I was recently reminded of a very important principle that someone told me: “Any truth you find that brings you closer to Christ must work for a single mother of 5.” In other words, there are many good ideas that people have about how to live and draw near to God, but many of them are just theory that aren’t very practical to people living in the real world. What’s worse is that they are not in the Bible.
I’ve heard things said like “we need to pray for hours every day alone in our prayer closet away from everything and everyone”, “we need to consciously think about Jesus in every thought we have throughout the day”, “when we get saved we need to withdraw from everyone and go on a retreat for a month to get to know God”, “we need to read at least an hour of the Bible every day”, “we need to ask Jesus about every single decision we make, even down to the color shoes we wear and the type of breakfast we eat.” Can you imagine a single mother of 5 trying to do all these things? Nowhere in the Bible are any of these commanded and I believe the people who teach them are sincere, but they are making the Christian life more of a burden than a freedom for poor people who are trying to draw near to God but just can’t seem to keep up with all of these commands.
Godliness in the eyes of men often looks like those things listed above: doing many works EXTERNALLY that look spiritual.
"These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence." (Colossians 2:23 NASB)
External spirituality looks godly, but the life of our Lord Jesus shows us that a truly godly life can look very normal. Jesus lived 33 years. He started His ministry at 30 years old, and before that He was a carpenter. So out of 33 years He spent only 10% (3 years) of those in ministry… the vast majority of the rest of those years he spent pounding nails and sawing wood! Is that really what a godly life looks like? Wouldn’t it have been better if instead of dealing with wood and furniture He started ministry early? Or at least withdrew from the world and lived like John the Baptist in the wilderness alone with God? No, Jesus was a regular man who lived a regular life like the rest of us. And still, after this surprisingly ordinary life that Jesus lived (before He did any ministry) God was able to say “this is my Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). What God sees as godly is far different than what man sees as godly (Isa 55:8-9).
The truth of the New Covenant is that God’s desire for us is not accomplished outwardly by many external means such as living like a monk or praying in a closet for many hours each day. It is a work of the Holy Spirit that is done inside of us as we take up our cross and deny ourselves, as we crucify our flesh, as we die to ourselves. Every person can do this, regardless of what they spend the majority of their time doing every day. The single mother of 5 can do this and so can a monk or a man living in the wilderness. Everybody can choose to deny their flesh when tempted with sin – either externally or in their thought life. This is how any person (in Christ) can be pleasing to God because it’s only when we die to ourselves that Jesus Christ can live in us and live a life that is pleasing to God through us.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal (John 12:24-25)
As the verse says, if we don’t die to ourselves, we remain alone (without Christ in us... living only on the merits of our own external righteousness). But if we die, then Jesus can live in us and live out true godliness… only then can we bear much fruit.
Jesus’ life is the only life that is pleasing to the Father. Praise God that we can be pleasing to Him too.. if we die to ourselves so that He can live inside of us. This (Jesus living inside of us) is the only way to please God… this is our only “hope of glory”:
“that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27)
Our hope of eternal glory does not lie in praying for a certain amount of time every day, it’s not in reading our Bible every day, it’s not in withdrawing from the world, it’s not in self-discipline. Our Christian life does not depend on these things (though these can be good things). It depends on how much I am willing to surrender, die to myself, die to sin, and sacrifice of myself for the sake of Christ, so that He can live in me. This is our hope of glory – Jesus living inside of us.
"Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)