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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.
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.