Behold Your God — Week Six, Day Five

7 Jul

Today’s study covers some of the pitfalls we may encounter along the way in our pursuit of holiness. The Christian Classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, covers these pitfalls in a creative and comprehensive way, so I recommend it to you if you have opportunity to read it.

Our study opens today with the slippery slopes we may encounter as we seek to live a holy life. The first is self-indulgence. We may rejoice in our salvation in Christ and believe that the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God gives us freedom to do what we want. God does want us to be happy, but He knows that happiness only truly comes for us when we submit to God’s lordship and walk in His ways. As Paul says in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

The other slippery slop is legalism. Legalism is not a desire for obedience or a willingness to please God through what we do. Instead, legalism is when we try to use our efforts to earn God’s favor or gain God’s acceptance. Whereas self-indulgence often produces in us a spiritual laziness, legalism often produces a judgmental spirit.

Think of these slippery slopes as two ditches on either side of the narrow way of holiness.

There are other ditches along the way as well. Without the foundation of relationship with Jesus, we have no hope of following God. So we can say that God tells us to keep His commands, and this is true. But in context Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The walk of holiness is never disconnected from a love relationship with Jesus. The reason this is so is that this relationship empowers us for obedience. This is what days 3 and 4 of this week’s study were all about. If you are unsure about how this works, go back and review days 3 and 4.

The final slippery slope is the matter of our motivation. Why do we do what we do? That is an important question to ask from time to time. I have found in pastoral ministry that my heart is revealed and often I am not happy with what is revealed. I find I can do ministry out of a desire to be liked or admired. I can do ministry out of a desire to be important or powerful. I can minister in a self-centered way, just participating in those areas of ministry in which I am gifted and comfortable. I can minister in competition with other churches. I can do ministry in a hundred wrong ways. It is helpful for me to step back from time to time and ask myself, “Are you ministering primarily by faith, in love and gratitude for Jesus? Or is one of these lesser motives driving your ministry?” To be clear, wrong motivations are lingering just under the surface in most of our lives. This side of glory, our hearts will never be perfectly pure. But what is the trajectory of our lives? Who are we serving, Jesus or self? What is motivating us, love for God or self-exaltation?

A final word. Even though we do walk on a narrow way as Christians there is no need to live in fear. There is a sense in which many of us walking on a narrow path with deep ditches on both sides might be a little fearful. That is understandable. But don’t be paralyzed with fear, always second-guessing yourself and endlessly probing to make sure you’re on the path. Just focus on the path and focus on the horizon (see Philippians 3:12-14 and Hebrews 12:1-3) and you’ll reach your destination without getting sidetracked or sidelined.

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