12th Sunday After Pentecost: Living By Faith
Many Christians through the ages, have sincerely sought after holiness and victory over sin by taking up their cross and denying themselves. But they have often found the Christian life to be a "hard grind" instead of the glorious life that the Bible describes. Their failure has been this, that they never understood the life of faith under the new covenant. They sought to be holy by the principles of the old covenant and thus missed what God had for them.
Our epistle reading for today, specifically 2 Corinthians 3:6, tells us that the new covenant is a ministry of the Spirit that brings life, whereas the old covenant was a ministry of the letter that brought death! And if we walk according to the letter of God's commandments - even in the new covenant - it will still bring death. Only if we live by faith and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, will we enter into the "life of Christ".
Since Jesus has now ascended on high and sent the Holy Spirit to this earth, our life can be far more glorious than that of any Old Testament saint. So if we find ourselves living under condemnation, depression and gloom today, it must be because we are still living by old covenant principles (2 Corinthians 3:9).
There were two things that Jesus emphasized frequently in His ministry - faith in God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Adam missed this life of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit when he chose the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life (Genesis 2:9). He chose to have the knowledge of good and evil resident within himself, instead of being dependent on God for it.
The tree of life represents the life of faith under the new covenant while the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents a life of self-effort under the old covenant.
If Adam had chosen the tree of life he would have lived by faith - in constant dependence on God. Then the Holy Spirit would have given him Divine life. But instead, he chose to live in dependence on himself, independent of God. And so he died. All unbelievers live like this - without constant dependence on God. Unfortunately many believers live this way too.
All religions teach their followers to do good and to avoid evil. Christians who seek after holiness also do good and avoid evil. And in their pursuit of holiness, these different religions usually end up making finer and finer distinctions between good and evil, through various rules and practices!! Yet most of them still never come to a genuinely holy life. Why? Because they seek it by their own works of righteousness done in the flesh instead of works of righteousness according to the spirit. (Romans 8:4).
True holiness is the life of God in the soul of man - and God has to give this to us as a gift. We can never attain to it. We must receive it by faith.
Paul said that in the days when he was unaware of the Law's demands, he felt he was "alive". But when he understood the demands of the Law of God, he became so aware of the wrongs in his life that he felt "dead" (Romans 7:9)!! This is the experience of many who are Christians as well. They appear to be happy and "alive" as long as they hear only about the forgiveness of their sins. But as soon as they hear about victory over sin and obedience to God's commandments, they feel condemned and miserable and "dead".
But Paul did not stop with the old-covenant law - and neither should we. God showed Paul another law - the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. This was the law that finally set him free from sin (Romans 8:2).
Many seek to be holy by doing good. Remember that Eve ate of the tree because it looked good!! She wasn't seeking to do something evil!! She ate the fruit, not because she wanted to become like the devil, but because she wanted to become like God - for that was what the devil had promised her (Genesis 3:5). People who live according to the Law also make the same mistake today - thinking that they can be like God through external good works, without the internal transformation wrought by the Holy Spirit.
Christianity is unique in that its veracity, truthfulness, is entirely dependent upon the supernatural, transforming work which God does in the heart of His followers (1 John 2:5, 1 John 3:14)
Much of the good that we see in the lives of many Christians comes, not from genuine holiness, but from a good upbringing. Many of these Christians are upright, but they don't have a passionate hunger after God. They spend their lives accumulating Bible knowledge, but without any revelation from God. As a result, their lives are not much different from the lives of some good unbelievers around them. All such believers have missed something vital that God wants them to have - the Divine nature.
God is not first of all trying to make us do good, but to make us trust in Him so that He can give us His nature. In His eyes, the righteous are not those who do good but those who live by faith in Him, which will produce the good. Romans 4:5-6 says, “But to him that worketh not, yet believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reputed to justice, according to the purpose of the grace of God. As David also termeth the blessedness of a man, to whom God reputeth justice without works”
Saint Paul tells us in Romans 14:23, that “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”
Saint Augustine, whose feast it is today, in his Lectures on the Gospel According to St. John, cites Romans 14:23 as a universal statement covering all human conditions: Not that you may say, “Before I believed I was already doing good works, and therefore was I chosen.” For what good work can be prior to faith, when the apostle says, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”? (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 7)
And Yet Saint James tells us that “Faith without works is dead.”
It almost sounds like a contradiction....almost
William Booth along with his wife, Catherine, founded the Salvation Army in 1865. He was known as the “prophet to the poor” and she was known as the “Mother of the Salvation Army.” The Salvation Army is known for being one of the largest distributors of humanitarian aid.
When it comes to faith and works, I think William Booth put it best when he said.
“Faith and works should travel side-by-side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again -- until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”
So this week, let us remember that “it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” But at the same time we are to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Understanding that “faith without works is dead”, but at the same time, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”