The world looks at the church today and sees us as self-righteous Pharisees. They watch us as we try to live righteous lives, obediently following the Lord and His commands as best we can, just as we have been taught, and then they call us hypocrites when we inevitably stumble and sin. We come to church and involve ourselves in its programs to learn to obey God more successfully, and eventually we find ourselves leading others in what we see as a universal quest at church where “good Christians learn to be better ones.”
In the process, we naturally find ourselves evaluating our progress—”How’m I doin’? Am I progressing and getting to be a better Christian?”—and then, very naturally, we compare our progress with others in the church.
However, Paul says that is not a wise thing to do: “But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). When we say, “Oh, everyone does that,” as if to say, “Whether or not my conduct is acceptable depends on the conduct of others,” we are doing exactly what Paul says is “not wise.”
Why is that? It is unwise because we then miss the opportunity to compare our conduct to the law of God, the true standard of righteousness. When we use God’s perfect law as our standard and not the conduct of others, and if it is God’s time to graciously open our spiritual eyes to see, we suddenly realize the problem. The problem is not with what we do, (we commit sins) but with who we are (helpless, hopeless sinners), unable to not sin! When we see this with spiritual eyes, we readily, even eagerly, repent. Repentance is the gate through which we must pass, the barrier we must break, to enter the life of faith!
That entrance into living by faith has enormous implications. When God shows us our sin by looking in the mirror of the perfect law of God in the Bible rather than at what others deem acceptable, we see ourselves—what one always sees by looking in a mirror—and we realize our faces are filthier that we ever imagined, we own that sin and repent.
Paul tells us that this experience with “the mirror,” the law of God, is the beginning of the life of faith, the life “in the Spirit.” In this process, the Bible teaches that the mirror shows us images of two people simultaneously.
First, we see ourselves as the wicked sinner of James 2:23, 24. We have always been aware of our dirty faces (“nobody’s perfect”), but then we “go away, and immediately forget what kind of men we are” (James 2:24). We unconsciously begin to use the law as a scrub brush to try to do good and not evil, rather than only as a mirror to expose us as sinners, as it was intended.
Second, as we learn to walk by faith, we begin to see ourselves in another way: as the perfect saint, filled with the Spirit of God and producing His fruit. “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). God promises us that we are being gradually transformed by His Spirit to conform to His law. He is changing us, without any effort on our part or even our knowledge but instead, to our complete surprise, into this second image, filled with the glory of God! How does this happen?
Here’s how: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now 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 do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13).
Paul is telling the Philippians (and therefore us!) that living out this faith in Jesus we have so willingly embraced involves recognizing that each of us will do so in a unique way (“work out your own salvation”). Over time, Paul says, the creator God will intimately involve Himself with each of us individually as He works daily by His Holy Spirit within us in different ways. He will first actually change our wants “to will” to conform to what He wants us to do, and then He will give us the power to actually do it, as we gradually grow to maturity.
Can this possibly be true? Does this means that what God wants us to do, as we walk by faith, is simply what we want to do? Is Paul really saying that God has got us, and He is actually causing us to want to take the responsibilities we have been given, to want to obey God’s law, and to want to learn more about this Christian life of faith? That is exactly what He is saying, and when we really think about it, it makes perfect sense.
What little boy who had a father who actively loved him, provided for him, disciplined him, played with him, talked to him, took him along whenever possible, and laid down his life for him, did not want to be just like his Daddy? He believes what Daddy believes, wants to do what Daddy does, and speaks what Daddy speaks. Daddy would have to literally work at running his little boy off.
Our Heavenly Father is a Daddy just like this, and Jesus, while here on earth as our model of the perfect man, was a son who had been loved like this as well. In His final prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He was crucified, He speaks of His Father’s love for Him three times in the last four verses of John 17. Throughout the Gospel of John, He speaks of always doing His Father’s will, always speaking only His Father’s words, teaching only His Father’s doctrine and never doing anything He had not learned from His Father, and this all was what He truly wanted to do! “No one takes it (My life) from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:18).
Following our Big Brother Jesus’ lead, and firmly believing that our Daddy is the same Daddy that He had, loving us just as He loved Him, we, too, set out each day to be just like Him by doing exactly what we want to do. We believe, by faith, even when we don’t see it happening, that God is at work every day, changing our wants to conform to His. Seeing both images, the sinner and the saint, simultaneously in the mirror of the law of God, we learn to walk in repentance when our wants are as yet unchanged, always believing, by faith, that they will be! This is “walking by faith.” Believe it because it is the truth!