November 11, 2016
When children first learn to print, a pattern is placed before them of how the letters are to be formed. They practice forming the letters by copying the pattern. In the process children are transformed from not knowing their letters to knowing and printing them.
Patterns can be transformative. I believe that Christian living is to be transformative. One term that expresses this in the New Testament is sanctification. It can refer to the process of becoming holy as well as the result of becoming holy. Is there a pattern for becoming more holy? Listen to these passages that I think give us the pattern that we are to copy and learn until like the child copying letters it becomes a part of us.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, ESV)
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11 ESV)
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13, ESV)
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14–15, ESV)
So what is the pattern? When I hear the gospel I learn of the seriousness of my situation as separated from God, but I also learn of God’s love and Christ’s love in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Prompted by this love, I want to follow him daily. Following him daily means that I will also deny myself and die to myself daily. This self-denial means that I will consider myself dead to sin and I will be working at putting to death the deeds of the body with the help of the Holy Spirit. I will also consider myself alive to God, and I will live for Jesus’ sake. This means putting on the positive qualities that God wants me to have.
- Because of love, I will follow Jesus daily.
- I will deny myself, die to myself daily.
- I will live for God and live for Jesus daily.
- I will rely on the help of the Holy Spirit in this process of sanctification.
When we do this, life will never be the same. This is a transforming pattern.
February 21, 2014
The agenda no doubt was to criticize Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes noticed that Jesus’s disciples failed to wash their hands before a meal. The Mishna recorded the tradition that this ritual required a minimum amount of water equal to the volume of one and half eggs. This was definitely about ritual and not hygiene! Jesus countered with the legal loophole used by the religious leaders for declaring something dedicated to the temple, and so unavailable to be used for the care of aging parents. They were criticizing about a tradition of the elders; he was convicting them about the Law of Moses. (See Matthew 15:1-20.)
Following this exchange, Jesus addressed the crowds with a proverb: “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11 ESV). This led his disciples to note the Pharisees were offended by Jesus and to request further explanation of the proverb. Jesus’s reply stressed holiness is developed from the inside out. His reply gives us a glimpse into the habits of holiness.
Be careful with God’s revelation. Jesus noted that the Pharisees were blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the pit. God will uproot what he has not planted. In pursuing holiness and a relationship with God, truth matters.
Be careful what you say. What comes out of our mouths in Jesus’s proverb must refer to what we say. What we say reflects what we are thinking. What we say foreshadows what we will do. The connection between deeds and words is found in Paul’s discussion of sexual immorality and covetousness (Ephesians 5:3-5). Right in the middle of these two themes, Paul warns about the wrong use of words. Some kinds of talk defile. Some kinds of talk sanctify.
Be careful what you think. In Jesus’s explanation of his proverb, he goes further and warns about evil thoughts. Paul also reminds us to think about good and honorable things (Philippians 4:8). Some kinds of thoughts defile. Some kind of thoughts sanctify and make holy.
Although the good news may intervene and change our habits and destiny, God still uses our habits to develop holiness. Someone has wisely said:
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.