Louie was a dog with a serious side, being of German extraction. Playing ‘fetch’ was no game. It was growling serious that he ‘win’, that he possess that stick and keep it from lying lost on the lawn or being snatched away from him…This was his work and there was nothing playful in it. He was focused and serious. I suppose that’s why German Shepherds are chosen for police dogs and working occupations…
We made a good pair that way. I too see the serious side of any given incident, even if it’s meant to be a joke. I suppose I take even myself too seriously. Always have. It was once about earning A’s, pleasing the teacher, and so establishing my identity as a ‘good’ student. Did I transfer this mentality to God? I wonder sometimes. Do I work still for A’s so He’ll be pleased?
There’s one snag in the whole thing. I’m not really an ‘A student’ when it comes to the heart of the matter. ‘Full of dead men’s bones’ is how Jesus described anyone trusting in their own performance but not concerned about the hidden matters of the heart. Only Jesus can change that. I’ve just finished listening to an excellent series of messages by Charles Price, addressing what’s to be done to live the Christian life without it becoming a ‘try-harder-to-be-good’ sort of thing (which is futile, frustrating and a booby trap for prideful self-delusion!)
The concept of welcoming death to self in exchange for union with Christ keeps popping up for me. I’m a slow learner? No sooner did I finish this very encouraging series, then the following morning in church the message was taken from Romans 6—a matter-of-fact presentation on our ‘union with Christ’—the key to having any capacity to please God. United with Him in His death—so we have died to our old sin nature. United with Him in His resurrection—so we have a new life, His life, motivating us from within.
So there it was again, this Christ who IS my life. I so readily fall out of grace and into effort. Surely I must need to DO something myself to be really pleasing. I so readily forget it’s faith that pleases God and the obedience it engenders. To attempt obedience without faith is to follow Abraham’s misguided effort to fulfill God’s promise in his own strength. Disaster!
Another tell-tale sign of misunderstanding my standing as one dead, but alive despite myself, is that when I do fail or disappoint (myself or you!) it’s a hard blow, as if it threatened my whole identity! God is not disappointed. He knows me through and through, knows my points of weakness, knows what I’m made of and has all that covered with Jesus! From me He expects repentance and a confident coming to the ‘throne of grace’ for all I lack. It is enough. I am able to resume life, humbled maybe at the recognition of my own propensity for sin, but forgiven and unashamed, accepted in the Beloved. As I write this I am preaching it to myself. It does not come naturally or easily for this would-be-perfect-in-her-own-strength girl. Reminders come.
I guess that’s why I’ve so appreciated Price’s messages this week with their emphasis that the Christian life is not about self-improvement but about dependence on Christ to live HIS life through me. The devil’s not to blame, (or anybody else!). I am. But that’s OK. Repentance is a breath away. And it’s a relief to cast myself on One who really is good and wants to live His life out in me. He knows how to do it right!
What’s the trick? There is none. The most confusing thing about the Christian life, Price suggests, is its simplicity. You cannot live it without Christ but when you’re abiding in Him, by faith, things happen. It’s like flying. You can’t, until you’re in the plane. Then there’s nothing more to do but trust the plane to get you there. Even the anxious traveler arrives, though he may miss the pleasure of the trip! It boils down to faith. Just as I came to Jesus in the first place by faith acknowledging my helpless sin-bound state, so this is how He expects me to live the Christian life, by faith, dead to my old self and alive to Him.
I can get in a pretty serious state looking at the ‘old mare’ and her propensity for selfishness. I can be like Louie, taking life way too seriously. ‘This stick is mine and I’m going to see that it stays in my control’…But Louie had another side. A single word could transform him into an ecstatic, tail-wagging, happy bundle of energy. The “W” word, my friend used to call it. And if you have a dog, you know it well.
(shhhh… I’ll say it quietly) The word is walk. Why keep it quiet? Well once it’s out, there’s no rest for the speaker until the leash is fetched and the door opened!
I smile to myself to realize how the “W” word applies also to me. What will rescue me from my moribund hold on good intentions?
The Spirit invites me to WALK with Him. And as I do, all the rest of the Christian life falls into place. He’s got the trail planned. He knows the destination and all the highpoints and muddy crossings along the way. He directs my steps. I need only obediently trust His lead. This is the way to live the Christ life, not fixated on the flesh and what it’s up to but ambling down the road eager to comply with my Master’s directions. By faith heeding his: Heel, Fetch, Sit, Down, Wait… He’s got my days planned and my trails are by His appointment. I’m his concern after all. How carefree is that?
And look at the side-effects of walking by the Spirit..Not only will I not gratify the desires of my sin-bent nature (Gal.5:1) which do damage to myself and those around me, but there’ll be an overflow of love and joy and peace, patience and kindness and even goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22,23) Sounds like something to get excited about!
As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him… (Col.2:6)
Did Someone say, “WALK” ?!!!
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Gal.5:5,6
Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by works of the flesh? Gal.3:3
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Gal. 5:25,26
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Phil.1:6
Before I scamper off down the trail may I leave you with a poem that grabbed my heart this week. It portrays so well the relief of repentance and the joy that is its reward. Would we not cease to trudge downcast through life if we kept this gracious prospect in our mind’s eye?
“Come to myself, I trudge down distant roads.
Tired of the husks of life, I hurry home.
Knowing the cross awaits, I still must come,
Prepared to be a servant, not a son.
Your longing love outreaches me, outruns
My tardy progress borne on dragging feet.
Blessed, kissed, forgiven, lifted to my place,
I find the dreaded welcome sudden sweet.
Is this your punishment for sin, dear Lord?
The father’s kiss? The ring? The robe? The calf?
Heart-heavy, I had feared repentance, Lord.
I came to cry, and now you tell me, “Laugh!”
–Elizabeth B. Rooney
[from Storing September, 2001, p.75]
Charles Price’s series of 5 messages on letting Christ live His life in us were delivered at Prairie Bible College during “Christian Life Week”, Sept.25-27, 2012. They can be heard and/or downloaded at Prairie’s website under “Special Events” at: http://www.prairie.edu/page.aspx?pid=450