Crossways Concepts

Because it is all about the cross...

Insights from the scripture as lead by the Holy Spirit

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Actions Designed To Please

They say that when people have been married for a long time, that they begin to look alike.  It is true that the people we spend time with us, change us.  The more time that two people spend together and the more they open up to each other, the more they will be changed.

When we walk with the Lord, allowing Him to reign in our lives, then that change can be huge.  The scripture speaks of this change, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control”(Galatians 5:22).  In addition there is a whole spectrum of statements in the scripture about how the Holy Spirit will lead a person to behave.

These various actions and attitudes are not goals.  They are descriptions of where the Spirit of God ought to be taking us.

This process of changing us requires that we let Him have His way in our life.  If somebody chooses to run their own life and not accept that their almighty creator has a better plan, then they have chosen not to let God be in charge and they have chosen not to submit themselves fully to the Lord.  A person in this circumstance will likely feel guilty because their life doesn't look like the life a Christian is expected to live.

Typically, this person will the seek to remedy the situation.  Often, instead of fixing their relationship with the Lord, they will seek to assume the appearance of a Christian.  In short, they would begin to fake what should be the result of an intimate relationship with the Lord.  They replace the work of the Lord with a lie.

This is not a very satisfying answer.  In fact, keeping up the charade creates it own stress.  How ironic, a stress being produced from trying to keep up the appearance of being at peace!

Above the simple stress of maintaining a lie, this has a much more disastrous consequence.  That same fifth chapter of Galatians describes how this works.  In the first-century church in Galatia, there were people that were claiming that in order to be a real Christian, a gentile man must be circumcised.  Paul pointed out the miracle of God's grace – that there is no action that can earn us salvation.  Salvation only comes by faith and through grace we have been freed from trying to earn our way into heaven.

Paul says:

Christ has liberated us into freedom.  Therefore, stand firm and don't submit again to a yoke of slavery.  Take note, I, Paul, tell you that if you get circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.  Again I testify to every man who gets circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law.  You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace!  For by the Spirit we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness from faith.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love. (Galatians 5:1-6)

The miracle of Christ's grace is that God is accepting us in spite of our imperfect actions.  This grace is provided exclusively through faith.  Although our faith (and the resulting relationship) will change our behavior, our actions do absolutely nothing to impress God.  Our righteousness is a gift that is freely given, it can't be earned.  All those Biblical actions and attitudes are the result of the relationship, they are not the goal.

Although Paul was dealing with people trying to earn their salvation through circumcision, it really isn't any different to attempt to earn God's approval through any other action.  Paul's point is that if we have the faith to accept Christ for who He is and the reality of His grace, we will know that we don't need to “do” anything to earn  the love of God.  In fact, if we start trying to earn God's approval, we are showing our lack of real faith.

In a reality where grace and forgiveness are only possible through faith, we absolutely must have good faith.  Faith can't just be a matter of what we say, we must live in that faith.  As Paul put it, it is a matter of “faith working.

If Christ has offered us the incredible, awesome gift of grace and we, in effect, say, “No, thanks, I don't need your righteousness, I can do it myself.”  That has got to be a slap in the face to the Lord.  According to Paul, when a person rejects grace by attempting to earn their righteousness in their own strength, they have “fallen from grace.

This creates a dilemma.  We know that we must strive to, “walk worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1) and yet we also know that we should not be attempting to achieve righteousness by our actions.  Where is the dividing line?  When is striving to do good, actually good and when is it insulting to God?

We are called to be honest.  We should be honest with ourselves, our God and the people around us.  This honesty must extend to our faults and shortcomings.

Any time when we are pretending to be something we are not, then we are, in effect, lying.  The scripture makes it clear that we are all on a path pointed toward perfection.  The Lord will not be done perfecting any of us while we are still walking on this earth. “He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).   Only when we reach heaven will we be perfected.  Until then, every one of us is imperfect.  We must face that fact and be honest about it.

There is as big difference between going through the tough changes of God making us into a new creature and pretending to be something we aren't.  We may try to deceive ourselves into believing our faking is part of God's plan, but an examination of our motive will usually reveal the dishonest of our efforts.

Almost as long as there has been a Christianity, there have been people that have been pretending to be more righteous than they actually are (for example, read Acts 5:1-11).  The idea of allowing the Holy Spirit to mold you, somehow seems unacceptable, so people will put on an act that, they believe, looks righteous.

While there are some people in our churches that have no shred of relationship with the Lord and are faking their Christianity, this is, hopefully, a rare phenomena.  Yet, for many of us, there is some degree of dishonesty between the person others see and our true state.

We must seek to be honest about our shortcomings.  We need to be humble about who we really are.  The worst part about living a lie, is that we begin to believe it.  If we believe we are perfect, then what do we need God for?

Instead, God wants us to be humble and repentant.  This is the beginning of real righteousness, not trying to be something we aren't.  Dishonesty will never grow us, it won't be a source of joy, it isn't our purpose.

Be who you are.  Repent and seek God's hand on your shortcomings. By honest with the people around you about your failings and even, “Confess your sins one to another” (James 5:16).  It is through real honest with yourself, your God and the people around you that you will find real growth without having to be what you aren't.

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Lexington, Ky

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