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I try really hard. Oh, you muse, you could be accused of more heinous crimes. After all, isn’t it all about trying harder to live for Christ? Isn’t that what we’ve been told for most of our lives from church pulpits and Christian books? You know, read your Bible more, pray more, minister more, give more, attend church more, serve on more committees (like we need more committees – ugh!). More, more, more! And then you will produce fruit for God and please Him.  

Some may be upset (it won’t be the first time) but I think this is all wrong, all backwards. This formula (interestingly, the Word of God is generally devoid of clear formulas even though our flesh loves them so) leads to exhaustion, bondage, powerlessness, and, eventually, joylessness in our faith. And it produces no eternal fruit or affirmation from God. That’s why I say that trying harder may be the problem. It is ethnocentric and not Christocentric. This is what Paul is getting at in Romans 7:4-6: 

“Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.  For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” 

Don’t get me wrong, there is a form human effort in our struggle to honor Christ but this only accomplished by His energy and His power at work in us. Self-effort alone will end in frustration and defeat. Notice the unique phrasing of Colossians 1:29: “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” The human exertion I’m talking about is focusing adoringly on our Savior and reliantly on His Spirit and not our own energies and efforts (see Hebrews 12:2; Colossians 3:1-2).  

With this in mind, please ponder this series of statements. The first half of each statement is what we have been told and taught and may be experiencing. The second half is what must happen to truly serve and please God in His power. The first half is focused on self and the second half is focused on the Savior and the Spirit. I hope this makes sense…here goes! 

            Self-centered                                                  Savior/Spirit-centered 

It’s not just about serving more…          it’s about seeking and surrendering to Him.

It’s not just about reformation…            it’s about releasing everything to Him.

It’s not just about living better…           it’s about loving Him more.

It’s not just about works…                     it’s about worshipping Him.

It’s not just about religion…                   it’s about relationship with Him.

It’s not just about singing hymns…       it’s about being satisfied in Him.

It’s not just about activities…                it’s about adoring Him with all we are.

It’s not just about “fruit production”… it’s about faith in His power.

It’s not just about trying harder…      it’s about treasuring and trusting Him more. 

Please understand, I’m not suggesting we don’t give, learn, pray, and serve (or produce fruit). I’m saying this should happen not due to self-effort but supernaturally (notice I didn’t use the term naturally) as an overflow of our intentional focus on treasuring Him above all things and being totally dependant upon His Spirit for everything produced in and through us. In other words, living based upon the second half of these statements actually allows the first half of the statements to be divinely accomplished. But, as opposed to our own strength being at work, it is His. And if it is from Him it is real, of eternal value, and radically transformational!

You see, the first half of these statements is legalism. It is so subtle and insidious, however, that we may not recognize it as living under the law. But it is. Paul tells us that we are dead to the law through Christ’s sacrifice so that we can be given (as in a marriage; see the previous verses – Romans 7:1-3) to Jesus in love (Romans 7:4). We need not live in the flesh and produce lifeless and valueless fruit (Romans 7:5). We are to forsake living under the bondage of the law (which is man-centered works) to serve in the new and powerful way of the Spirit (Romans 7:6). In other words, out with the defeating, meaningless, and exhausting old way (rules based self-effort) and in with the freeing, dynamic, and transformational new way of living in and through His Spirit. 

As Terrence Kelshaw explains, “We cannot live the Christian life on our own or by our own strength. Jesus says, ‘I never said you could. I always said I would.’” This is why Paul tells us, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). So let’s be freed from the bondage of legalism and human effort. Let’s experience the freedom and usefulness in Christ that can only be known when we stop trying harder and start treasuring Him and trusting in His Spirit more.

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