I need to remind myself every single day that what the Lord commands of us He enables us to do and provides all that we need. I can so easily get into performance mode, but that is not the gospel.
In Deuteronomy 10 beginning in verse 12 it says, “And now Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord….Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (vv. 12-13, 16).
But at the end of Deuteronomy in chapter 30, it says, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (v. 6).
And one of the sweetest passages in all of scripture in Ezekiel chapter 36 it says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (vv. 26-27).
Two words during the In the Garden lecture last week were so helpful. “Monergistic” and “synergistic.” In one of the books we could have chosen to read this summer, Growing Your Faith, by Jerry Bridges, he writes: “Monergistic describes the work the Holy Spirit does in us apart from any conscious effort on our part” (pg. 49). We did not give ourselves a new heart. We did not regenerate ourselves. We were dead in our transgressions and sins Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 2. We had a heart of stone that could not respond. The Lord out of His great love, took pity on us and brought us to life. This was a monergistic work. He chose us from before the foundation of the world and therefore He receives ALL the glory for all salvation.
Jerry Bridges goes on to say, “Synergistic describes the work He does in us in which we participate. In monergism the Spirit works alone. In synergism He enables us to work. But whether it’s the Holy Spirit working alone or enabling us to work, all spiritual growth is the result of His work” (pg. 49).
Paul makes this point in Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Furthermore, and even more graciously, Paul states, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (v. 6). The writer to the Hebrews describes Jesus as the “founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).
Our heavenly Father rescued us. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14). So now, out of love and gratitude we are to respond in humble obedience. We are to actively participate in our spiritual growth. This process is called sanctification and continues until we go home to heaven.
Jerry Bridges writes, “Sanctification then is the work of the Holy Spirit in us whereby our inner being is progressively changed, freeing us more and more from sinful traits and developing within us over time the virtues of Christlike character. However, though sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, it does involve our wholehearted response in obedience and the regular use of the spiritual disciplines that are instruments of sanctification” (pg. 50).
So the list we were given last week of spiritual disciplines doesn’t save us or earn us any favor with God. His favor was set upon us before time began, before we were born, before we did anything. These disciplines are how we actively follow our Shepherd. They are the instruments the Lord uses to sanctify us or make us more like Christ.
Don’t women love lists? I love lists. It gives me such a good feeling when I can check something off the list. A sense of accomplishment. On the other hand, it can cause me to be overwhelmed if I look at my list and see all that I need to do and have not done. Sadly, so often I still allow my list to be my shepherd, not trusting in the Lord to guide me and provide all I need.
We absolutely need to continually remind ourselves of the gospel here. These disciplines do not save us. They do not earn us brownie points with God. Conversely, if we don’t do these things, He is not standing there with His hand on His hip shaking His finger at us in disappointment or frustration. We must remember and believe in the character of our Father, in the truth of His Word, His revelation of himself to His people. “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Song of Sol. 2:4). He is good and His steadfast love endures forever. He is longsuffering and full of mercy and grace.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psa. 23:5-6).
Our Father knows the state of our hearts. He gave them to us. And even though He knows all the sin that remains in the cracks and crevices, He still loves us. There is nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8). It is this love, this gospel, that must be our motive for working to circumcise our hearts. To cut those heart strings. To work to cut off our remaining dead flesh! Our flesh will continue to battle against the Spirit until we leave this world. It is actively trying to stop us from following our Shepherd.
I believe this is what Jesus is saying when He instructs us in the way to follow Him – by picking up our cross. The cross is both the instrument of death and of life. We pick up our cross by saying “no” to our way and saying “yes” to His will. We actively put off and put on.
And isn’t so much of the battle in our minds? So much of the work that is to be done is actively reigning in our thoughts? In his book Spiritual Disciplines, Donald Whitney states, “…the natural course of our minds, our bodies, our world, and our days lead us toward evil, not toward Christlikeness. Thoughts must be disciplined, otherwise like water, they tend to flow downhill or stand stagnant. That’s why in Colossians 3:2 we’re urged, ‘Set your minds on things that are above.’ Without this conscious, active, disciplined setting of the direction of our thoughts, they’ll be unproductive at best, and evil at worst.”
We were challenged to fast from our selfish thinking! Wow! That is going to be a full time job for me, but one that needs to be done. This is just one of the ways we can, by God’s grace, work to circumcise our hearts, all the while trusting Jesus as the Author and Perfector of our faith, choosing to put our hope in Him and not how well we do circumcising our hearts!
Let’s keep going in this battle and not give up. Let’s continue to go forward by faith, learning to pray and ask the Lord for more grace to actively follow our Shepherd, working in the power of the Spirit to put our flesh to death, trusting in Jesus. We are in Christ and He is in us. He is our refuge, our shelter in this storm of life.
“I have a shelter in the storm
When constant winds would break me
For in my weakness, I have learned
Your strength will not forsake me
O Jesus, I will hide in you
The One who bears my burdens
With faithful hands that cannot fail
You’ll bring me home to heaven.”
“I Have a Shelter” – Steve & Vikki Cook & Bob Kauflin
Learning to Live in the Garden of Grace