Every believer deep down wants to hear Jesus Christ say “Well done, good and faithful servant” on the Day. All we have to do is ask ourselves and listen within; if we listen deep enough we’ll find the Holy Spirit way down there resounding with a great “Yes!” But the question many of us have is “How do I get there? How do I change? How do I become ‘Christ-like’?”
The usual answer I’ve heard is to read more, pray more, go to church more, start a Bible study, work in the soup kitchen, and any of a number of “do this and don’t do that” kinds of thinking. While all those things can be good actions, they can spring from the wrong source – the wrong Tree. Pretty soon we are doing this and doing that to try to become more sanctified.But that isn’t God’s way. He says in Isaiah 55, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
More twos: His thoughts vs our thoughts. His ways vs our ways. God’s way is that fruit comes from His implanted Word, the rain of His Holy Spirit watering it. It will not return to Him void. Yet He bases the amount of fruit on a believer’s level of trust. Thus, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col 2:6-8).
Here we have another pair of things: the faith-in-Christ way, or being spoiled through “our ways”: deceptive thinking and traditions modeled after the satanic principles of the world and not after Christ. Once again, we see the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Growth in Christ – or “growth” according to satanic principles. We can be built up – or robbed of fruitfulness.
This echoes 1Cor 3, where Paul says he laid the foundation of Christ in the Corinthians, and other teachers build upon that foundation. Paul warns that every man take heed how he builds on the foundation; teachers are to build Christ upon Christ, faith in Him upon faith in Him; that’s building with gold, silver, precious stones. The teachers are responsible for what they teach; we are responsible for accepting or rejecting true or false teaching. So here I ask a question, to which I think I have in part the answer: What does God’s optimal believer look like? Here’s at least a partial answer that goes a long way; bear in mind that this is not some sort of method, but a picture:
God is looking for faith in His Son. I don’t mean merely trusting Jesus “up there” to save us from our sin-debt and take us to Heaven. I mean a present-tense, here-and-now faith in Jesus who lives by the Holy Spirit inside you, inside me. We have to renew our minds to the new-creation reality: I am not an independent self trying to be good and make life work by my own effort. I am a human container, a cup, a vessel, who has an indwelling Lord. I am a slave with a inner Master, a wife with an inner Husband, a subject with an inner King, a son with an inner Father – a need with an inner Supply.
“Well, then,” some will say, “Why, if I am all those things, do I still sin? I’m trying to be this new inner man, trying to do what God wants me to do, trying to follow the Master, and I keep on failing. Where is this abundant life of faith and victory?”
That’s the unrenewed mind, the wrong Tree; that’s the trap of Romans 7. The Christian does not have to become holy; he already is holy. He is a man set apart. The believer does not have to become a good person by his human effort; he is a good person because the only Source of goodness in the universe lives inside him.
”Well!” some will say, “We’ve still got to act like it! Faith without works is dead!” To this I wholeheartedly agree. What I disagree with is the common, satanic, legalistic method of “getting there.” Any Way which does not begin and end in a wholehearted reliance on the One who said, “I am the Way,” is doomed to failure. Whether legalism or license is of no consequence; they both fall off this narrow Way, the width of a single Man. Works that spring from anything but God’s life through the channel of faith will burn in the end.
God is looking for faith-people. Faith-ers. A peculiar people, the uncommon folks who will rely on Him every step of the way. Like Aragorn, through faith and endurance they slash through demonic hordes, deception, and lies to find their real identity, their true kinship and kingship.This kind of faith, the faith that recognizes God’s truth as Reality even though circumstance says otherwise, is what brings us to the expression of our real identity; we say in faith that we are loved when we feel unloved; we say in faith that Christ in us is our strength when we feel weak. We don’t deny our feelings, but we put them in their proper place. Trinity says to Neo, “…the Matrix cannot tell you who you are.” God is the Teller of our identity. If we hearken to Him, and put that new-creation identity in our mind-mirror daily, it will begin to show in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
God only. That’s the Tree of Life. Christ alone has redeemed us; Christ alone has cleansed us, justified us; Christ alone has perfected us forever by His one sacrifice, and now is transforming our daily expression of life into His image. All we do is rely on Him, believe what He has told us in His Word, and step out on that Word as if it were true (because of course, it is). That Word, when mixed with faith, washes away the grit and grime of the wrong Tree, and so we learn to stand.
We’ll discuss “the old man” in Two, Part IV.