easy comfort. I don’t like relational messiness. I don’t want to give sacrificially and extravagantly like Jesus did for me. I often set standards that must be met before I will love freely. I live like love should have to be earned. But, I don’t know any of these perfect people. Life can get really messy. The person I want to love has weaknesses and failures. I am ashamed that often I demand so much from others, which seems especially terribly when I have been given the truest love generously and without a price tag. I have this ongoing need to have these self-centric desires removed and to return again and again to my first love, Jesus–every single day. So, that out of the joy of His love for me, the comfort of never being abandoned by Him ever, the confidence of every spiritual gift given to me to fulfill His purposes for me, and the resurrection power of His living Spirit working in me, I will have a quiet heart to do His will and live a life of love to Christ first above all, as well as in my relationships. I am dependent on Jesus to love like He loves. When it is easy and also when it is hard, my strength will come from Him as I live in Him and for Him. I could never live a life of love without the presence and power of Christ living in me, and gloriously that is exactly what is offered through His triumphant and generous grace.
This morning the spring winds were especially blustery. As unseen winds pushed up against my house, eerie howls encircled the windows of my home leaking in creepy noises. I heard strange thumps and groaning creaks as the house bemoaned the gusty punches. In our front yard, a large limb from our street tree snapped under the pressure and fell hard to the ground. My neighbor’s children were playing basketball outside next to it when it happened. I am extremely grateful that none of those precious kiddoes were harmed! I am writing with a grateful heart this morning and have an unexpected desire to hug those little people. But, it also reminds me that the breaking of the limb evidences the strength of the wind, that though unseen, it still can damage what is not strong enough to endure the persistent pressure.
In the same way, the persistent pressure from life’s turbulent stresses can cause us to bend and even break, to fall hard, and to realize real damage to our souls. If I don’t have a strong root in truth, my weaknesses will succumb to the blustery beatings. On those difficult days, what can I hang onto? What is the truth that cannot be shaken?
In one of his letters, Paul addresses the problems of life and how to continue faithfully through them. Here is what he wrote:
Okay, when I am experiencing the strong winds of difficulty, what is the truth that firmly holds and keeps me unmoved? What can I rely on? I need to know and understand God’s heart toward me, so I have taken the same Pauline words and re-written them using my own words striving to understand how this applies to my everyday real life. God’s Word tells me that I can know and believe that I will experience trials and testings that are common to the human experience. None of my trials are a special exception, but are just normal like everyone else’s. But, I need to know this, my God is faithful; so, I can trust Him. My God sovereignly rules and will impose boundaries on my trials, so that I will not be tested above and beyond what is right (even though it may not feel like it, this is the still the truth.) I also need to know that God promises to provide a way out of the trial with His help, so that I am able to walk in faithful obedience while enduring the stormy, gale-force pressures and difficulties I will encounter again and again.
This is truth that cannot be shaken no matter how fierce the winds blow! Matt Chandler speaks about the good news of the gospel applied to trials in this way:
The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is regardless of our circumstances, we get God, and he’ll be enough. On the day of trouble, we’ll cry out, and we will hear, “Here I am.” When marriage is difficult, and we cry out, we will hear, “Here I am.” On the day the doctor says, “Can you come in? We need to talk,” we will hear as we cry out to God, “Here I am.”
He will not abandon. He will not quit, and he will not cut out his children. He is ever present, ever chasing, ever hoping, ever putting his Holy Spirit’s power into us to sustain us and hold us up regardless of life’s circumstances. This is how he blesses those who are saturated in grace. He is present. He is enough.
So, when the difficult days come-and they will-remember the faithfulness of our Father and the ever present nearness of our wonderful Jesus, and the resurrection grace and power granted to us by our Helper, the Holy Spirit, and do not be shaken. Let the Word of truth be a deep root to secure your faith in Christ.
Dear Jesus, I love you. I can’t do life without you. There are so many times that I am enticed to handle life on my own and end up in a sinful mess. Forgive me for not living the miracle of new life through you. I confess that I present myself to serve my own sinful desires instead of you. Forgive me and cleanse me from the sin that so easily entangles me. I am sorry and grieved for my sin.
Sometimes I feel disempowered and unjustly treated in political arenas, business contracts, etc. …
Often I struggle with knowing I am loved by others…
Or other days I feel criticized for what I consider good, and I can’t see the “kernel of truth” in the message…
No matter the temptation to handle life on my own, be near me. Remind me through your Holy Spirit that I am crucified with you (I am dead, “powerless”) and my “old life” has been rendered inoperative. I died with you on that day on the cross, but I also was resurrected with you, Jesus. I am alive in you, Jesus, and have been given a new heart, a new life; and I am filled with the power of your Spirit within enabling me to do whatever you ask of me.
Let me learn of you! Let these truths transform my life! Teach me, Spirit of the Living Christ, that I am set free from sin. I serve you, Jesus, with my life; and my life in you bears fruit in holiness, only because I live in You, until that day You bring me safely home to enjoy your glory forever.
Thank you for your justice & mercy.
Thank you for your faithfulness.
Thank you for your love.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.