With all this talk of what we believe, it might be easy to think that is all there is to living out our faith: just believe what is true and right and good, and off you go, running fast and straight. But Jesus said it clearly to anyone with ears to hear, that receiving His Words was only the first part of a process. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24) We can listen and learn and accumulate understanding as if we are stockpiling treasure, but growth will not happen until our hearts and wills are engaged to put what we believe into practice– and this is where things get sticky. I heard a preacher say once that “Transformation occurs when we bring truth to bear on our souls….[it] is an active engagement, not a passive by-product.” (Rob Reimer) Change from the inside-out is more akin to battle…or the messy hard work of remodeling…or the labor pains of birth…actually, Paul says it is a death by execution. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” (Galatians 5:24)
It’s easy to skim over that sentence, make it symbolic and spiritual because it is hard to hear in that matter-of-fact tone, and it is definitely not the kind of thing I want to write on my To-do list for today. The thing is, the passions and desires of my sinful nature live fully and messily in this everyday world, and we can pretty much guarantee they will not go quietly to an execution. There is no tidy way to go about this process, and Paul doesn’t really make it optional. It will take God’s radical interior makeover of my heart to make me want Jesus more than I want my happiness/comfort/convenience….to make me begin to shed those hindrances that so easily entangle a runner’s feet.
No question about it, putting what we believe into practice might be the hardest thing we ever do. Bending mind and will and emotion to conform to ideas that go against your very nature (no matter how lovely and true they are), will not feel like a good choice in the heat of the here-and-now. It will require the battle gear of Faith’s shield and Scripture’s sword, determination to run this race well, and a steady focus on the end goal of pleasing our Father the King; it will require running this faith-race of life the way Jesus did…in complete trust of His Father’s love and plans. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)
It is not a coincidence that Paul sandwiches his gory, earthy observation about the cost of living out our faith between detailed explanations of what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. He knew that the only way we would ever have what it takes to put Self to death was by depending on our Divine Helper. He ends with this challenge: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25) The very One who made us alive again and calls us to follow Him, also makes His home with us and enables us to run this race. If I believe that, and am willing to plant my feet on that bedrock of Truth to wrestle with my wild emotions and destructive thoughts till they bow in obedience to that Divine Power, Jesus promises to make it happen.
Paul says that living in Jesus’ presence not only enables us to throw off the old ways of thinking, but also causes new habits to spring up: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)….Jesus’ own character traits taking the place of what has died, and enabling us to run the race like He did. Let’s just be careful not to confuse what is good with what is easy.
My free will, and His power and sovereignty, working together to produce transformation on the inside? It is Mystery, and it is Truth. This is way too big for my To-do list for today– but it is on God’s agenda for me, so the only question is how well I will cooperate. Lord, help me to grow in my understanding of You and to put it into practice, even when it means the death of Me and what I want. I want You more.
Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.Philippians 2:12
The greatest burden we have to carry in life is self. The most difficult thing we have to manage is self. Our own daily living, our frames and feelings, our especial weaknesses and temptations, and our peculiar temperaments– our inward affairs of every kind– these are the things that perplex and worry us more than anything else, and that bring us oftenest into bondage and darkness….You must hand yourself…all over into the care and keeping of your God, and leave them there. He made you and therefore He understands you, and knows how to manage you, and you must trust Him to do it.Hannah Whitall Smith