Living by faith means we depend upon God; particularly we depend upon his mercy, forgiveness and underserved kindness to us in every situation and on into eternity. It means we depend on him when things are good, and when they are not good. It means we trust even when we don’t understand.
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Download Galatians Part 7
Galatians #7 . Chapter 2:19-21
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:19-21, ESV2011)
Last week in our small-group, someone raised this question about trust: How do we do it? It’s a good question. Paul said in the verses we studied last time, that we are justified by faith. We looked at what that means. Now, in these verses, he says that we “live by faith in the Son of God.” So how do we “do” trust? How do we live by faith?
Paul says here that living in faith/trust starts with dying. He says he died to the law. He was crucified with Christ. I think being crucified with Christ means several things. First, that is how God accomplished our justification. When we trust Jesus, we were punished by Christ’s crucifixion. We deserved to die because we cannot meet the holiness standard* (*see last week’s message). So we did die – through Jesus.
Laws only apply to live people. You can’t serve a prison term if you are dead. You can’t obey traffic laws if you are dead. There is no relationship between the law and dead people. So, because we died in Jesus, we are dead to the law. According to the law, we were punished and killed and buried with Christ. So living in faith means we are done with the law. We are done with thinking we can make ourselves holy. We are done with thinking we can earn something from God.
Therefore, part of living in faith, means recognizing that we can’t do anything. We always want God to do things for us. But dying to the law and living in faith means that we can’t get him to do anything for us. Our own resources are useless. There’s no plan, and no back-up plan. We have to abandon ourselves to Him.
I have met people who seem to turn “live by faith” back into a law. They suggest that the reason you don’t have enough money is because you aren’t claiming it by faith. Others might say that if you are sick, it is because you have not claimed your healing by faith. Their idea is this: you must “speak the word of faith” and believe it with all your might; also, you must avoid speaking or thinking words of doubt.
These people frequently says things like this: “I am not accepting this diagnosis of appendicitis. I am speaking against it in the name of Jesus. I claim his healing, and I am believing on Jesus for it.” Then, if they are healed, they chalk it up to their exertion of faith. If they are not healed, and have to have surgery, they think they somehow failed to have enough faith, or maybe they didn’t speak the right promise.
It sounds exhausting to me. In fact, it sounds a lot like living by law. If this is how to “live by faith” then it is still all up to you. If have the right kind of faith and speak the right words and avoid saying things that express doubt about an outcome, then God has to respond by making everything right for you. But if you fail to do these things, then the bad outcome is your own fault. Brothers and sisters, this is just another version of the law. The good news is, it isn’t up to us. But the scary thing is, it isn’t up to us. We can’t control God either by obeying the law or by “speaking in faith.” Living by faith means we allow him to be in control.
We have to depend on his choice of mercy and grace, even when we don’t understand why he makes certain choices. We have to trust that he truly does love us with an unimaginably great love, that he always has our best in mind. We have to trust those things to be true, even when we don’t understand what we are going through in life. Living by faith means we depend upon God; particularly we depend upon his mercy, forgiveness and underserved kindness to us in every situation and on into eternity. It means we depend on him when things are good, and when they are not good. It means we trust even when we don’t understand.
Now, I realize that some people may read this and say, “but you still aren’t telling me how to do it. What do I do?” I am very cautious about giving specifics, because we could easily turn them back to into laws that we think we have to obey to get right with God. If I give you seven steps to living in faith, will you really live by faith, or will you live by those seven steps?
It’s a little bit like gardening. How do you make flowers or vegetables grow? You don’t. You can prepare the soil. You can water the plants. You can plant seeds in places that get the right amounts of sunlight and soil drainage. But you can’t make them grow. Nobody grows anything. We tend to things that grow. But the growth itself is beyond us. All we can do is try to maximize conditions for growth to take place.
Living by faith is exactly like that. You can take advantage of certain things so that you are in a position to live by faith. But the life – according to Paul – is lived by Jesus, not by you. Jesus has to do it. All we can do is maximize conditions for him to live our lives. This is what he means when he writes: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
A friend of mine, and one of my mentors in ministry, wrote this on Facebook this week. It is a specific example of what I am talking about:
“I am experimenting asking Jesus if He wants me to give to those standing at stop signs on street corners. I do not meant to sound spiritual with this. I am seriously asking Jesus what He wants me to do. Sometimes I hear yes, sometimes I hear, you decide, sometimes I hear nothing. The question is not, “What would Jesus do WWJD??” but what does Jesus want me to do? I am learning how to live my life in the kingdom with Jesus as Jesus would live my life if He were who I am.” – Pastor Joe Johnson (emphasis added)
It is no longer Joe who lives, but Jesus who lives in Joe. What Pastor Joe wants, is to let Jesus have the freedom to express himself through Joe’s life. That is what it means to live by faith. It has nothing to do with pleasing God. It has nothing to do with controlling life, or using God to make life work out better. It is about depending on the Lord, so that he can do in you and through what he wants.
So please don’t turn what follows into rules that please God. You can’t please God. Jesus did that for you. You can’t live like Christ. Instead, Jesus Christ uses your life to express his own will and intentions in the world. All we can do is let him – or not.
With all that in mind, here are some things we can do that help us to allow him to live his life more fully through us.
Read the Bible. The bible reveals Jesus to us. If we want to live in dependence on him, it is helpful to know him. Reading the bible doesn’t make you a better person. But it does help you get to know Jesus, and the better you know him, the easier it is to trust him. It isn’t a law or a rule. But it’s hard to trust a stranger. So as you read the bible, Jesus becomes more real, more familiar and trust is easier. The Bible is one of the primary ways, and is certainly the most reliable and important way, that God speaks to you. If you never hear someone talk, it will be hard to get to know him. Reading the bible is like listening to the Lord. Sometimes he says things that we don’t understand, or that seem irrelevant. That is just because we are very young spiritual children. As we grow, we will gradually understand more and more. So regular contact with the bible is for us, what sunshine is for plants. It will cause us to grow. Here are two tips: ask God to reveal himself whenever you read the bible. If you aren’t a big reader, just read a chapter or less at one sitting. Or, get the bible on CD or MP3 and listen to it while you drive. It’s not a law. But it will really help you to live by faith.
Pray conversationally. I have had one long ongoing conversation with God going back to at least 1979. A lot of it is pretty stupid, and from one angle, embarrassing. I remember asking him for things that I am now glad he didn’t give me. I think once I asked him to help me win at marbles. I was playing a kid whose parents were Hindu. I didn’t ask for the kid or his family to become Christians. I just wanted to win his marbles. A lot of my prayers over the years have been like that: childish, selfish and ignorant. A lot of them probably still are. Most of them missed the point. But they had one redeeming quality that overrides all the problems: they were the expression of a life of faith. What I mean is, I was always relating to the Lord. He was always with me. He was there, so I talked to him. I didn’t know Him as well as I do now. I understood Him even less. But I treated him as if he were real and he was with me, and indeed, he was and is. I didn’t have to get it all right. The important thing was, I was constantly living in trust. I wasn’t always living in understanding. I wasn’t always living in external righteousness. But I was living in faith. That’s all he wants. If we live in faith, he can take care of the other stuff. So talk to him. He’s there. Talk to him just like you would any other friend. You can’t get this wrong.
Engage in real relationships with other Christians. Jesus designed the church – the community of those who follow him. He says he is committed to building it. The church is body of Christ, and the Bride of Christ. Jesus says he is with us in a special way when we gather together in his name. So, if you truly want to let Jesus live his life through you, we need to recognize that he really enjoys hanging out with people who are gathered to together to worship him and listen to him. No church is perfect, because we keep getting in the way of Jesus living his life through our lives. But as we truly commit to each other to love each other, in spite of our annoying habits and serious flaws; as we commit to supporting each other as we struggle with life in general and faith in particular, Jesus is with us in a special way. We can learn from each other. Even the flaws and failings of other Christians can be used by Jesus help us to grow. When we stumble the other Jesus-followers around us can help us back to our feet.
By the way, the best place I know of for real, authentic Christian relationships is in small groups of other Christians – fifteen or fewer people gathered together to hang out with Jesus and help each other along.
Music. The first three things to help us live in faith are for everyone. There is no one on earth who would not benefit from all three of those, in terms of getting closer to Jesus. Music isn’t for everyone. It doesn’t do anything for some people. But for a large majority of people, music can help us connect with the life of Jesus in a special way. It doesn’t have to be particularly Christian music either. I know that there is music out there that glorifies violence, or that glorifies and encourages immoral sexuality. Obviously, that kind of thing probably won’t help you to depend upon Jesus in faith. But there are many other songs and musical pieces that can encourage your faith, even if they aren’t explicitly Christian. If you find it helps you feel close to Jesus, make use of it. I suggest that you invite Jesus into your ears as you listen. Say to him, “hey, I love this song. What do you think of it?”
Beauty/Joy. I find my trust in Jesus encouraged by experiences of beauty and joy. I can put myself in a position to experience these things, and thus increase my trust in Jesus. I can’t always have an experience like I want to, but I have discovered certain things that often lift my heart and increase my faith. More often than not, when I am alone at a place of beautiful scenery, I feel closer to Jesus. When I am in the wilderness, I feel it. When I connect with nature through the feel of a fish on the end of my line, I experience a kind of joy and often feel more thankful to Jesus. For some people, they feel it when they exercise. Others get it by building something, or by being with certain people, or by helping folks who need it. Some get it by creating works of art, and others by admiring those works of art. If you start paying attention, you’ll soon learn the kinds of things that are helpful for you.
Christian faith is not a method for getting God to do what you want him to do. It is a life of dependence on Jesus, and learning to let him do what he wants to do through you.
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