Living By Faith

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:21 NIV) 

For a couple of years I have planned to write a series of posts on living by faith, recognizing its critical importance to the successful Christian life. But every time I start to put together some ideas on the topic I am stymied by the enormity of the challenge as well as my personal failings to live such a life myself. 

My son preached a powerful message on that very topic this past Sunday. But like so many Biblical concepts, it is easier to preach and write about living by faith than to put it into practice. Even Paul, who captured the issue so eloquently in the verse above, admitted to his own struggles in that regard in Romans Chapter 7.

To live by faith in the Son of God is a lifelong journey filled with fits and starts as the world and our flesh battles against the Spirit for control of our hearts. Paul writes in Galatians 5:17 (ESV), “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

So how do we win that battle? For years I thought the answer was to pray for God to fill me with more of his Spirit. But I have learned that the Spirit cannot fill my heart when it is already full of myself. Like Paul, it starts with understanding just what it means to be “crucified with Christ”, emptying myself of myself so that the Spirit can fill the void. It is indeed a lifelong pursuit, filled with frustration but enormous in its rewards.

Will I ever write that series? Maybe not. But I will continue to strive for that goal. Like John the Baptist proclaimed, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 ESV) 

“How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it.” -G. K. Chesterton

Cleansing The Temple

Series: Reflections From John

imageIn the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables, exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” (John 2:16-17)

According to tradition, the commercial activity in the temple which had upset our Lord had once taken place outside the temple to support the sacrificial needs of Jewish pilgrims who often traveled long distances to observe the Passover. It was apparently moved into the Court of the Gentiles so that the priests could also profit from them.

But what the priests saw as convenient and profitable violated the strict rules which were designed to maintain the sanctity of the temple and provide an environment that facilitated worship and a focus on God. I don’t believe the priests found a loophole somewhere in Leviticus to allow for this. And our Lord has a low tolerance for placing the concerns of men above the concerns of God. Just ask Peter! (Matt. 16:23)

Under the New Covenant sealed by the blood of Christ, God took religion from the realm of external and made it internal. Our temple is no longer a building. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Just as worship must have been greatly hindered by the merchants and money-changers in the temple, the Spirit’s work in our lives is hindered by those things which take our focus off of God and undermine God’s moral will for our lives. While Jesus sacrificed for our sins “once for all” on the cross of Calvary, his death did not negate our need for cleansing of those sins we still wrestle with. Galatians 5:17 says “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Those sins that beset us may not threaten our salvation, but they damage our relationship with the Lord and prevent us from experiencing the abundant Spirit-filled life Jesus desires for each of us. (John 10:10) The Spirit can never thrive in a heart in which the sinful nature is firmly entrenched.

To quote the great evangelist D.L. Moody,

“I firmly believe that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and self-seeking and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will come and fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and self-seeking and pleasure and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. And I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him when he is full already with something else. Before we pray that God will fill us, I believe that we ought to pray that he would empty us.”

And so, just as Jesus cleansed the temple, we must also cleanse our hearts of those things that are contrary to the concerns of God – things that choke the Word and make us unfruitful. This includes trivial pursuits that crowd our schedules, leaving us little time for quiet communion with the Lord and meditating upon the Scriptures which are able to impart Godly wisdom to counteract the daily assaults of the world upon our thinking.

Such cleansing is not a one-time event. John placed this account of the cleansing of the temple earlier in Jesus’ ministry than the Synoptic Gospels, leading many to question if they refer to the same event. Personally, I believe Jesus encountered such activities at the temple on multiple occasions and likely responded similarly each time.

And so it is with us. It would have been convenient if the Lord had removed our sinful nature when the Holy Spirit took up residence in our heart at salvation, but he chose not to. So we must be continually aware of its impact and attentive to emptying ourselves of those things that rob us of our joy and undermine the Spirit’s work in our lives.

And that, my friends, is what cleansing is all about. Ephesians 4:31 says “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Paul could have easily added many other detrimental traits to that command.

In fact, he provides us a fairly comprehensive list in Galatians 5:19-21. I encourage you to check it out, compare those traits to your own sinful inclinations, and let the cleansing begin. I’m confident you’ll be glad you did.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify (cleanse) us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Note: All Scripture taken from the New International Version (NIV)