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I assume that most people believe, that they would never have been able to achieve a right standing before God without Jesus. But I also am afraid that many Christians are falling into the trap of the Pharisee Spirit, once they have been made new!
What is the Pharisee Spirit?
If we take a look at the gospels, we can pretty fast see a difference between the people who were considered sinners and the people who considered themselves righteous. The difference is in how Jesus dealt with each group.
The Sinners were the people that Jesus had a lot of kindness and gentleness towards, leading them on the path of following him for their forgiveness. The Pharisees, however, often had to experience a different Jesus. Often he would publicly expose their wrong attitude, have long debates with them and even call them names! (Matthew 12:34)
This is not Jesus, sinning in his anger, this is Jesus being in absolute unity with the heart of the father… like always.
The problem is in the heart condition. Once we have gained knowledge of the truth and we repent towards Christ, we understand that it is by grace we have been saved. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But we make the mistake and think that now we need to finish it out of our own effort. Nothing could be further from the truth!
My dear friends, just as our justification and salvation have been a complete act of grace, meaning we have done NOTHING to receive it, in the same way our sanctification (our transformation into the image of Christ) is completely by the grace of God!
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:4-6, NIV)
Paul was not anxious for the Philippians. He was joyful in his prayers, because he knew that God would complete his work in them! No doubt! He was confident.
The same epistle tells us to “work out” our salvation with fear and trembling, because God is the one who works in us the will and acting of the good deeds he has planned for us to do. (Philippians 2:12+13) Makes no sense first. But it does when you consider this:
Rick Warren once said in an interview with John Piper, ( http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/john-piper-interviews-rick-warren-on-doctrine ) that we only work out what is already there. If we go to the gym, we work out our muscles, but God is the one who gave the muscles. Now, in the same way, our salvation is from God and we work out its completion until Christ returns. But it is God who gives us the will and the acting, so that the whole thing is completely by… grace!
The Pharisees were blind towards grace! They believed that it is out of their own will and action, that they would be considered righteous before God. This blindness is so dangerous, that Jesus always had to pull the hammer and smack the truth against their darkened minds, so that this prideful spirit would gain no ground in the minds of their listeners!
The Pharisee Spirit rejects grace. It hates grace. And even if a Christian knows that salvation is by grace, he can still be trapped by this spirit and try to produce sanctification through works!
Now, do not get me wrong! Doing good deeds is something, maybe THE thing, that the New Creation carries as its trademark. But they are the fruit of something deeper.
Living and walking in the Spirit of Christ means, that we fully trust in God’s grace. We get up in the morning and know, that it is only by grace that we even opened our eyes just a second ago. Everything happens by grace. In the same way, we can do nothing without Christ.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5, NIV)
Jesus is the manifestation of God’s grace! If we want to remain in him, we have to remain in grace! We need to believe that he is the FOUNDER and PERFECTER of our faith! (Hebrews 12:2)
Nothing will happen out of our own will and effort. Everything will only happen HOW and WHEN Jesus decides it. I can figure out strategies to become more holy and try to act on them, they will only fail! If something works, it is by grace… if it doesn’t it is by grace! We need to stop writing books (or blogs) about strategies that helped us to walk in the Spirit… they only worked because of grace!
I want to challenge you to get rid of everything I have written about sanctification in former blogs, if it appears to produce self-righteousness in you! I apologize for this, and I want you to know that I have been made aware of the danger of my writings! Please write me if you are confused. Or just trust that God will make the things I have taught work or not. If not, just keep trusting him! He will give you grace to grow in his own time…
We have been made righteous by grace and we act accordingly by grace!
Self-Righteousness, which is the Pharisee Spirit, thinks: “I can do this now. I will show God how much I was worth dying for! How much I love him! I will make him proud of me!”
God is not interested in us showing our gratitude by works, but in showing our gratitude by trusting him for even more grace, trusting him to finish his work! Faith is what pleases him, not works! Works are a result of faith!
If the Pharisee Spirit is at work, you will try to become more like Jesus by your own efforts. Paul told the Galatians, that this disqualifies them from the grace that actually will change them. The whole book actually deals with that topic! It is worth studying, if God put such an emphasis on it!
If we try to start or finish the whole process of our salvation, we are deceived! We need to stop and let God do his work, trusting that his grace is what teaches us to “say no to ungodliness”.
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14, NIV)
Now to close it: What is the part that the grace of God does and what is ours?
WE: Wait, ask for more grace and the things we need God to do and are being taught to say NO to sin, to live self-controlled and godly lives.
GOD: Teaches us by grace and works in us what we ask for, after he redeemed us and purifies us for himself to do good deeds.
Wait for God’s grace to work things in your life! Ask him for all things which the word says you need! Take his word and wait for grace to make it real in your life! Trust HIM! He works all things for his purpose! (Romans 8:28+29)
Do not think that you could just do this work yourself! It is a blockade for grace, if we try to create strategies for our sanctification. And God will resist us in our pride, until we are humbled enough to trust in his grace, which is sufficient for us! (James 4:6, 2 Corinthians 12:9)
The New Creation lives by faith in God’s grace… it is that easy… his burden is THAT light!
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; (Proverbs 3:5, NIV)
Grace be with you