August 20, 2013

Subtle self-effort

Christians believe that we are helpless to earn or deserve our salvation or receive any mercy from God. Why then do we also say we must do this or that, as if we have the strength in ourselves to please God and live up to a Christian standard? The Galatians fell into this trap.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:1–3)

I began my Christian life by receiving Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, but like the Galatians, I sometimes fall into this trap of trying to save myself from sin. It is subtle. I might think that because I have Christ, then everything that I do is in His power, but as the above verses say, I start thinking that the flesh is capable of trying to bring me to maturity. It cannot do it, but I will try.
The key is knowing the difference between the flesh operating in its own power and the Spirit of Christ motivating me to live for Jesus. At first, this seems plain; the flesh does sinful things like gossip and hate, envy and lies, and the spirit is kind, loving, full of truth and righteousness. But as I walk this path with Jesus, I am finding that the flesh is so determined to have some part in my salvation (so it can glory) that it tries to become very subtly involved in the process.

When this happens, I will spend a lot of time and effort to change myself, either in the way I think, or talk, or act. After becoming stressed over no change and being bombarded with temptations to keep on thinking, talking, or acting the same as always, I finally give up and say something like, “Jesus, You are the Savior; save me.”

Today’s devotional focuses again on the fact that God gave Jesus everything. It is to Him I must go for He is the source of all goodness and spiritual growth. Try as I might, all things were given to Him, not directly to me.

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. (John 3:35)
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him (the Messiah), the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2)

It isn’t that “all things” are unavailable. The Bible says all things are mine (1 Corinthians 3:21), but for the power and possessions of Christ to be released into my life, I need to stop trying to make it happen. Walking by faith is trusting Him to give me all that I need, just as He trusted the Father to give Him all that He needed as He walked this earth.

To be practical, this means saying no to self-effort and trusting Jesus to put godly thoughts into my head, edifying words on my lips, and loving actions into my life. While this can be intimidating, what vanity to think that I can do a better job of it than He can.

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