LIVING THE LIFE OF FAITH

Jesus Comforting Kids

The Christian life continues in the same way as Christian salvation. We keep coming to Jesus with all our inner emptiness, with all our desire for sin, all our hypocrisy, our lack of will-power. He takes us each moment, as we truly are, and his presence, through the Holy Spirit, does the work of forming the character of Jesus within us.

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Galatians #8 . Chapter 3

You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified? I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh? Did you suffer so much for nothing — if in fact it was for nothing? So then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:1-5, HCSB)

In many ways, the things we spoke about last week are also applicable here. Paul is continuing on his theme of living by faith. But here, he makes a clear parallel between being saved by faith, and living by faith. Most protestant Christians understand that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. With our minds at least, we believe that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s forgiveness. We recognize (to some degree) that we can’t address the holiness problem, and Jesus did that for us.

But far too many Christians proceed from there like the Galatians. The Galatians seem to have had some vague idea that it was necessary to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that they had to continue on afterwards by obeying the Jewish law. The idea was this: “OK, Christ gives us salvation. But now that we are part of God’s people, we must act like it by obeying the Jewish law.” In other words: salvation is up to Jesus. Holy living afterwards is up to us.” Many Christians still think this way. Most do not think we need to obey the Jewish law. But there is a moral code, given in the Old Testament and reiterated in the New Testament. It is true that our lives should reflect the moral standards of God’s character. But, too often, we think it is up to us. We think we can get our lives to conform to those standards by our own efforts. We some kind of vague idea that Jesus’ part was to save us from hell, in and in return, our part is to put for the effort to become holy.

Brothers and sisters, that is lie from the pit of hell. I say it is from hell because it leads to the destruction of many lives, and even the destruction of faith. What happens when we believe this depends on the person.

Some people come from a relatively healthy home and are born with a strong will. These folks can push along for quite some time without screwing up in a major way. They don’t have affairs. They don’t get drunk or cheat their employers. They live productive, even giving, lives. Truly, it is better to live this way than not. A good, upright life generally leads to stable, loving relationships and benefits society as a whole. But this is far short of the real holiness that is necessary to stay in the presence of God. Those who do not realize how far short of holiness they still are, tend to become superior and legalistic. They may use their “success” at religion to put others down, and even control them. They put pressure on others to “just do it.” But even when you seem to be able to do it, it is a lot of work and a lot of pressure to feel that it is all up to you to keep on this way. These people are never at peace, never at rest. The closest they come to peace is a kind of smugness.

Other folks seem to screw up a lot more. In despair, they feel like they are poor excuses for Christians. Some of these people pretend they have it together. Then, when they are found out, non-Christians accuse them of being the worst kind of hypocrites.

Sometimes a person who fails at lot at living a holy, Christian, life ends up just giving up altogether. She might say, “Christianity isn’t for me – I just can’t seem to do it. It doesn’t work for me.”

Another person who often fails might say, “Well, I guess I’ll just squeak into heaven by the skin of my teeth. I’m just a dirty rotten sinner, and that’s all I’ll ever be until I get to heaven.” Then that person decides to go ahead and get drunk (or whatever his area of failure is), because he knows he’ll do it sooner or later anyway. He has no hope of seeing the character of Christ formed inside of him during this mortal life.

But all of these people have one thing in common: they are trying to live the Christian life by their own effort. In effect, having been saved by grace, they are now trying to live by law and works. That’s exactly what the Galatians were doing. Paul calls them foolish. He says:

After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?

In salvation, we come to God as we are: snotty nosed, selfish, dirty and smelling of rotten garbage; unable to clean ourselves up. We come, and he takes us in his arms, snot and smell and all, and we realize that through Jesus, he has transformed us into clean, beautiful children. The Christian life continues in the same way. We keep coming to him with all our inner emptiness, with all our desire for sin, all our hypocrisy, our lack of will-power. He takes us each moment, as we truly are, and his presence, through the Holy Spirit, does the work of forming his moral character within us.

The reason so many Christians struggle to live the Christian life, is because they are still struggling to live the Christian life. What I mean is, they still think they can pull it off. They can’t. You can’t. You live the Christian life the same way you got salvation – through trusting in Jesus. As Paul says, it happens when you hear the word of God, and trust it (Galatians 3:5).

Now, shouldn’t we do the right thing? There are a lot of verses in the New Testament telling us to avoid sins, and to practice good works. But the question isn’t whether we should do them. The question is how. Do we live the Christian life by our own effort (which Paul calls “flesh” in the passage) or do we do we trust Jesus to live his life through us?

This is important, so please pay attention. A lot of folks feel that Christian faith ends up being just another set of requirements that we follow imperfectly at best. It’s true that we Christians aren’t perfect. But the Christian life isn’t about following a set of requirements. It is entirely about trusting a person: Jesus Christ.

We need to admit that we are powerless to manifest the character of God and his holiness. Even after salvation, we are powerless to do this. Then we need to trust God to do it for us, to turn it over to him, and rely upon him daily to live his life through us.

Does that sound a little vague? A little like hocus-pocus religious crap? Tell that to the hundreds of millions of people who have overcome drug and alcohol addictions in exactly this way. I just gave you the first three steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) twelve step program. Not coincidentally, AA was created by a Christian, and the twelve steps came directly from the bible. Alcoholics in AA don’t say, “Well I’m powerless to change on my own, so I might as well just keep drinking.” No, recognizing that they can’t control it, and say, “therefore, I will trust God, rather than my own efforts.”

You see, when you give up hope of doing it yourself and put your trust in Jesus, he can, and he will change your life. Giving up, when combined with trust in God, does not lead to despair or dissolution. It doesn’t lead to more sin and failure. It leads to healing and wholeness, to recovery. It is self-effort and moral self-reliance that leads to failure.

The wonderful thing too, is that in giving up on our own resources and efforts, we can experience tremendous freedom. The burden is lifted. The pressure is off. It isn’t up to you to do it. It is up to you only to trust Jesus to do it.

Just in case, you aren’t convinced, let’s follow Paul’s argument a little further. Remember, the Galatians were kind of wanna-be Jews. They thought you had to be Jewish to be a Christian. Now, one definition of a Jew was “descendant of Abraham.” So Paul says, “Do you want to be connected with Abraham? Do you want to be counted as one of his descendants? The understand, the only way for that to happen is through faith.”

Paul quotes Genesis 15:6, which says that God considered Abraham to be righteous, not because Abraham always behaved well, but because he trusted God. So, all those who have faith in Jesus are the true spiritual descendants of Abraham. They are the “true Jews.” I’m not trying to be offensive to any Jewish people. Paul is pointing out the spiritual heritage of being a descendant of Abraham is not about physical ethnicity, but about trusting God. It isn’t about observing certain rules or rites, it is about trusting God. In verse 11, Paul quotes from Habakkuk 2:4 – the “righteous shall live by faith.” What makes them righteous? What they do? No: they are righteous because of whom they trust.

By contrast, if you want to live by the law, you must live by the whole law. A lot of people don’t realize what this means. They say, “well, I’ve never committed adultery. I’ve never stolen anything. I’ve never lied or murdered.” Come on, people, those are the easy ones. How about this: has anything in your life ever been more important to you than God? If so, you’ve blown the very first commandment, and you are already out of the race. Jesus pointed this out to a man whom we call “the rich young ruler.” This guy came to Jesus and said, “Look, I’ve kept the commandments. I haven’t stolen, I’ve honored my parents, I haven’t lied, murdered or committed adultery.” Jesus said, “Good. Now, how about the first commandment? God in the flesh is standing before you. Put me first. Sell everything you have, and have only me instead.” Jesus was referring to the first commandment, of course. And the young man failed. He couldn’t put Jesus before his money (Paraphrase of Luke 18:19-23). If you’ve ever put anything in front of Jesus, you’ve already failed to keep the law.

So you’ve never stolen. That’s good. But have you ever wanted something that someone else had? If so, you’ve failed to keep the tenth commandment, and you are already out of the race. Folks, if you want credit with God for what you do (that is, for works) you have to do it all, without ever failing once. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. You have a choice. If you want to be self-righteous, then you need to be nothing less than perfect. Or, you can admit your problem, admit your inability to fix it, and trust Jesus to take care of it as you surrender your life to him.

I’m not talking about despair. I am not talking about using our inability to be good as an excuse to be bad. I am talking about giving up hope in ourselves, while at the same time, putting hope and trust in Jesus, who can and will transform you by his power, not your effort.

Recently, a family from our town moved to Florida. I did not know this family, but several friends of mine knew them well. The wife of the family was pregnant with their fifth child. She gave birth shortly after they moved to Florida – just a couple weeks ago. There were complications, and for the past week she has been in a coma, fighting for clip_image002her life. Just a few days ago, she died. A friend posted this heartbreaking picture of the newborn baby with the mama she will never know. The family did all the right things. Thousands of people prayed. They trusted the Lord. But nothing they could do saved this woman from death. We live by trusting, not doing. Yesterday, the husband wrote this note:

Two days ago I spent some time next to the shell of my best friend as she lay in the hospital. While I was devastated, my last words to her were “I will see you in heaven.” These have been the most difficult days of my life and I am facing a huge void that has been created. I wake up in the morning and realize that it is not a dream. Many of you have shared tragedies that have occurred in your life: The loss of a child, parent or a spouse; a painful divorce, or a battle with depression. These things we are going through are all things that as humans we are guaranteed to experience. I will be the first to admit that in the past when I have faced difficult circumstances I have many times tried to shoulder them on my own, or maybe question God and why he would let these things happen. The fact is we live in a fallen and broken world. I want to tell you that I have felt God’s presence in my life that passes my understanding. While I have my moments where I come apart, the presence of the Lord comforts me, putting me back together and assures me that a level path lies ahead.

These are not the words of a man who just happens to be very emotionally strong. These are words from someone who trusts Jesus, who is allowing Jesus to transform him and comfort him. That, my friends, is living by faith.

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3 thoughts on “LIVING THE LIFE OF FAITH

  1. When we see the Scriptures as a whole Picture Pastor Tom and not just bits and pieces of a Puzzle that we try to make fit, then we no longer have doubts, as to the role that Jesus Christ has in our lives but we need His wisdom to know Him, we need the mind of Christ not man’s fleshy, worldly, wisdom, logic and understanding. 1Corinthians2:9-16

    Romans 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

    John 15:9-11 As the Father hath Loved me, so have I Loved you: continue ye in my Love. If ye keep my Commandments, ye shall abide in my Love; even as I have kept my Father’s Commandments, and abide in His Love.

    Salvation is a free Gift but we will show we have it 1John3 and yes as we choose not to sin we are empowered by The Holy Spirit not too, we are to put our flesh to death by walking in His Fruit Galations5 but we can’t do this in the flesh as you said, that is why it must be put to death (see below.)

    Colossians 3:4-6 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

    So do we continue to sin till we die, God tells us No, we are to be perfected in Love, we will keep God’s commandments not because we have to but because we want to, we Love Him and we are empowered to, it is no longer us who lives it is Christ who lives in us and He does not sin or choose to sin, we are Born again of God’s seed (1John3:9).

    2 Timothy 2:19-21 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, let every one that nameth the Name of Christ depart from iniquity. But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.

    Romans 2:7-9 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;

    Christian Love from both of us – Anne

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Anne. One reason I preach through an entire book at a time, is so that we don’t fall into the “bits and pieces” approach. But it also means I don’t necessarily cover the entire picture in a single sermon. I just posted the next sermon, explaining that Paul does indeed affirm that the law is good, that it accurately reflects the character of God.

      The question is not “Should our lives become more and more holy?” but rather “How do our lives become more and more holy?” Too many Christians think it comes by self effort. It doesn’t. It comes the same way as salvation — by trusting God’s grace, by putting all our eggs in one basket. We trust that Jesus Christ, through God’s grace, will do it in us as we allow him to.

      Self effort leads to hypocrisy and legalism. Paul calls it foolish. We abide in the vine in order to bear fruit. We walk in the Spirit in order to avoid gratifying the flesh. These are metaphors not of tremendous effort, but freedom as we trust and depend on Jesus to live his holy live through us.

  2. Thank you Pastor Tom for replying but I must ask your forgiveness, when I wrote my comment I only read the first part of your message and so did not realise you were in grief, but I’m thankful you have felt God’s comforting arms in your time of need, below is Scripture that God gave me to hold on to in times of affliction and adversity.

    Isaiah 43:1-3 – Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”

    Jeremiah 29 :11-12 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

    Lamentations 3: 33 For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.

    I have experienced great loss in my life and suffering some of which I caused myself, I sinned greatly and we reap what we sow, some from others who walk in the flesh and as you said Pastor Tom because we also in a fallen and broken world and we do have an enemy who seeks to destroy us but as you shared God will keep us strong till the end.

    I agree we cannot live the Christian life in the flesh, that is why we need to put it to death by The Spirit, Salvation is then shown in our lives, yes we are Saved and we are also being Saved, Paul tells us we are to aim for the crown of righteousness, Perfection, to run the race, to keep the faith. I have heard it said by those in darkness, that we continue to sin till we die but that it’s ok because we are under grace and forgiven.

    So do we continue to sin untill we die, when we are Born again of God’s seed 1John3, He tells us No we can’t, we have His seed or His Spiritual Nature we have put our flesh to death that causes us to sin, we are perfected in Love and so we choose to keep His commandments not because we have to but because we want to, we will choose to live in obedience, He never goes against our free will, we Love Him and we are empowered to keep His guidelines and as you rightly shared Pastor Tom, it is no longer we who live it is Christ who lives in us and He does not choose to sin, and nor do we as we have the mind of Christ. We have asked for His wisdom and know His heart 1Corinthians2:9-16

    Thank you for your time Pastor Tom, my thoughts come from my heart and have been confirmed by God’s inspired word and Jesus The Living Word our only Teacher, who will Teach us all things, I asked for God’s wisdom and received it but I’m still learning, yes I’m a cracked vessel but thankfully God is the Supper Glue and the joins become invisible in The Spirit.

    Christian Love from us both – Anne

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