The Laws of Life and Death

Psalm 1:1-3 says: “Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.”

In the previous post —Life and Death Part II— I talked about the reasons why Christians are able to sin, when in fact we are to be dead indeed unto sin. In this post, I want to address the process that we, as Christians, go through in order that we grow and increase. Peter said: “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”(II Pet. 3:18) But the question is, how do we grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord?

First of all, David is pointing out the error that could be associated, in no uncertain terms, with the old, corrupt, evil tree that we discussed in previous posts(Life and Death Part I and II). This is a cause and effect type of statement, and he is saying that in order to be blessed, one must not walk, stand or sit in the place of sin and wickedness. That seems obvious, but many times even Christians have problems with staying away from this particular posture. The reason is that while the divine nature is within us, and we have a desire to please God, still there is also this old, corrupt nature within our members that wants to hold on to the sins of the past.

Self Will

First of all, there are sins that we were involved in before we got saved, that we were in effect delivered from, but then we picked them back up, and then for many of us there are also sins that we fell into after we were saved. And here I am referring to particular acts of sin(lying, swearing, smoking cigarettes, self-righteousness, etc.)

I know many Christians would say that that is not possible; meaning they say that a person cannot have a sin like that in their life and still be saved. However, at the same time, those same Christians who say it is impossible are probably caught up in some sin themselves. Believe me, it is possible! At any rate, I have come across many Christians who are doing things that they know are wrong, and the Bible even says they are wrong, and they will make statements like, “well, I just don’t think it’s wrong”, or “yes, it may be wrong, but it’s not as bad as such and such.” This is called self-will. It is when a person’s conscience tells them that something is sin, and the Bible and other sources, such as nature, can emphatically point out that it is sin, and yet the person refuses to let go of it. This is one of the most dangerous places to be in; because if the Christian refuses to let go of sin, thereby refusing to repent, then the work of God is in essence stopped in their life.

As we walk throughout this Christian life, God will begin to point out to us things in our lives that need to be put down—repented of, in other words. We already know that it is wrong, but at particular times God will point to the error and emphatically say, “It has to go!” At that point, it may be a struggle to let go of the thing, but if we turn a deaf ear to the Lord and refuse to repent, it will summarily stop our Christian growth, and in fact we will begin to backslide. That is what the word backsliding means. It means you are refusing to go forward, and so you begin to slide backwards.

Now, I want to make a statement that is, once again, controversial. Meaning many Christians out there would probably say that this is not possible, but it is possible. There is a huge difference between the Christian who is struggling with something(I’ll use cigarettes for example) and trying to quit, and they have not been able to, and the person who is caught up in the same sin and refusing to admit that it is wrong. On the outward appearance, it may not look like there is a difference —both are committing the same act of sin— but God does not look on the outward appearance; God sees the heart. Now the person who is struggling with the cigarettes is trying to trust in God to deliver him from that thing, and the person has not yet enjoined that deliverance. The problem is still not with God or with the Cross of Calvary, but the problem is with the person. The problem is one of two different problems, or a combination of both. First of all, it may be that the person wants to be free from the cigarettes, but that person is not trusting God in the right way, which means they are somehow not understanding that the deliverance from the thing was done at Calvary. Meaning, also, that the person is trying to fight the thing themselves, rather than trusting in God to deliver them from it.

The second scenario could be this: when God took the people of Israel from Egypt, and commanded them to go into the promised land and subdue it, He told them that He would go before them and drive out the inhabitants of the land. He also told them that He would not do it all at once. The reason being that if He drove out all of the enemies all at once, the people of Israel would be too small and weak to subdue the land themselves, and they would be overrun by the beasts of the land and by outside enemies. And here is the object lesson of that. God does not drive out all of the enemies all at once, and often times we, as individuals, think that our biggest problem is something like cigarettes, etc., when in reality there are other problems that God is working on in our lives that are more expedient that they be removed. And even in this scenario, the problem is often that we are trying to fight the enemy; instead of letting God go before us and drive out the inhabitants of the land.

For the person who is caught up in the sin, however, and refuses to admit that it is sin; there is nothing God can do for that person except to keep dealing with them to come to their senses. God loves that person just as much, and He will do all He can to turn the person around to the right way, and the hope is that the person will come to their senses before that particular sin leads them down a road from which there is no return. And that may very well happen if the person does not repent. Consider Balaam, as a prime example, “which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty”, but for the price of money and fame he sold his soul and died as the heathen. Or consider King Saul who was filled with the Spirit and prophesied before the Lord, and yet he lost his way and ended his own life in suicide.

As stated, the difference does not always readily appear to the eyes of man, but the difference is apparent to God; because God knows the heart. Please try to remember, as I have eluded to in other places throughout this site, the particular act; whether it be cigarettes or alcohol, or drugs, or sexual sins of some kind, anger or un-forgiveness or self-righteousness, or whatever it might be; is not the problem. These things are symptoms of the problem. Sin is not the acts that we do so much as it is the attitude or mindset that we find ourselves in. Sin is rebellion against God and His way. It is no different than the rebellion of Satan. Satan’s attitude toward God was: “God, I don’t want you to be God, and I don’t want you telling me what the rules are; I want to be God; I want to make the rules.” Sin is a refusal to do things the way that God has commanded that they be done.

Now you have the Christian who is struggling with something in his life but his attitude toward God is that he wants to do what is pleasing to God. And then you have the Christian who is in effect saying, “it doesn’t matter that God says it is wrong; I don’t think it is.” That should adequately relate the difference between the two. But let me say it again for clarity: if you have sin in your life, and the Bible says it is sin, but you refuse to admit that it is sin, then you are saying that God does not know what He is talking about.

Self Effort

Herein is another problem that Christians must get past if they are to ever grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and I am speaking of self-effort. And please notice too, that the major problem in all of these is Self.

Christians believe that Jesus died to save them from sin, from hell and from spiritual death, and we also believe that God created the universe, parted the Red Sea, raised Jesus from the dead, healed the sick, etc., but then circumstances come along, and Christians will turn to other things to fix their problems, solve their issues, overcome their shortcomings. One example, and this could go for many other things, is anger. Many of us are born with anger that causes us to do things that we really shouldn’t do and don’t want to do. And the worst part is that this anger often explodes more so toward the very people who are closest to us. Then we feel awful about it, and we want to stop it, but we can’t seem to stop it. So we start looking for a solution.

Now, does any Christian truly believe that God can create an entire universe, but He cannot do anything about my temper? Does that even make sense?! God can do anything, and so He can change me from someone who has an uncontrollable temper into someone who doesn’t. So why do Christians look to psychologists or counselors or pastors in their local church, or some support group? Christians often turn to anything and everything to fix the issues in their lives, thinking that either God doesn’t have the power to do anything about it, or God doesn’t have time for their problems; or God is not here, and some human being that calls himself a professional is, and so they turn to the weak, pitiful, sinful professional that cannot even save himself. And this is sin. It is sin because we are trusting in something other than God and His way. Jeremiah said: “Thus says the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good comes; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited.”

So here is the truth: if you look to flesh, whether your own flesh or someone else’s, to fight the problems in your life, you are cursed. And being cursed means that all of your efforts will fall out to failure. Now, using the same example of anger, you will not overcome the problem of anger, and in fact it will get worse instead of better; or the other option is that you will overcome the anger and end up with an even worse problem like self-righteousness and hypocrisy. And more than likely, you will end up with both problems—anger and hypocrisy.

But then Jeremiah gives us the good news by reiterating, almost word for word, the words of David: “Blessed is the man that trusts in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat comes, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” Once again, this is how that one brings forth good fruit. His hope is in the Lord.

And yes, I know what it feels like to know that God has the power to do anything, but He doesn’t seem to be doing anything to help me. Why? The reason is twofold. First there is this concept that Paul referred to in Galatians: “For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”(Gal. 5:5) And please understand, he is not here talking about waiting around for the rapture to come before we will have righteousness; he is rather telling us that by patience we wait for the righteousness to become real in our lives in this life. He is saying that if by faith we abide in Christ as the true vine, all enemies in our lives will ultimately be subdued. And all too often this is the problem; we are once again trying to fight the particular act of sin ourselves; instead of waiting for the hope of righteousness that only God can give to us.

The answer to any problem and to all problems in our life is that God does have the power to defeat those enemies, no matter what they might be. And there is no access point to God except the Cross of Jesus Christ. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”(John 14:6) He couldn’t be any more emphatic than that. Once again, as I stated in the previous post, abide in the vine! If you stay rooted in Christ, who is the true vine, all the enemies in your life will ultimately be defeated, not just in word but in deed, and because God has the power to do anything. Trust in God, not in humans—including yourself.

So both of these things: self-will and self-effort, along with anything else that has to do with self, such as self-righteousness, selfishness, self-exaltation, must be shunned at all costs if we are to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. For the way of the flesh is the way of death, but the way of the Spirit is life.

Now, on to the subject at hand: how to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. David points to the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law does he meditate day and night. The connotation, at first glance, may not be readily understood, but the man he is referring to is Jesus. Jesus is the one who delights in the law of the Lord. Remember that Jesus is the tree planted by the rivers of water; we are the branches, if we are saved. We have been planted with Him, but we are not the tree and we are not the vine; we are the branches. That is a very important point to remember; because it means that we cannot do anything without Him. We cannot grow, we cannot bring forth good fruit, and we cannot get anything from God without Christ. We must abide in Him.

While Bible reading is very important to our Christian life and living, and other such things as prayer and fellowship with other Christians are all important; still these things do not make us better Christians, and they do not cause us to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. I know that is a strange statement, but it is the truth.

The word grow as Peter uses it in that verse has to do with maturity. Meaning that we become a more mature Christian over time—at least we are supposed to. But we do not become a more mature Christian by reading the Bible and praying, etc.; rather we have more of a desire to read the Bible and pray, and our Bible reading and prayer become more effective as we mature. Once again, a cause and effect situation: my Bible reading does not cause me to grow, but my growth causes me to want to read the Bible more.

Remember that we do not get saved by works, but by faith, and we do not grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord by works, but by faith. Christians all too often make a religious work out of reading the Bible, praying, going to church, giving money to the offering plate, etc.; because they believe that these things will build them up and make them a stronger Christian, or by doing these things they will win the favor of God, but if that is your thinking, then you have turned these things into works, and you will not grow that way. You have uprooted yourself from the true vine thinking “thanks, God, for saving me; I’ll take it from here.”

Notice the analogy that David and Jeremiah both give, and Jesus Himself would give the same kind of analogy. A tree that is planted by the rivers of water does not do any work. It doesn’t move. It is steadfast and it toils not, neither does it sow, and yet God provides for it. The roots may stretch toward the water, in order to get closer to the life giving source, but that is all the more work that could be attributed to it. So why do Christians get saved and then start thinking: “now it’s up to me to make myself into a better Christian.” It is God who gives the increase, not us.

Many Christians, and I know because I have done this myself, read and hear things from the Bible or other sources, and I will give examples: we hear the ten commandments, or we hear laws and ordinances as given in the books of the prophets, or we here the do’s and don’ts that Jesus tells us in the gospels, or the writings of Paul and Peter and James and John(laws, in other words). Most Christians hear those laws, and their first nature is to try to keep those laws. They think, “okay, I’ve got this thing in my life that I am not doing, and this other thing in my life that I am doing, and I’ve got to change those things”, and they set out to change them.

Listen to what Paul says again in the 7th chapter of Romans: “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”(Rom. 7:9) What does he mean by that? He is saying that when he first got saved, he got saved without keeping laws. He did it without works. He got saved by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus and in that alone. The law had nothing to do with his born-again life. Then, he starts to see these laws and commandments, just like many other Christians, and he sets out on a course to right the wrongs in his life, and he dies. He also says: “And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.”(Rom. 7:10&11) How? Why? Because he has gone back to the old, corrupt, evil tree of death. He is now trying to do the good and not the evil, instead of trusting in God’s tree of Life, which is Christ. Remember, the knowledge of good and evil was the problem in the garden of Eden, and it is still the problem now.

No; knowing what the Bible says about good and evil is not the problem, and even the conscience of good and evil is not the problem, but the problem is human beings thinking we can do it ourselves. We ask God to step back and watch us work, and even though most of us don’t mean to do this, it is exactly what we are doing. We are telling God we don’t need Jesus and His sacrifice, all we need is to know the right and wrong and we can take it from there.

So the answer to how to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord is Faith. Faith is the root that links us to Christ as the true vine. The answer is to trust that Christ has already given us life, and He has already given us everything necessary to bring forth good fruit. But just as in nature, so also in the spiritual, you do not start out fully grown. We start out as a baby in this Christian life. We start out as just a small bud on the vine, and as we remain in the vine, our nutrients and vitamins and food and water come to us from the vine. Moreover, just as in the natural, as time goes on the branches grow and increase and eventually begin to look like the vine, act like the vine and bring forth fruit just as the vine does.

Paul also tells us what the good fruit is and what we are looking for. He says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law(Gal. 5:22-23).

Notice a few things about these fruits. First of all, none of these things require work or action of any kind, at least not in the physical sense. These are rather virtues that come forth from a Godly heart. Second, they are the fruit of the Spirit, which means that they are the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which means He is the one who brings about these fruits in our lives, and He is the one who says that they are good fruit. Third, the first of these fruits is love, and it is referring to the God kind of love, which loves all and sacrifices for all and looks to the good of all, and love is the one upon which all the others are founded. And fourth, he says that against these fruits there is no law; meaning that there is no law that limits these fruits.

Understand, please, that if you keep your faith in the sacrifice of Christ, and know that it was there that the price was paid, the door between us and God was opened and it was there that we became one with Christ, these fruits will come forth in your life automatically. It’s not a struggle or a fight, and you do not need to work toward making these fruits come to pass within you. The Holy Spirit will mold you and shape you into the image of Christ, and you will become more and more like Him.

And you will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. Christians, stop trying to work toward making yourselves grow, and abide in the true vine, which is Christ, and trust that you will grow.

In this post I have made statements as to how that Bible reading and prayer, etc., can be made into works and therefore stop our Christian growth if we are not careful, but I do not want to leave the impression that we shouldn’t read the Bible and pray, etc., because we definitely should do these things, but we must do them in the right way. In the next post, The Bread, I will begin to cover these topics, so that Christians will know what is the right way to do these things, and the right attitude to have toward them. Please come back for more.