Are you struggling with some sort of sin in your life right now? If you said “no,” mark yourself down for lying and hypocrisy because we are all struggling with sin and we are struggling with it all the time. So, what do we do about it?
If you’re like me, you may turn to the spiritual disciplines for help. I grit my teeth and decide I’m going to read more of the Bible, or pray more, or only listen to worship music in my car instead of talk radio, or fast from TV for a month, etc. I get it into my head that by doing these things I’ll be able to overcome the sin that is plaguing me.
But I don’t. In fact, it usually gets worse. How about you?
This is an epidemic problem in the Bible belt. It’s the stupid idea that we can, by sheer force of will, make ourselves holy.
Paul had some strong words for people who thought that. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and insert my name in there because he’s talking to me. You should feel free to do the same:
O foolish Joe! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this Joe: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you now being perfected by the flesh? [Galatians 3:1-3]
Think back on the moment you were truly born again. Don’t worry about trying to pinpoint the exact moment, just think about what your life was like before Christ and what it was like after Him. What did you have to do with the momentous change that took place in your heart and life when Christ saved you. I’ll give you a hint; NOTHING! So why is it that once we get born again we look at Jesus and say;
“Thanks, but I’ll take it from here.”
When we think that by working really hard at doing all the right Christian stuff we will become more like Christ we are totally deceiving ourselves.
That doesn’t mean there’s no value in prayer and Bible study, etc. They have enormous value and every Christian should be engaging in those activities on a regular basis, we just have to make sure that we are engaging in them for the right reasons.
The only thing the disciplines do for us is place us in a position where we can receive from God. They help to usher us into His glorious presence where HE does the work in our lives.
And before we get even a little bit prideful about that we also need to remember that even the desire to do those things comes from God as well [Philippians 2:13]. That’s right, if we want to read our Bible it’s because God has planted that desire in our hearts! We get no credit in this scenario whatsoever.
There are only two things that can possibly result from trying to work our way into holiness: legalism or despair.
We either become rigid and religious with no freedom and no joy, living our life by some ridiculous set of rules or we become utterly despondent and depressed because it becomes obvious to us that we will never, never, never be able to overcome our own flesh.
Let’s not enter into some of that despair now. We all do this. We all want a hand in our own salvation and our own sanctification. Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent because they thought the fruit would make them like God and therefore they wouldn’t need God [Genesis 3:1-6]. Do we really think we’ll be any different?
So, how foolish are we? To the degree that we think we make ourselves holy by our own efforts is the degree to which we are fools.
When we realize that it’s God who has saved us, and it’s God who sanctifies us, and it’s God who takes us home forever, then reading the Bible, worshiping, prayer, all these things, will become joyful and delightful parts of our lives because they help to bring us more and more into the presence of the One who loves us and gave Himself for us.