Crucifying the Flesh by Faith

It is one thing to preach, teach, and discuss the need to “crucify the flesh”.  It is another matter altogether to put the idea into practice.  That is, how do resurrection-empowered saints “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24)?  At least three ways come to mind as we read the New Testament.

The first is to “walk by faith” (II Cor 5:7), another New Testament phrase that needs some explanation.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).  Faith is believing everything God has said is true even when temporal evidence – what we see, hear, and touch – would suggest otherwise.  Faith is believing God is active along the lines of His promises even when His work remains unseen.  Faith is believing in a world ruled by the Sovereign of the universe that operates in ways that are counter-intuitive to our natural way of thinking.  Faith is following God’s lead even when the path forward is dimly lit and the answers to our burning questions are slow in coming, if at all.

How “walking by faith” affects our moral decision-making or responses to temptation is best understood by comparing it to its opposite, “walking by sight”, since “we walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor 5:7).  Walking by sight sees the world as an amoral cause and effect relationship between my choices and my desired results.  If I cheat on my taxes, I will have more disposable income.  If I become angry enough at the store manager, he will resolve the situation in my favor.  If I squash my co-workers in a subtle (so I look like a team player) but effective manner, I will move quicker up the company ladder.  If I lie about this particular situation, I will get out of a jam.

All of these “walking by sight” choices see the world as a natural cause and effect relationship.  Walking by faith sees an unseen world governed by God’s commands that empowers us to resist temptation.  Practically speaking it looks like this.  Because I trust God for my finances, I resist the temptation to cheat on my taxes.  Because I trust God for the results of this business transaction, I will treat the store manager with respect and kindness.  Because I trust God for my career, I will put the interests of my co-workers above myself.  Because I trust God’s commands to be life-giving, I will tell the truth even when it appears to cause me harm.  This is living by faith.  And it has a very direct effect on our moral decisions.

When I walk by faith, I am believing what God said about His empowering me to make moral choices that line up with my new identity.  The New Testament focus on “walking by faith”, “walking in the Spirit”, and “walking in a worthy manner” all equate our “walking” with how we conduct ourselves in light of who we are as God’s seed, God’s children.  The Apostle Paul summed it up this way, in concluding that faith is not just for our initial salvation, but the very foundation of how we live the Christian life, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

Faith, Love, and the Watching World

In II Peter chapter 1, the apostle highlights some of the qualities of the fruitful life with the bookends of faith and love.  We wrote about faith last time.  Today, we want to concentrate on love.  Some writers see the list of II Peter 1:5-7 as a progression, starting with faith and continuing step-by-step through virtue, knowledge, self control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.  In this view, love is the ultimate goal.  Whether this list represents increasing maturity in the Christian life or not, we do know from the rest of the New Testament that love indeed is our highest goal.

Jesus taught it in the two great commandments.  Paul taught it throughout his letters.  In the book of I Corinthians, Paul elevates love as the final answer to division in the church.  He drove home the point in I Corinthians chapter 13 with his eloquent defense of love trumps knowledge, love trumps giftedness, love trumps good works.  John taught it in the great book on love, I John, as the natural outflow of our becoming the literal children of God.

Francis Schaeffer, in his book The Mark of the Christian, calls love, not only the tie that binds but the final apologetic for the church before the watching world.  He built the book around two verses and their context.  “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:35) and, “…that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that you sent Me.” (Jn 17:21).  Dr. Schaeffer goes on to conclude, “Love – and the unity it attests to – is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world.  Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”

Finally, coming back to faith and love together, Pastor Dwight Edwards writes, “This combination [of faith and love] is what puts God on display most noticeably before the world – our radical dependency in an unseen God plus our extraordinary concern for other people (especially fellow believers).  Paul calls it ‘faith working through love.’ ” (Revolution Within).

Entering the Kingdom

(7 of 8 in a series)

We enter the kingdom of God by faith.  We often think those who saw Jesus in person must have had an easier time embracing Him than those of us who came after and must come to Him by faith; not having seen, heard, or touched Him in the flesh.  But the faith requirement was just as real for Jesus’ contemporaries as it is for us.  We require faith because we did not see Jesus in the flesh.  They require faith for the very reason they did see Jesus in the flesh.  Look at this exchange in John chapter 6.  “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst…For I have come down from heaven…’  The Jews therefore were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ And they were saying, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How does He now say, “I have come down out of heaven”?’ “ (Jn 6:35,38,41-42).

Their faith requirement was to overcome the fact that they knew Jesus’ beginnings, or so they thought.  Jesus is making the basic proclamation, teaching the crowds in John chapters 5 and 6 and announced loudly at the feast in chapter 7, that He is indeed the giver of eternal life, the Messiah come down from heaven.  To the Jews this makes no sense.  The Messiah will come explosively and with power.  We know where you came from Jesus.  You are the child born to Joseph and Mary of Nazareth.  Besides knowing Jesus as a child, they also were sure that “the Christ is not going to come from Galilee, is He?” (Jn 7:41).  They knew where Jesus grew up among the common citizens of Nazareth.  In the Jewish mind, to quote the late Keith Green, “Messiahs don’t grow up from little boys.”

The entry on “faith” in The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary sums up well the first century faith requirement.  “A principal reason for the word faith appearing so often in the New Testament is the New Testament claim that the promised Messiah had finally come, and to the bewilderment of many, the form of the fulfillment did not obviously correspond to the Messianic promise.  It required a real act of faith to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah.  It was not long before “to believe” meant to become a Christian.  In the New Testament, faith therefore becomes supreme of all human acts and experiences.”

I believe one reason Jesus public appearances following His resurrection were so rare, at least in what we have documented, is because we too have a faith requirement to enter His kingdom just like the first century believers.  “To believe” is to enter the kingdom of God by faith.  Faith that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah, and faith that His finished work on the cross, confirmed by His resurrection, paid the price for our sin.  We enter the kingdom of God by faith.

Faith Energized by Love

I guess in a way the most unique attribute of God is just that: His uniqueness.  His holiness.  His set apartness.  His off-the-charts Godness.  In a comparative sense, God is untouchable, a one of a kind.  And the most unique attribute of God’s holiness, His uniqueness, is His love.  God is Love.  And that love found us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).  As Kenneth Osbeck writes in Amazing Grace, “Christ did not die merely to display God’s love – He died because God is love.”  God, in His very essence, is love.  And as a Christ follower, love should be our essence as well.  “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (Eph 5:1-2).  We imitate God best when we love.

If faith is the fuel of the supernatural Christian life (we are going nowhere without it), love is the accelerator that puts faith into motion.  James says, “Faith without works is dead” (Js 2:17).  Works give life to our faith.  And our works are a direct reflection of our love.  If we love well, we will serve well.  “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).  How do we have the motivation and power to serve well?  Through love.  “The love of Christ compels us, controls us, motivates us” (II Cor 5:14).

This kind of love is made possible by our new identity.  Paul begins his classic defense of the new identity – Romans chapters 5 through 8 – with this introduction, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exalt in hope of the glory of God…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given for us” (Rom 5:1-2, 5).  One of the ten million things that were given to us at our new birth is the assurance of God’s love.  We were justified by faith.  We were introduced to God’s grace by faith and in return the Holy Spirit literally “poured out” (vs 5) God’s love over us.  We were and are immersed in God’s love.  Take a minute to meditate on the concept of God’s love washing over you.  Let it sink in deeply.  We will explore some of the ramifications of that “outpouring” next time.

Faith and Fruit

“We walk by faith, not by sight” (II Cor 5:7).  The New Testament speaks of faith in primarily two ways.  A saving faith, which we wrote about in our last post, and a living faith, today’s topic.  Our introduction into Christ, into the family of God, required saving faith.  A belief that Jesus of Nazareth lived, died, and rose again as the promised Messiah, our substitute who paid the debt of our sins.  Likewise, our walk, our experience of the supernatural Christian life also requires faith.

When I embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, God placed within me a new nature, a new heart, and new Holy Spirit.  I can’t feel my new nature.  I can’t see my new heart.  I can’t observe the Holy Spirit roaming around inside His new home.  I believe they are there, not by what I see, but by faith.  My experience of these influences in my daily life is made active by a living faith.

A fruit tree is genetically bound to produce a certain type of fruit.  It cannot produce any other.  We are genetically bound by our new birth to produce a certain kind of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).  But our fruit production is not automatic.  The Bible speaks about two enemies:  Satan with his accusations, and the flesh with its temptations.  Just as a fruit tree’s production can be diminished by disease, so our experience of the Spirit’s fruit can be hindered by our enemies.

What is the key to overcoming our enemies?  Our faith.  “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (I Jn 5:4).  In Ephesians 6:16, Paul identifies one of our weapons in the fight against Satan and his accusations as “the shield of faith.”  Our faith matters.

The fruit of the Spirit is just that, fruit.  It is not work.  It is not a set of traits to aspire to, to work toward.  They are a holistic set of attributes that flow from the Spirit living inside us.  Faith is not one of the fruits.  Faith is the action whereby we appropriate the fruit.  I begin to practice the fruit of the Spirit and see its work in my life because I believe, by faith, that what God says about the new me and my spiritual capacity is true.  Let me say it again.  The fruit of the Spirit is appropriated by faith, not by working harder!