Summary: Following up on last week's message about the means of grace, this message talks about how we can use spiritual disciplines to allow God to bring the change that is needed in our lives.
The Promise of Change
The Company We Keep, prt. 7
Wildwind Community Church
June 13, 2009
Last week I spoke to you about “means of grace.” Let’s do a quick review. What are the means of grace? They are the ways you receive God’s grace into your life. This week I want to talk to you a bit more about why we need to be practicing “means of grace,” and give you an example from my own life, which will help me talk to you about how you apply these disciplines to your specific life situation in ways that will be productive and beneficial for you. This is a must because we have already established that simply praying and reading the Bible and attending church (all the “regular” stuff people do) does not bring the transformation that is needed in life. But the way of Christ is one of gradual but certain, and often observable, transformation. Let me make this clear. As Christians we often (at the beginning) WILL be mired in our vices – but we do not HAVE to be. Jesus has promised to lead us out of them and he will surely do that if we allow him to do so. Certainly that is God’s desire.
Galatians 5:22-23 (MSG)
22 But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments,
23 not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way.
Those are “fruits” of life in the Spirit of God. Rather than allowing Jesus to change our hearts so the right fruit grows on the tree, most Christians are out there trying to glue the fruit onto the tree. We see that a fruit of the Spirit is serenity, so we try to be serene. We see that another fruit is not needing to force our way in life, not needing to control outcomes. So we grit our teeth and try to pretend it doesn’t bother us when we don’t get our way. But underneath we often are NOT serene, and we usually DO need to control outcomes and are greatly bothered when people don’t act the way we want them to. This is what Jesus referred to as the rightness of the scribes and Pharisees. It’s a rightness that is “put on.” We see a certain standard, we adopt that standard, and then try to “act” the way we should.
Now there has never been a greater opponent to religious hypocrisy and fake holiness than Jesus. In fact Jesus said to ordinary people,
Matthew 5:20 (MSG)
20 Unless you do far better than the Pharisees in the matters of right living, you won't know the first thing about entering the kingdom.
In other words, the Pharisees are all trying hard to do the right thing, but they’re missing what matters most, which is cultivating a right heart. This kind of righteousness (by trying rather than training) leads to arrogance and pride in how “spiritual” we are.
Matthew 23:25-26 (MSG)
25 "You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony.
26 Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.
What is Jesus saying here? He is saying the inside has to change. The heart must be righteous. We must bring ourselves to where we are going far past just DOING what is right, to where we actually DESIRE what is right! See, we can do stuff with the wrong intentions, but our desires show who we are. Of course we can’t make ourselves desire right things, so we have to embrace spiritual practices, habits, and disciplines (means of grace) so that God over time can change our hearts – give us right hearts that deeply desire to do what is right. When our hearts are right we don’t have to glue the fruit on the tree – it grows naturally.
Matthew 12:33 (MSG)
33 "If you grow a healthy tree, you'll pick healthy fruit. If you grow a diseased tree, you'll pick worm-eaten fruit. The fruit tells you about the tree.
That’s the freedom and lightness Jesus refers to. We live freely and lightly when we can do right things out of hearts that are right.
This is not the way most people work. Most people desire to do right things, but they are prepared to do evil things when it suits their purposes. And then, when they do wrong, evil things, they defend them by saying, “You’d have done the same thing if you were me.” And indeed, many people would have. But the heart Jesus longs for us to have is a heart that is prepared only to do good, never evil – even when doing evil might seem to benefit us in some way. This heart is holy and righteous, but not conceited, because conceit cannot come out of this kind of heart.