Living by Faith
Friday, November 12, 2010
"HARD GRIND"? OR LIFE OF FAITH?
Many Christians, through the ages, have sincerely sought after holiness and victory over sin by taking up their cross and denying themselves. But they have often found the Christian life to be a "hard grind" instead of the glorious life that the Bible describes. Their failure has been this that they never understood the life of faith under the new covenant. They sought to be holy by the principles of the old covenant and thus missed what God had for them.
2 Corinthians 3:6 tells us that the new covenant is a ministry of the Spirit that brings life, whereas the old covenant was a ministry of the letter that brought death! And if we walk according to the letter of God's commandments - even in the new covenant - it will still bring death. Only if we live by faith and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, will we enter into the "life of Christ".
Since Jesus has now ascended on high and sent the Holy Spirit to this earth, our life can be far more glorious than that of any Old Testament saint. So if we find ourselves living under condemnation, depression and gloom today, it must be because we are still living by old covenant principles (2 Cor.3:9).
There were two things that Jesus emphasized frequently in His ministry - faith in God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Adam missed this life of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit when he chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life (Gen.2:9). He chose to have the knowledge of good and evil resident within himself, instead of being dependent on God for it.
The tree of life represents the life of faith under the new covenant while the tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents a life of self-effort under the old covenant. If Adam had chosen the tree of life he would have lived by faith - in constant dependence on God. Then the Holy Spirit would have given him Divine life. But instead, he chose to live in dependence on himself, independent of God. And so he died. All unbelievers live like this - without constant dependence on God. Unfortunately many believers live this way too.
All religions teach their followers to do good and to avoid evil. Christians who seek after holiness also do good and avoid evil. And in their pursuit of holiness, they usually end up making finer and finer distinctions between good and evil, through various rules and practices!! Yet most of them still never come to a genuinely holy life. Why? Because they seek it by works and not by faith.
For 1500 years God taught the Israelites through the Law, what was good and what was evil. But obedience to the good works commanded by the Law did not lead a single Israelite to partake of eternal life. Living by any set of rules and regulations - however high the standard - will never lead anyone to genuine godliness, even today.
True holiness is the life of God in the soul of man - and God has to give this to us as a gift. We can never attain to it. We must receive it by faith. Paul said that in the days when he was unaware of the Law's demands, he felt he was "alive". But when he understood the demands of the Law of God, he became so aware of the wrongs in his life that he felt "dead" (Rom.7:9)!! This is the experience of many who are born again too. They appear to be happy and "alive" as long as they hear only about the forgiveness of their sins. But as soon as they hear about victory over sin and obedience to God's commandments, they feel condemned and miserable and "dead".
But Paul did not stop with the old-covenant law - and neither should we. God showed Paul another law - the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. This was the law that finally set him free from sin ( Rom.8:2).
Many seek to be holy by doing good. Remember that Eve ate of the tree because it looked good!! She wasn't seeking to do something evil!! She ate the fruit, not because she wanted to become like the devil, but because she wanted to become like God - for that was what the devil had promised her (Gen.3:5). People who live according to the Law also make the same mistake today - thinking that they can be like God through external good works.
Much of the good that we see in the lives of many Christians comes, not from genuine holiness, but from a good upbringing. Many of these Christians are upright, but they don't have a passionate hunger after God. They spend their lives accumulating Bible knowledge, but without any revelation from God. As a result, their lives are not much different from the lives of some good unbelievers around them. All such believers have missed something vital that God wants them to have - the Divine nature.
God is not first of all trying to make us do good, but to make us trust in Him so that He can give us His nature. In His eyes, the righteous are not those who do good but those who live by faith (See Romans 4:5 and Habakkuk 2:4). In Habakkuk 2:4, God contrasts two groups of people - those who believe in the Lord and those who are proud. Those who are proud cannot live by faith. The reason many do not accept God's gifts freely, by simple faith, is because they are too proud to accept anything freely. They would rather earn their forgiveness and their holiness by doing something themselves.
Satan tells Christians even today (as he told Eve) that they don't need to depend on God to know the difference between good and evil. He tells them that they can know the difference through their conscience or by reading the Bible. But many unbelievers also live by their conscience - and live fairly decent lives. A Christian can live like that too - but he won't be righteous in God's eyes. Many believers begin their Christian life right - by trusting God alone for their justification. But then like the Galatian Christians, they seek to become perfect through their own efforts (Gal.3:3). They evaluate their spiritual worth by how much they have done for God or by the results they have seen in their ministry. And they feel satisfied. But when people asked Jesus how they could do the works of God, He did not tell them to do good works. He told them to believe in Him (Jn.6:28-29)! Without faith it is impossible to please God.
There are many paradoxes in the Christian life and here is the first one that we encounter when we are saved: We know that Jesus justifies us so thoroughly that we now stand before God just as if we had never sinned - for God promises never to remember our past sins against us (Heb.8:12). At the same time we are also told never to forget our past sins, lest we become blind and shortsighted (2 Pet.1:9)!!
So, on one hand we see that God does not remember our past sins and on the other hand we are told never to forget them!! How are we to live with this apparent contradiction?
Only by being MORE conscious of the fact that the blood of Jesus has cleansed away our past sins, than we are conscious of those sins themselves.
Read that last sentence once again, for this is one of the most important principles of the Christian life. If you believe it, this truth can liberate you.
There is no humility in feeling guilty about our past sins. That is unbelief, not humility, and is an insult to the blood of Christ. Such unbelief does not glorify God in any way. Paul called himself "the chief of sinners" even after being a Christian for 30 years (1 Tim.1:15). Yet at the same time he also said, "I am conscious of nothing against myself" (1 Cor.4:4). Both facts were true. This assurance is what gives us great confidence before God and great boldness against Satan's accusations and against the fears with which Satan tries to frighten us.
The most popular books in Christian bookshops today are those that deal with faith and the Holy Spirit. But most of these books lead Christians into a counterfeit faith and into counterfeit experiences. The "faith" that these books teach is faith to become wealthy and healthy - not to become holy and spiritual. Christians are told that they can get whatever they want from God, if only they can believe sufficiently. Such teaching is fundamentally opposed to the teaching and the practice of the first apostles and to that of godly missionaries (of the 19th and early 20th centuries) who sacrificed their lives for the promotion of the
. kingdom of God
Genuine faith is that which enables us to overcome the world (1 Jn.5:4) - the world being "the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life" (1 Jn.2:16). As Jesus overcame this world, we too can overcome it. (See John 16:33 and Revelation 3:21). When we overcome the world, we will no longer be deceived by Satan telling us that the pleasures that come through health and wealth are superior to the pleasure that comes through fellowship with God.
God wants us to taste the pure pleasure of fellowship with Him. That alone can drive away the desire for other pleasures (Psa.16:11). Many are trying hard to overcome the attraction of sinful pleasures by human means. But only when we taste fellowship with God can we be truly set free. Faith in God and the power of the Holy Spirit can set you free from every bondage that Satan ever put upon you.
Do you find yourself unwilling to give up some particular worldly pleasure that attracts you? Then cry out to the Lord, like Peter did when he was sinking in the sea, saying - "Lord save me". You will find that God gives you not only the desire to be free from sin, but also a hatred for it!! In the new covenant, it is God Who works in us both to desire and to do His will (Phil.2:13). What a wonderful gospel the new covenant is!!
The life of Jesus is not something that we can imitate. We must partake of it through the Holy Spirit. Most Christians do not experience this because they are not poor in spirit. That means that they do not live their lives with a constant awareness of their need of God. They are self-confident and independent. Jesus invited only the thirsty to come to Him and drink. To walk by faith we must be constantly thirsty (poor in spirit), always aware of our need of the Holy Spirit's power. There must be a constant cry in our hearts (even if unspoken) to be filled with the Spirit and to experience His power. Those who come to Jesus and drink, will find rivers of living water flowing out from their innermost beings (a life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit - Jn.7:37-38). Thus the weakest believer can experience the glory of this life of faith in the new covenant and become as strong as the strongest. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
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