Our hearts and minds form the motherboard of our soul which determines not only our outward behaviors but our thought life as well. And like an operating system that directs the hard drive, we also appear to have default settings. Think about that for a second. Is your natural inclination, your default setting, to embody love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Hardly, right? Our natural state is one characterized not by the fruit of the Spirit, but by sin. Left to our own devices, we are prideful, selfish, materialistic, faithless, and discontent, and what’s worse is that somehow the little box with the words “restore default settings” is clicked upon every day, and oftentimes many times each day.
Yet the most basic tenet of the Christian faith is that we are saved by faith, not by works, so does that mean that this defaulting to our old behaviors and attitudes is inevitable and even irrelevant? Judging from the way some professing Christians live, that would certainly be a reasonable conclusion, but it’s far from biblical. Yesterday my pastor even said that it would be better if these people would stop calling themselves Christians, and as harsh as that may sound, it is the truth. (Listen to his sermon here). It is really a disservice to the Lord Jesus to claim to know Him while living a life without evidence of His presence.
But one of the problems with addressing this issue is our propensity to slip back into a works-based mentality, and Paul’s admonition to the Galatians is instructive. He says, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Gal. 3:3) We are justified by grace. In fact, we have absolutely no role whatsoever in our justification. We are blameless in the sight of God because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. And even our faith in Jesus is a gift from God, and not something we can boast about. But after justification there seems to be a fork in the road that has at least three prongs. Many people think that what they do does not matter. They cling to the thief on the cross and the promise that he would be in heaven that very day, erroneously reasoning that we need not have any fruit in our lives. Other people try to sanctify themselves, and Paul is aghast at the stupidity of it. It’s as if he were saying, “What is wrong with you people, do you really think that you can grow more Christ-like on the basis of human effort?”
But there is a third option that neither throws in the towel nor relies on our own good work. Simply put, it is biblical sanctification. Again, it is Paul who sheds light on this principle, advising that we “continue to work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2: 12-13) So in this life we may still wake up every morning with a need to unclick some sort of default setting, but praise God we have a Counselor who is faithful to help us in this endeavor, who will guide us and empower us to seek and do God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
May we live by the Spirit this week, and may He lead us into all truth.