Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Tuesday, 20 June 2022:
Deuteronomy 17:1 – You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the LORD your God.
“God’s love moved Him to sacrifice that which meant the most to Him – His only Son. Our response, if we truly understand His love for us, is the desire to give back to God that which means the most to us.
The Old Testament reveals that God set forth high standards for the sacrifices He required of His people. A worthy sacrifice had to cost the people something. As their hearts shifted away from God, the people began struggling to give God costly offerings. They would bring blind, lame, and sick animals, assuming God could not tell the difference (Mal. 1:8). God saw what they were doing and declared their offerings to be in vain (Mal. 1:10). Throughout the Old Testament period, God was setting the stage for the ultimate, perfect, and sinless sacrifice of His Son for the sins of humanity.
The offerings we give back to God reveal our hearts’ condition. A heart that overflows with gratitude for God’s love will respond in selfless devotion. If we are unwilling to sacrifice our time, our possessions, our money, or our energy, we indicate that we do not love God as He desires. God takes delight in the person who gives to Him cheerfully out of a loving heart, a person who understands that God is the source of everything he has and who knows that God will more than compensate for whatever is sacrificed for Him (2 Cor. 9:8).
If you struggle in giving your best offerings to God, pause and reflect on what God sacrificed for you. Trust Him and give Him the best that you have because you love Him with all your heart.” (Henry T. Blackaby)
Galatians 5:1 – For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
“A spiritually-minded person will never come to you with the demand— ‘Believe this and that’; a spiritually-minded person will demand that you align your life with the standards of Jesus. We are not asked to believe the Bible, but to believe the One whom the Bible reveals (see John 5:39-40). We are called to present liberty for the conscience of others, not to bring them liberty for their thoughts and opinions. And if we ourselves are free with the liberty of Christ, others will be brought into that same liberty— the liberty that comes from realizing the absolute control and authority of Jesus Christ.
Always measure your life solely by the standards of Jesus. Submit yourself to His yoke, and His alone; and always be careful never to place a yoke on others that is not of Jesus Christ. It takes God a long time to get us to stop thinking that unless everyone sees things exactly as we do, they must be wrong. That is never God’s view. There is only one true liberty— the liberty of Jesus at work in our conscience enabling us to do what is right.
Don’t get impatient with others. Remember how God dealt with you— with patience and with gentleness. But never water down the truth of God. Let it have its way and never apologize for it. Jesus said, ‘Go…and make disciples…’ (Matthew 28:19), not, ‘Make converts to your own thoughts and opinions.’” (Oswald Chambers)
Galatians 5:22-26 — “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 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.”
The fruit of the Spirit is the product of supernatural power, unattainable through natural or human power alone. When you are crucified with Christ and raised with Him to new life in the Spirit, you ever-increasingly will be controlled by love where the law and willpower were inadequate restraints or inducements in your life. More and more, you will obey from a true desire or passion rather than through intense inner struggle which always disappoints –
- 1 John 3:5 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
- Hosea 6:6 — For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Still, as we continue to grow and mature in Christ, the struggle against the flesh, our sinful nature, continues –
- Romans 7:15-23 — For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Yet, as we strive, struggle and persevere, we must learn to simply “abide” in Jesus (John 15), to remain fully connected to Him, to trust in Him, to rest in Him, to enjoy Him, and receive Him fully that through Him and in Him, we can bear fruit naturally and abundantly.
- Romans 7:24, 25 – “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
- 2 Corinthians 12:9 — But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
- 2 Corinthians 9:8 — And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
- Philippians 1:6 — And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Concerning bearing fruit, Jesus had the following to say in John 15:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away [or “lifts up”], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
Again, what does a branch do to “abide” in the vine? It remains connected, receives from the vine, and responds by living and grow as the vine, like the vine, as it was designed from its conception to do. It bears fruit naturally, and it produces seeds for future growth in others.
If you want fruit from a tree, you don’t focus on trying to make a piece of fruit. You focus on growing a healthy tree. You think about what is required to make a tree healthy – quality soil, sunlight, water, etc. Also, you appreciate that fruit does not grow in a day, rather in a season, over time. As I consider the list of attributes in Galatians 5:22-26, I realize that if I step out today simply saying, “Today I resolve to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled,” I will surely be disappointed by my failures. Not that I shouldn’t make the effort, and I certainly will, but the quality of these attributes is the natural product of the condition of my heart. My focus must be on my heart (Proverbs 4:23), and the condition of my heart depends on the quality of my relationship with Jesus Christ. So, I must prioritize my relationship with Jesus today, and let the fruit of that relationship reveal itself naturally. As someone once said, I must be a “root inspector” rather than a “fruit inspector.” If I am rooted in Christ, my fruit will reveal it. If I am “out of step” with the Spirit, my fruit will likewise reveal it, primarily in my relationships with others – “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.” (Galatians 5:25-26) Focus on loving Jesus and obeying Him in love, and the rest will come naturally. As a tree needs the right conditions or environment for healthy growth (quality soil, sunlight, water, etc.), we too need the right conditions for healthy growth in Christ – solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice, study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, and submission. If we neglect these “spiritual disciplines,” if we allow today’s worries crowd these things out like weeds in the garden, our relationship with Jesus, our abiding, will suffer and our fruit will reveal it.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) How can taking up a yoke and a cross be restful, easy and a light burden? Well, it is easy to do what you love and really want to do, isn’t it? Great athletes and musicians go through strict training and practice most wouldn’t because they really want to master their passion, and at the big event, they make it look easy. Their passion inspires their practice which prepares them for their performance and the prize. The Bible exhorts us to “practice righteousness” (Phil 4:9; 1 Tim 4:15; Hebrews 5:14; 2 Peter 1:10; 1 John 2:29, and 1 John 3:7) with the joy and passion of a committed athlete so that obeying Jesus (competing against Satan on the field of life) is not hard –
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 — “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
- 1 John 5:3 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Athletes, musicians, and anyone hoping to perform well practice skills or habits until they become second nature (you do them without even realizing it). At first practice is hard, but later the desired skills become “natural” and instinctive. However, even when skills become natural through practice, all practitioners understand that skills are perishable – if you don’t use them you lose them. So, you have to keep practicing and refining the skills you have to retain them and gain more. Likewise, we must practice righteousness until it becomes second nature, natural, instinctive; and then we need to keep practicing, but practicing should become a habit you hardly realize you are even doing. Jesus said, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” (Matthew 6:3) How is this possible? Only after practicing giving for so long, you do it without even thinking about it. Likewise, we must practice all other attributes of love and righteousness to the point where they no longer describe what we do but rather who we are. Becoming and all-star athlete isn’t just a decision, it is a life commitment and lifestyle, a way of being. Similarly, as Christians, we must commit our lives to realizing the righteousness we have already received in Christ. We fail daily in our practice, but we are getting better every day and getting ready for the big win when Christ returns.
- Proverbs 4:18 — “But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.”
- 2 Peter 1:10 — Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
- 1 John 2:29 — If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
- Hebrews 5:14 — But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
- 1 Timothy 4:7, 10, 15-16 — Rather train yourself for godliness…. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe…. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
- 1 John 2:6 — …whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
- 1 John 3:6, 9 — No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him…. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
The mighty oak does not grow over night. Focus on abiding in Jesus so you may produce spiritual fruit naturally, passionately, joyfully, easily, and without even thinking about it.
Galatians 5:24 – And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
“The natural life itself is not sinful. But we must abandon sin, having nothing to do with it in any way whatsoever. Sin belongs to hell and to the devil. I, as a child of God, belong to heaven and to God. It is not a question of giving up sin, but of giving up my right to myself, my natural independence, and my self-will. This is where the battle has to be fought. The things that are right, noble, and good from the natural standpoint are the very things that keep us from being God’s best. Once we come to understand that natural moral excellence opposes or counteracts surrender to God, we bring our soul into the center of its greatest battle. Very few of us would debate over what is filthy, evil, and wrong, but we do debate over what is good. It is the good that opposes the best. The higher up the scale of moral excellence a person goes, the more intense the opposition to Jesus Christ. “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh….” The cost to your natural life is not just one or two things, but everything. Jesus said, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself…’ (Matthew 16:24). That is, he must deny his right to himself, and he must realize who Jesus Christ is before he will bring himself to do it. Beware of refusing to go to the funeral of your own independence.
The natural life is not spiritual, and it can be made spiritual only through sacrifice. If we do not purposely sacrifice the natural, the supernatural can never become natural to us. There is no high or easy road. Each of us has the means to accomplish it entirely in his own hands. It is not a question of praying, but of sacrificing, and thereby performing His will.” (Oswald Chambers)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 20 June 22: Abide in Christ today and every day.