Turning the Key

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Apart from faith it is impossible to please God. Without faith, we cannot please Him. Think of without in the older sense as the opposite of within rather than not having. If I am without my house, I’m outside it. If I’m within a house, I’m inside it. From within faith it is possible to please God. Outside of reliance, faith, trust, it’s impossible to please Him. Think of God as the power outlet, yourself as the machine, and faith as plugging in the power cord.

Or faith as turning the key in the ignition.

Many Christians spend all their time pushing their Porsche down the freeway.

“What are you doing?”

“Well, I’m tryin’ to be like Jesus. You should, too. You’re not pushing your Porsche hard enough. It’s not fair.

We need to get in and turn the key. Everything else in the Christian life flows from that. Pushing the Porsche doesn’t please God; it’s way too slow to effectively get where we need to go; we know that, deep down. Exerting that kind of fleshly effort on something that’s completely useless is…well…Hell. Talk about burnout! Turning the key starts the engine of Christ, and the fuel of the Spirit, and the Father says, “Let me show you what this thing can do.” That’s what pleases God – getting in and starting the engine.

We can intellectually believe God’s promises and yet never appropriate them, never take hold of them in a personal way. The demons have that kind of belief. They believe God keeps his promises; that’s why they tremble, because He has promised them condos in the lake of fire.

Think of our children. If they were afraid of us, and constantly putting on a show of deference and doing whatever we said (and only when we were watching), treating us like fearsome tyrants, it would annoy and sadden us. They would not be operating from within faith; within fear would be more like it. It might make some of their actions look good on the outside, but we’d see the heart of their actions was fear and not faith. From that attitude it would be impossible for them to please us, no matter what they did.

What we really want is for them to trust us, to rely on us, to take us at our word. If they do so, their actions will spring from that faith in us. They will obey, not because they’re afraid of punishment, but because they trust us.

God blesses us according to that trust attitude. “According to your faith, it shall be done unto you.” When our kids trust us and do as they are asked, we bless them, because we can trust them with blessing. If we rely on God to take care of our needs, we give obediently because we trust – and He blesses us back.

God’s design, His plan for each of us, is to soak into all those hard pockets of unbelief in us, to bring us into total reliance on His Word, His power, His Spirit in us. And when we do that, when we walk in total reliance, He manifests Himself through us to others. That, right there, is the entire point of the Christian life.

But to get from A to Z, faith is the way. It’s “by faith from first to last. ” The Christ-ian road begins with an act of faith that springs from a recognition of our need. I need a Savior. I make the leap: Jesus, you are my Savior. And so by faith He becomes Savior to me – I appropriate His Blood.

The rest of the Christian life is the same. “Did you get the Spirit by works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?” “As you began in the Spirit, so walk in Him.” Where I see need in myself, He is the supply, because “in Christ I have everything I need for life and godliness.” I appropriate the eternal reality here-and-now by faith, by reliance on God and His Word. He is my indwelling power, my love, my passion, my peace, my purity – right here, right now. All I need to do is rely on Him, to stand in faith that He cannot lie, and soon the muddied trickle of God’s life through me becomes a brook, then a stream, then a river of living water for others.

Apart from reliance there can be no pleasing God. 1Cor 3 says that we have to take care to build properly on the foundation that was laid in us. Christ is the foundation, laid by faith – “Jesus, thank you that you are my Savior; forgive my sins and come to live in me.” That’s a faith act. Now, if we go on and build on that with works of our fleshly effort, striving to keep God’s approval by what we do and don’t do, we will make it into heaven, but only as refugees escaping through the flames. Building with works of human effort on top of that initial faith act is like building with wood, hay, and stubble. Those materials can’t withstand the Consuming Fire that is our God.

Don’t get me wrong. If we trust God and rely on His Word, He’ll produce His good works through us. We will bear fruit – but it will not be our own fruit. It’ll be the fruit of the Spirit. We will have love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, humility, faith – and that fruit of the Spirit coming through us will refresh everyone we know who takes and eats of it.

But we don’t focus on life change. We put our mind on trusting God. We are transformed by that mind renewal.

We can think of the Ten Commandments this way:

If I trust God as knowing what’s best and that He has only my good in mind, as a natural outcome of trusting Him I’ll have no other gods before Him.

If I trust God as my All in all, that in Him I have everything I need for life and godliness, that reliance will keep me from making idols out of money, my job, my house, my possessions, my wife or kids, my intellect, my talents – or myself.

As a natural outflow of trusting God I won’t misrepresent Him or use His name flippantly or in swearing; His name will be too precious to me to do that, because my life depends on His name.

If I trust God, who said in Hebrews that I am to cease from my own works and enter into His Rest, then I will learn to rest – not merely on Sunday, but I will cease from all my flesh-effort striving, coping, and trying to make life “work.” I’ll enter into reliance on Him and cease from fleshly striving in an eternal Rest that begins here and now.

If I trust God, who is sovereign, I’ll honor my father and mother because I’ll know that God placed me with them for good eternal reasons.

If I trust God to be my indwelling Love, that trust will keep me from murder – from taking someone’s life in revenge or passion – because “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” It will protect me from hating anyone in my heart because I recognize the Holy Spirit’s Love for them as inside me and being my permanent possession, and I rely on that Love.

If I’m trusting God to be my indwelling Purity, that reliance will keep me from committing adultery – even in my mind. Trusting Him as my indwelling Purity causes that Purity to flow into my thoughts and attitudes.

If I trust God to be my Supply, that reliance will keep me from stealing for any reason whatsoever.

If I’m really trusting God to provide all my needs, that reliance will keep me from lying – which includes fudging on my taxes and saying “I was sick” when I wasn’t.

If I trust God, that trust will keep me from wishing I had other people’s stuff. I will trust that God has given me exactly everything I really need.

It’s the devil’s way to flip all this around backwards. “Prove the reality of your trust by focusing on your behavior. Try to be more like Jesus” (When I say we’re to live by faith, I wish I had ten bucks for every time I’ve heard some variant of “You should at least be trying!”). We end up putting our attention on doing this and not doing that, rather than seeing our behavior as a symptom of what we’re putting our trust in.

Change what we’re trusting in, and the doing follows the trust. We will manifest the life of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in us when we trust that He is our wellspring, our Source of living water, our Life, our Love, our All in all.

Profile photo of Ron Block

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


9 Comments

  1. Andrew Castle

    Ron, what a lifelong journey this is to really keep my focus away from the “doing” and on knowing Him. But hidden within this is all of the “immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine” that He promises us.

    A very similar thought is in “All the Way Home”, by the Proprieter, where he describes the life of faith as being carried along like a leaf on the river of faith. That has become the desire of my life. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Ron Davis

    Those are some mighty good words, Ron. They came at the perfect time…I really needed to read that today.

    Thanks.

    (on a completely unrelated note, does that young lady who played mandolin with you at the Ryman last week have a web site? I really enjoyed hearing her play.)

  3. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Andrew,

    It really is a moment-by-moment choice. Is Christ my life – or not? In temptation – is He my patience, my peace, my purity? Or am I a do-it-yourself-er?

    Ron,

    Sierra and I just finished producing her first record for Rounder, which should be released in March, 2008. Her site is at http://www.sierrahull.com. The record was tracked with Dan Tyminski and Barry Bales, Clay Hess (formerly with Ricky Skaggs, now with Mountain Heart), Stuart Duncan, Jason Moore and Jim Van Cleve of Mountain Heart, Dennis Crouch (bassist for the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss record), Cory Walker (Sierra’s great banjoist), and myself on banjo and guitar. It’s well worth a listen – she’s a major talent.

  4. Tammy Smith

    Wow. I am so tired of pushing that car. I love the imagery of hopping in the Porsche, turning the key, and seeing what this thing can do. What a way to capture the simple faith, adventure, and power of following Christ. Sure in my head Christ is more powerful than a Porsche, but it is so easy to trust in the comforts around me. The stuff I can see and touch. This time of the year it’s so ironically easy to feel the need to get out of the car and push. Thanks for the reminder for this hard headed girl. Just turn the key, roll the windows down, and enjoy the ride.

    This causes me to think about the richness of faith that seems to shine from the faces of our brothers and sister in the two-thirds world. I’m a fortunate to travel outside the western world on a regular basis. When I’m outside the dream world of my American life, I’m simultaneously ashamed and encouraged by the reality of faith in the lives of my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. I believe AP has a song that captures my feeling here “The Land of the Free” from Here to Venus. Every single time I travel outside of the country I’m reminded of the simple beauty and adventure of a life of faith. On the plane home, I resolve to walk in the reality of my experiences, to hold on to the stories of faith that encouraged me on my trip, to constantly pray for those with so much need, and to live on less personally. But what is it about this culture that makes it so hard? By your post I see that I’m not the only one that suffers from chronic faith alzheimers.

    Thanks for the reminder. Maybe with a little grace when I start my car and head out to do a little Christmas shopping, I’ll remember to enjoy the ride.

  5. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tammy,

    The Bible contains many statements about the deceitfulness of material things. Yesterday I talked with a Malaysian shuttle bus driver who was taking us to the airport. He talked a lot about how different it was here in the west, how no one is given any time to think; do, do, do, rush, rush, rush, achieve, achieve, more money, and the relentless desire to consume entertainment rob us of depth and richness of relationship – both with God and others.

    This short little breath of Earth-time will not last long – even if we live to 90. It goes by like a breath. It’s always best to keep in mind the Real World – the Eternal, at all times, and that can really only be achieved through submission and reliance on God to produce it in us.

  6. Rick Stern

    Ron,

    I like the car image. I wonder if it could be pushed (so to speak) just a little farther. I suspect God even turns the key, IF we will get our hand off the key. This is what Christ’s life, death, and resurrection made possible. Maybe then sin, at least distortion, is thinking we can get the car started on our own. I guess God does let us steer some – often with disasstrous results.

    The blessings that come with faith in God become not a reward for good works, that is, good enough faith, but a result or consequence of knowing how the car works.

    Thanks for making me think.

    Rick

  7. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Rick,

    All analogies break down at some point – but relationship with God does involve our little human will. That point of contact is our place as a switch-thrower; that is our choice, our freedom. The devil turns the light off – we turn it back on by affirming God’s stated facts. Turning the key in the ignition is merely connecting to God with our little human faith, and as we do that, His faith kicks in and we live by Christ’s faith.

    I went through a phase in the mid-90s of learning who I am in Christ. The initial phase was a 10 day intensive discussion with a friend via instant messages when my wife was visiting family. I was learning so much amazing and freeing information that I’d go to bed thanking and praising God. In those ten days I saw Christ coming through me spontaneously in many different ways, through no choice of my own. It was thrilling.

    A year later that initial phase had long worn off. I was struggling again. And I prayed one night, “Lord, why isn’t it like it was in the beginning?” And the still, small Voice replied in me, “You must will it.” This is what George MacDonald called “Our willed share in our own making.”

    So – we choose to trust. That trust plugs in the power cord, or turns the key, or flips the switch. Then we are operating on His trust, His power, His love. The Devil comes and yanks the cord, shuts off the car, turns the lights off. We do the opposite by affirming God’s stated facts and relying on His life in us. Switch on – switch off – switch on – switch off. After awhile we get better and better at this.

    That, to me, is the crux or bottom line of the life of sanctification. It’s a faith-choice every time the lights go out. Am I going to trust God, rely on Him, or on the circumstance? One choice involves getting in, turning the key, and zooming – the other involves a lot of pushing, trying, striving, effort, producing either defeated, frustrated believers or self-righteous finger-pointers.

    Faith is not a work in the sense of a “doing”. It is a choice, but the choice of a man in a desert lying there, dying of thirst, and crying out for water. Someone comes along and hands him a canteen. The dying man reaches out to take the canteen and drinks. No one would applaud him and call him a genius for doing so. Jesus said in John 4:14, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” He gives the water and is meritorious. We drink the water from Him and become wells of water ourselves for others, because it is Christ Himself springing up in us. There is no merit in receiving; the Giver in us is the only one with merit.
    Best,
    Ron

  8. Roger Wagner

    Ron,

    Great post. Very important emphasis. Thanks.

    To push the analogy (again) a little. If we’re not “going anywhere” in the life of faithful obedience, cause the key hasn’t been turned, it does not good to “trade up” to a better make or model.

    (Can you “trade up” from a Porche? I could trade up several times before I’d even get to a Porsche!)

    Too often we try to solve sanctification “breakdowns” with more information, more “counseling,” more commandments. Those all have their place. But too often that’s not the real problem.

    Very important first to see if the whole thing’s turned on!

    Thanks again!

    Roger

  9. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Roger,

    Definitely – if we are not experiencing life change and growth, if we are stuck in one spot and can’t seem to get out of the rut, it’s likely we’re not trusting God in whatever particular area.

    Trusting God, relying on His stated facts, is complex because we can trust Him totally in one area and not at all in another. I can trust God for my finances, to take care of my needs, and yet not trust Him at all in my relationships, or in the music I play, or with my children. God’s aim is to open these areas of falsely placed trust (usually in our own ability or effort to gain what we think is needed), reveal them to us through trying circumstances, and then have us replace the fear, effort, and unbelief with reliance on Him.

    This process is greatly sped on by our will. “Lord, work Your will in my life, no matter what the cost.” A.W. Tozer’s prayer is highly effective – I wince slightly when I pray it, but it’s always worth it. Again, there’s no merit in praying this prayer of faith; all we are doing is recognizing that God has much higher and better objectives for our lives than we can see – His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. We receive His will by faith, just simply being receptive, because we know deep down that is what is eternally best for us and for others.

    Ron

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