Monday, September 26, 2011

"The Christian’s Guide to Living a Godly Life": A Much Needed Illumination

The following devotional--"Day 40: The Christian’s Guide to Living a Godly Life"-- has been making the rounds on the Internet for presumably two years, if not more.

One source has it listed under By G.W. Martinez.

A more recent blog published by By Will Pena also lists this devotional.

The religious notions embedded within the whole discussion, about being motivated to love and serve God, are admirable in their ideal, yet they run contrary to the fully revealed Word of God, which informs us that:

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation." (2 Peter 1:20)


"Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

"And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:

"That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

"Not of works, lest any man should boast.

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:5-10)

Paul cannot emphasize it enough: by grace, not by works, not by effort, not by our right thinking, speaking, or doing are we saved. The faith that allows us to access to so great a gift is not even ours, but is graciously accorded to us! In our walk with Christ, we grow in awareness, in greater reception of this grace, realizing every day how much more every day how much we have been forgiven, how much we have been reconciled, how much we have been blessed by God the Father through the Death of His Son, which has released to all who believe the His Holy Spirit. Any works which we do have already been done and imputed to us. Our calling is to let those works work themselves out (Philippians 2:12-13)

It is important when rightly dividing the Word of God that each person respects the leading and meaning imparted by the Holy Spirit, who leads us into all truth. The Christian Life is not our striving, but our thriving in that we become more dependent on Him, and He becomes more resplendent through us.

Well did John the Baptist say:

"He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.

He must increase, but I (must) decrease." (John 3:29-30)

Jesus becomes more magnified in the life of a believer who walks by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) Despite the implication of force or necessity, is in fact a blessed matter of course that we decrease, for the Light of Christ renders us incandescent, trasmitting to a dark and colorless world the infinite splendor of good works within us, like the beautiful sun casting through a delicate mosaic onto a barren floor.

With these insights in mind, let us respond and make up what is lacking in the inferences of this devotional.

Day 40: The Ultimate Purpose of the Christian Life
Mark 12:30
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. NIV

Most of our lives, we have been searching for a purpose for our lives, one that has a deeper meaning than just existing on this planet. We felt that our lives were meant for something; something meaningful and worthwhile that would give us a true reason to live.

Right away the problem unfolds itself. The emphasis is placed on what the Believer does, not on the Finished Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We searched for this purpose in things like relationships, a career, a job, a hobby, in school, and in many more things, only to find disappointment at every turn; because though these things could preoccupy us for a moment, they would ultimately fail at fulfilling our spiritual desire for a meaningful life.

Certainly, these things could never fulfill the everlasting need embedded within a human being.

In Genesis, mankind is described as made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).

"Image" here is the translation of the word צֶ֫לֶם tselem, which means "form, image, images, likenesses, phantom." We are but a shadow, of which the substance is God. Apart from Him, we are nothing. No wonder our search for substance and significance is in vain if we seek our reward in Creation.

Then we find God, and we feel that we see our purpose clearly. We are full of excitement, and we are hopeful to see what God will do with our lives. The overwhelming joy and excitement that drives us, motivates us to share the good news with everyone around us; telling them of the great purpose that God has in store for our lives.

Folly! We do not find God. God was never lost to begin with. We do not initiate nor consummate the search.

Consider the following verses, which forever undo the nonsensical and arrogant notion that we act independently in our growing connection with the Most High:

"And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father." (John 6:65)


"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you." (John 15:16)

We devote ourselves to learning more, growing more, and doing more for God. We surround ourselves with more and more people who call themselves Christians to glean as much as we can from them, astounded at the miraculous experiences they recount of God’s work in their lives.

Believers read so hastily through God's Word. We must meditate until we are fully persuaded of the following:

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5)

"Nothing" means exactly that: "Nothing" We are empty shells, cracked clay jars whose only use and purpose is to be filled:

"And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit." (Ephesians 5:18)

We are at the pinnacle of our joy, and we feel that we have what we have always been looking for. Never again will we feel lost; never again will we feel empty; never again will we feel confused because we have found the ultimate treasure in Christ.

Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, not a work or production of our own making. "Our joy" is but temporal happiness. Rather, the joy that lasts, the joy which Christ seeks to make full in us:

"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.' (John 15:11)


"Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full." (John 16:24)

Fast forward, five, ten, or even twenty years. We have been doing, and learning, and experiencing, changing and growing. Yet, we begin to feel a slight hint of an old feeling that we thought would never return. We begin to feel unfulfilled, and maybe a little empty. We quickly disregard it, knowing full well that such a feeling is impossible now that we have found God.

Once again, if we emphasize our work, our effort, our part, we exclude the Finished Work of Christ. In no way can we claim that we have grown if we believe that we ourselves are responsible for the growth.

"But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen." (2 Peter 3:18)

How do we accomplish this? For Isaiah has made it more than abundantly clear that we cannot come to God ourselves:

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

"For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Yet there is hope:

"For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

"So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

"For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." (Isaiah 55:10-12)

God sent to the earth His Word, His Son (John 1:1-2). According to Isaiah, this Word will not come back void, but will fulfill out that it was sent out to do. Which Christ did, dying on the Cross for sinful man in order to reconcile us with the Eternal Righteous God the Father (2 Cor. 5:17-21)

Then the feelings begin to grow. We begin brooding over our boring lives, seeking meaning out of the monotony that encompasses the Christian life: going to church every week, giving contribution to the church and to the poor, sharing our faith, reading our Bibles, praying, going to Bible study, attending revivals and conferences, etc. Then we begin to think, “ Is this it?” Or, “Is this what I have sacrificed my life for?”

What is the "Christian Life"? Point of fact, there is no such thing. There is only Life itself, which is Christ (John 14:6). Every time we quiz ourselves about we are doing wrong, we overlook the obvious: the fact that we are doing anything at all to beef up happiness, wholeness, and holiness in our lives is doomed to fail.

Consider the glorious promises of Christ as outlined by Paul in his First letter to the Corinthians:

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)

And through His coming we receive the very things which make this life possible:

"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

"John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me.

"And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.

"For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:14-17)

Jesus Christ is full of grace and truth. Grace is what save us, what is shed abroad for the whole world to receive and be save from this perverse generation.

The Law of Moses holds up the world the impossible standard of righteous perfection; this was given. Grace and truth, came to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is Grace. He is Truth. He is for us. He is in every Believer who receives His Redemptive Finished Work by Grace through Faith.

Now our lives are at a crossroads. We have been living the Christian life, yet we are as empty and unfulfilled as we were before we became Christians. “What happened?” we ask. “Is it me?” we consider. “Or could it be that Christianity is not what I expected it to be?” We are busier now than we have ever been, yet nothing that we do can bring us the fulfillment that we so desire.

These questions have striking answers. The lingering emptiness indeed is caused by us. And indeed, Christianity is not what we expected it to be, if we assumed falsely that it was a process of our striving and working to earn God's blessings in our lives.

Paul's joyful declaration of gracious security is still sadly misconstrued by many:

"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32)

By faith (not by works or merit), we are saved. How can anyone presume that any lesser blessing would then have to be earned? All these things are "freely given", not strings attached. We are called to receive these things along with the so great and gracious redemption of our sins.

All of a sudden the world begins to entice us. A career, fortune, fame, success, a relationship, etc., begin to look very appealing, and actually begin to convince us that they will help us be fulfilled.

Or other things such as drinking, drugs, sex, pornography, an illicit affair, etc. seem to offer us an exciting alternative to feeling the gnawing feeling that is eating us up inside. We know this path is wrong, but what are we to do? We are at the worst place imaginable: now that we are Christians, we are still stuck living a life of complete emptiness, but now we are not even able to even temporarily gratify our inner cravings by the indulging in the sins of the world. We feel confused, we feel lost, we feel miserable, and utterly hopeless.

Again, the emphasis of "we, we, we" focuses the problem: we are doing, we are therefore doing too much.

What is the work that we are called to do:

"Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

"Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (John 6:28-29)

The Heart of the Matter

John 6:35
35 Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry , and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. NIV

When we read this scripture, we see a promise from Jesus of complete spiritual fulfillment; one that promises to satisfy the cravings of our soul. And not only this, there are many others:

Ps 37:4
4 Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart. NIV

Ps 63:5
5 My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; NIV

Ps 73:25
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you. NIV

Phil 4:19
19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. NIV

John 10:10
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full . NIV

It is comforting that at last this devotional makes a point of providing Scripture to guide a Believer's growing understanding.

The Bible promises, and God delivers, a fulfilled life; one that fills the empty void that fills our hearts. Then why do we, as Christians, still feel as empty and as we did when we were lost? Why do we feel like if there is no possible way to have God in our lives, and maintain the joy the He promises with this relationship?

The answer is simple and lies in the center of this scripture:

Rev 2:4-5
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place. NIV

Similar to our experience, the church in Ephesus was doing what they were required to do, yet they lost their true purpose and motivation for doing it. They began with an excitement similar to ours, and they ended up confused and lost, similar to us. What happened? Plain and simple: Just like us, they had forsaken their first love.

Here we must undo grave misunderstandings about the gospel of Jesus Christ and our part.

What is the "first love"? Is it something that the Ephesians are supposed to do? Not at all!

"We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

The Ephesians had forsaken this first love: the Love of God which is already shed abroad in the heart of every Believer (Romans 5:5)

In this translation, "him" in 1 John 4:19 is implied. More accurately, we love (period!) because He first loved us. This agape love is not human, not natural, not innate to fallen man. It must be received, or it is not to be.

Yet, how can this be, since we still love God, still worship Him, do things in His name, and have made God the center of our lives? It is an interesting paradox. Yet Jesus clears the confusion when he says:

As written before, we cannot love God of our own accord. This confusion, this disdainful dependence on ourselves to manifest love on our own is doomed to fail, to make us feel weak and weary.

Rev 2:5
5…Repent and do the things you did at first…NIV

Do you remember what God required from us in exchange for our salvation, when we were first introduced to Him? Do you remember what we proclaimed as we committed our lives to Him at our conversion? Do the words, “Jesus is Lord” help us recall the depth of the commitment that we made when we first came to know God? The following scriptures may help jar our memory:

By repentance, we are called to change our minds, our will, so to speak. We are called to change our believing, not our actions. Jesus demands a heart transformation, not just behavior modification.

2 Cor 5:13-15
14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died . 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. NIV

Luke 14:33
33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. NIV

Luke 9:23-25
23 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. NIV

Or did we forget what Jesus required of every person whom he ever called to be his disciple:

Luke 5:11
11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. NIV

Luke 5:27-28
"Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. NIV

Luke 18:22
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him [Rich young ruler], "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." NIV Parenthesis and italics mine.

Phil 3:7-8
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. NIV

There is a profound error in all of this. The first gross assumption is that we have something to give, or to give up in the first place. In truth, we are like the debtor in Jesus' parable in Matthew 17. The only thing we have is an immense, infinite Sin debt which we cannot begin to defray. Full of compassion, fulfilling the unbending necessity of the Law, Christ came to the earth and died for us, reconciling fallen man to infinitely-righteous God (cf 2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

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