Do you ever have a hard time meshing these two truths:
Salvation is not by works and we can not earn grace; it is freely given (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Spirit enables us to do what we need to do (Ezekiel 36:27, Romans 8).
Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26). We need to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). Those who love Christ keep his commandments (John 14:15). We press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).
How do we marry these two thoughts?
I just had a short but sweet visit with a friend and the topic of dying to self came up. Hmm. Painful discussion of obedience. Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Ouch.
What's your cross? What's the hard thing Jesus has called you to? Is it your job? Your illness? Your co-workers? Your family? Have you begged Jesus to lighten the load and it seems to only get heavier? Have you sensed Him asking you to do something you really DO NOT want to do? Something that takes more than you have to give? How do you obey in the Spirit, not in the flesh? How does grace apply here?
How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Galations 3:3
I am foolish. I try and I try to obey...and I fail. I beg for grace to do the thing and still...I fall. Then I become discouraged and wonder how in the world I am ever going to experience victory in this area.
When our hearts cry out, "No more, please, Jesus!" and we sense Him say, "You can do this; you must do this. Die to self." How do we do that thing? And, for heaven's sake, how do we do it with joy?
Not five minutes after my friend left, I read this from Max Lucado:
If life is… “because I have to”—where’s the joy in that? Too often I hear folks rejecting Christ because they think the Christian life is all about rules and regulations—all about stifling and suffocating ritual.
This happens when we confuse Christ with legalism. Legalism is joyless because it’s endless. There’s always another class to attend. Inmates incarcerated in self-salvation find work, but never joy!
Grace! It makes all the difference. I like this quote: “Gone are the exertions of law-keeping, gone the disciplines of legalism, the anxiety that having done everything we might not have done enough. We reach the goal, not by the stairs, but by the lift—God pledges his promised righteousness to those who will stop trying to save themselves!”1
Grace offers rest. Legalism? Never!
1 J. A. Moyer, The Message of Philippians: Jesus Our Joy (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984), 166.
So, how do we die to self and do the hard things God calls us to do without feeling like He is demanding a lot out of us? How do we go to that job another day? How do we face those who hate us and defame us? How do we stick with the marriage commitment we made "until death do us part?" How do we endure such physical pain as terminal illness? How do we discipline with love and mercy instead of a heavy thumb? How do we give to the work of the church when we barely make enough to cover our bills? How do we trust Him when all things seem to say He doesn't care and He isn't here? And HOW in this world do we do it all with JOY?
We hear it all the time, but what does it really mean? Here is a great analogy I found on livingbyfaithblog.com:
Making a car move
Let’s say your car is on the side of the road and you want to move it.
So you take off the emergency brake, move to the back of the car, and start to push.
If the ground is level, and you’ve been doing your squats, it will move.
Slowly. With a lot of effort. But it will move.
There’s an easier way
The car has an engine.
So why not put the key in the ignition, give it some gas, and let the engine do the work?
It would be a lot easier.
Same with your obedience
You have an engine — the Holy Spirit.
Put the key in the ignition — by praying for more of His work in your heart.
Give it some gas — by pondering the truth of Gods’ Word.
He will change your heart and empower your obedience.
The fine print
I don’t want to make this sound easier than it is. It’s called the fight of faith because — well — it’s a fight.
Here's the link if you want to read the rest. (Disclaimer: I am not acquainted with Steve Fuller's philosophies; so, I am not endorsing His blog. I just liked this analogy.)
Abiding is exposing ourselves to more of God's truths than the world's subtleties, pondering or meditating on those truths, memorizing those truths, and praying for those truths to do a deep work in our heart.
Ann Voskamp says this:
“What a heart knows by heart is what a heart really knows,” urges Dennis Lennon. And what the heart knows by heart is all that can calm the heart. Direct the heart. Strengthen the heart.What do our hearts really know?
Do we know enough of God's truths to strengthen us for the hard things? Are we familiar enough with grace for grace to empower us? His truth is grace and grace enables us to be obedient.
But, as Steve said above, equipping ourselves with truth and grace requires great effort. We are in a fight, dear sisters. Not just a little scuffle, but a life-long WAR. We must be willing to strain toward what is ahead (Philp 3:13-14), fight the good fight (1 Tim 6:12), and earnestly seek God (Heb 11:6)!
Are we willing to do the hard work to know God by heart?
Let's push each other on in this "sword-slashing, shield-crushing, spear-stabbing fight!"
Get in the Word! And get the Word in you! Read! Meditate! Memorize!
And fellowship! We are weak; we need accountability. Get in a Bible study group, join an on-line group, do something! I mentioned Living Proof Ministry's "Siesta Scripture Memory Team." But, I did not know until last night that Ann Voskamp has this one too.
And, thanks to their challenges, I have decided to do it...to memorize Ephesians. Why Ephesians? Because I have bits and pieces of it in my memory already. And it's short, 6 chapters. That's one chapter for every two months and I can have the whole thing under my belt by Christmas. And, most importantly, because what you think is what you are. And I am praying, begging God really, that this year's end will find me having more of the mind of Christ than I do now. Because without Him I am a hopeless mess.
LET'S DO THIS THING!!!!
Because as Ann says...
If we fail to keep His Word in mind, we may simply fail.