What is one of the biggest struggles for many people? Other than showing ourselves to have had“an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God… [being] hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13), the single most dangerous sin for many people is pride. Pride was what enticed Satan to rebel, and it is a sin most of us encounter at some point in our lives. Yet God understands our struggles, and in His grace and wisdom, has provided for forgiveness and salvation to be through Christ, and Christ alone.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
But, let’s start at the beginning. What are the two possible responses we can have when we see that we aren’t living the way God wants us to?
The first thing we can do is simply ignore it and continue doing what we are doing. That is what many people do, and it is the response of those who don’t care, or quite honestly, don’t care enough to do what they have to do to change. It is the Word of God having fallen on deaf ears, so to speak, and it is the response of the ungodly.
The second way we can respond is by getting out of our comfort zone and fixing what’s wrong. Instead of continuing in a sinful lifestyle or pattern of living, we can stop the wrong thing we’re doing and start doing what God wants us to. This is genuine conversion, and it is the response pattern of people who have agreed with God that He owns their life and that they have an obligation to deny themselves and follow Him. Remember that Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice and follow Me.” You really can’t call yourself a follower of Christ if you don’t follow Christ, can you?
Fast forward a bit. Say you’ve chosen the second path, the correct one. You’ve not only responded when Christ originally called you, you’ve faithfully spent your last x number of months, years, or decades actually following Him. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? You’ve been a faithful Christian, and useful to the Lord. But wait a minute. Even though you’ve been doing exactly what you should have been doing, you’re now more vulnerable to the sin of pride than someone who recently converted and doesn’t have a good track record.
While most of us begin well by understanding that there is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness from God, there is an almost insidious tendency in each of us to keep score. When we do something for Christ, it’s as if we mentally add a point to our tally sheet. Attend church faithfully, add a point. Teach Sunday School, add a point. Give generously to His work, another point, and so on and so forth.
But what does God say about this? Galatians 2:16-3:5 explains:
“…a man is not justified (forgiven, made right before God) by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ…for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified…O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth…? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?…Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
Salvation, being accepted by God and forgiven, is through Christ alone. In the same way, sanctification,becoming more like Christ, is also through Christ alone. We DO want to obey God. We MUST obey God. GOD wants us to obey Him. Yet, we can’t let ourselves begin to rack up “brownie points” for it. We have to be careful that we don’t do things so God feels favorable toward us and forgives us or to induce God to accept us or like us more. In other words, we have to be careful that our hearts not turn against us and convince us we are somehow contributing to the process of salvation.
But why? Doesn’t it matter that we are faithful? Of course it does, and God does promise a reward:
“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ [Jesus is the foundation–the chief cornerstone, in fact–upon which everything else rests!]. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)
This passage speaks about the quality of our work. I personally feel this refers to our motivation as we obey Christ. Paul alludes to this in Philippians 1:15-17. “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill. The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely…but the latter out of love…” While the most important thing is that we obey Him, God also cares why we obey Him, that it be for reasons He approves of and not from any personal consideration.
Yet we have to be careful to understand that while God will test our works to see of what nature they are, salvation and the Christian walk is through Christ, not works, and this is where the waters can truly get muddy.
When I have been faithful, I become at risk of coming to believe that I am something, so to speak, and become prideful. Not that we don’t have giftings, and not that we are not precious in the eyes of God. But we need to remember that “…we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6a) and “…for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.”(Galatians 2:16b) Our obedience can confuse us as to our true human nature, one of sinfulness. This is not to say that Christ has not given us a new nature, that we do not now have a desire to please God and seek after Him. We must, however, recognize that apart from our submission to the power and control of Christ in our life, we are sinners. This is a sobering realization, and one many Christians are, perhaps, confused about.
It is certainly true that “… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17), and that when we recognize His authority over us and trust Christ’s work on the cross for forgiveness God does take our heart of stone out of us and give us a heart of flesh—a soft, malleable and teachable heart sensitive to the things of God. Yet we are still physical human beings, with an inherent capacity for sin.
Please consider the entire chapter of Romans 6 which exhorts us to “…reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11), to “…not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Romans 6:12), and to “not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” (Romans 6:13) These admonitions would not be there if we were free from sinful tendencies, yet, Scripture is full of them.
Thus, there might be times when our heart is at risk of deceiving us as to our true inherent condition apart from Christ, and God sees the need to remind us of our sinfulness. I am convinced He does this, when He does it, out of His great love for us, to refocus us onto the only One who is without sin—Christ. He is our strength. He is our righteousness. He is the only reason we have any hope of forgiveness and eternity with our God. And when we fix our eyes firmly on Him, we won’t be distracted by any unwarranted feelings of pride. The only thing we will boast about is our Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done! “…God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Galatians 6:14a)
Thank You for everything You have done. Thank You that You have cared so much for us, Your fallen creatures, that You have made forgiveness and salvation possible through Your death and resurrection. Let us ever be mindful of that and live our lives in submission to You. Amen.