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

Making God Visible

Series: Reflections From John

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! … I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. … He must become greater; I must become less.’” (John 1:29, 34, 3:30)image

We live in a time of great anticipation of Christ’s promised return. John the Baptist came along at a time of great anticipation of Christ’s first appearance. In fact, the anticipation was so great that when John began to preach in the Judean Desert, Luke tells us that “The people were waiting expectantly and wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” (Luke 3:15)

John put those speculations to rest quickly, deflecting attention from himself, and declaring his unworthiness to even untie the sandals of the One who would come after him. When the priests and Levites pressed him about his own identity, John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'” (John 1:23)

All the Gospel accounts mark the appearance of John the Baptist as the beginning of Christ’s ministry. John had come to the desert preaching a baptism of repentance and had gained a following of his own. But once God revealed to him at his baptism of Jesus that the long awaited Messiah had come, John’s primary message changed immediately to “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)

When John’s disciples later began to complain that everyone was flocking to Jesus, John replied with those familiar words that are so rich with application for anyone who considers themselves followers of Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  (John 3:30 KJV) John understood that a true disciple humbles himself and exalts Christ.

Our culture today is enamored with celebrity and all too often that fleshly desire for fame and fortune bleeds over into Christian ministry, where it has no place. Preaching a message that tickles the ears, promotes book sales, and elevates man has created many Christian celebrities today. But their lifestyles often stand in stark contrast to the heroes of our faith found in the Scriptures- men like John the Baptist. John understood that there should be only one celebrity in the Christian faith, and his name is Jesus Christ, King of kings, and Lord of lords.

In my last posting, I said that my sister made God visible to a world desperate for the hope that only he can provide. At the time of John’s ministry, the invisible God made himself visible in the person of Jesus Christ. John was simply called to introduce him. But his actions and words reveal the key to being effective witnesses of Christ ourselves, making God visible through our character and the conduct of our lives.

When John’s ministry was growing, it must have been tempting for him to exalt himself. His disciples had obviously grown concerned that the size of his congregation had begun to dwindle as people started to flock to “that man”. (John 3:26)  But John understood that “that man” was none other than the Son of God. Knowing that his moment in the spotlight and his declining popularity were all a part of God’s sovereign plan and purpose, John’s new focus became making Christ preeminent.

Just as John knew his God-ordained role, those of us who follow Christ know ours as well. We are called to be witnesses, deflecting attention from ourselves while pointing others to our Lord. Those familiar words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” create a vivid word picture of the process of sanctification, which begins at the moment of our conversion and continues throughout our lives. To be sanctified is to give the Holy Spirit greater control over our hearts and minds, while making less provision for the flesh.

In Galatians 5:16 Paul writes, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” When we are intentional about that, Christ increases His impact in and through us while our sinful nature decreases its hold. As that takes place, we are transformed more into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), making Him more visible to a world searching for the hope that we have.

Make God visible to someone God places in your path this week.

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

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all referenced Scripture is from the New International Version (NIV).