Summary: God has given us stepping stones to help us grow in our walk with Him, but we are to always remember that it is His grace alone that saves!
Works of Death or Lives of Faith
Outside of the village was a spring with crystal clean looking water bubbling up and spilling over into a steam that rushed through the forest, around boulders, and swallowed up fallen trees. All of those who walked through the forest to make their way to neighbor’s huts or to forage for food knew about the spring. The serene sounds could be heard from a quarter of a mile away. Its crystal clear waters enticed the thirsty and weary to stoop down and quench their thirst while they rested on its banks. The spring was inviting, but no one dared indulge their thirst. All of the villagers knew that the spring was tainted, its waters foul, and if anyone dared to drink they would never forget the sickness that would seize them.
Appearances were appealing, but appearances are not always what they appear to be. The sights and sounds of the spring were inviting, but there was no relief for the thirsty. The villagers could have built rest stops along the banks of the stream, put together a public relations campaign to change the spring’s image, and hired an attorney to sue anyone who spoke negatively about the spring, but that wouldn’t have changed anything – from a fouled spring flows foul waters.
What is true for the tainted waters of the spring is also true for all of humanity. We can wage a public relations campaign to boost our image, put together a video of all of our wonderful acts of kindness and noble deeds, and make sure that “self-esteem” is our top priority, but God’s Word teaches that the spring of our hearts is fouled.
We may observe our actions and come to the conclusion that they appear good and virtuous. We may listen to wonderfully stirring speeches, songs, or sermons and conclude that they sound good. We may focus on the exterior and declare that we are good…and getting better everyday. We would be wrong.
In Romans 3:23, Paul said, “…all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Just four chapters later in his letter to the church in Rome, Paul wrote about our condition as he commented on his own predicament. Paul writes,
18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. (Romans 7:18 NIV)
We have the desire, but we can’t sustain our desire with consistency. “Sin” is not simply an act or a behavior; it is a state of being. If you want to get down to the root of our problem then you need to look beneath our behavior. Our predicament is not so much that we “sin,” as much as it is that we are “sinners.” Dogs bark. Bees sting. Birds fly. Fish swim. Skunks smell. Sinners sin. It is not what we do, but who we are that has us in this helpless state of frustration and failure. In Isaiah 64:6, the prophet wrote these powerful words,
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
What a picture you and I can get in our minds when we focus on Isaiah’s phrase, “…like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
I bet right about now you are thinking to yourself, “Boy, am I glad I came to church today.” This is just what you needed isn’t it? What you needed was another “downer,” right? What you needed was another reminder that you have fallen short, right? What you needed was something else to add to your list to work on, right? No, that is not where we are going this morning. You and I need to stop “working,” quit trying harder, stop seeking to “do” better. All of our best efforts will not get us over the hump. Giving it the “old college try” will not allow you and me to find our completeness and fulfillment in life. What we need is not a more concerted effort, but a total and complete transformation.
In our Scripture for today we are going to continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We need to review, to some degree, our last couple of times together so that our Scripture for today will make sense and flow from the situation going on in Antioch.
If you will remember Paul, Barnabas, and Titus took a trip to Jerusalem, to the Mother Church, to see the pillars of the Church – Peter, James, and John. The reason for their visit came about because Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to make the trip in order to demonstrate that the mission of those in Jerusalem was the same as the mission given by God to Paul and Barnabas. Even though they were reaching different people groups, their efforts and their message were the same – they were declaring that people are made right with God through God’s grace and His grace alone.