One of the things that I’ve taught for years is that habits, behaviors and attitude are all learned behaviors. You have the ability to change them with enough dedication and thought process changes. In the late 1980’s, Stephen Covey wrote a book called, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It sold so many copies in the first 11 years that it was named the most influential book of the 20th century. It taught people principles they could change personally to move from dependence to independence, and it also taught how to become a better team player as well. Many people attribute their success in business and in life to this self help book.
Unfortunately, many people approach the Bible as a self help book. They look at it as a book of do’s and don’t’s that will make you a better Christian in order to get into Heaven. We’ve been conditioned to think that if we will just act right, say the right things and spread love then we will be good Christians. The problem with that thinking is that it’s all behavior based Christianity. Romans 7 address that. If we try to live our Christian lives based on behaviors, then we’re going to be miserable. Jesus didn’t die to make you a better person. He died to give you new life. The changes in our life are a result of our love for Him, not our will power. The root of behavior based Christianity is that we are trying to integrate Christ into our lives instead of integrating our lives into Him.
In John 15:4, Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me” (NLT). Fruit isn’t produced on your own trying to be a good Christian. Fruit is produced through the new life Jesus gives us when we are fully grafted into Him. When we surrender our lives to Him, we are letting Him integrate us as branches into Himself as the Vine. Life changing power comes from that surrender and integration. It doesn’t come through will power. You are saved by grace, through faith, not by your good behavior or works (Ephesians 2:8). It’s not your habits that make you a Christian, it’s your heart. Man looks on the outward things, but God looks at your heart. Romans 8 addresses living surrendered to Christ in contrast to trying to do things on your own in Romans 7. We each need to make sure our lives are grafted into Christ where true life and fruitful living are.
In Mark 10, there’s a man who runs up to Jesus and asks, “What do I need to do to receive eternal life?” Jesus knew his heart, so He listed off the Ten Commandments and said to obey them. The man replies back, “I’ve kept those my whole life!” Then jesus changed things up in verse 21 and said, “You need only one thing. Go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me” (GNT). The man left upset because he wasn’t willing to do that.
I’m sure you’ve heard this story a hundred times, but I want us to look at it a little differently today. One of the things I notice is that this man wanted to know what he could do to receive eternal life. We have to be careful not to think our salvation is based on anything we do. Ephesians 2:8 tells us, “For it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith. It is not the result of your own efforts, but God’s gift, so that no one can boast about it.” This Man was trying to figure out what boxes needed to be checked off to get to Heaven because he wanted man’s approval and not God’s.
We live in a performance based society. If you do certain things, you get promoted and make more money. We have to be very careful to not let that infect our faith. Jesus’ response to the man was reminding him, and us, that God looks at our heart, not at our works. We cannot earn salvation or favor with God By doing certain things. He loves us because of who we are. There’s nothing you or I can do to make Him love us more or less. If you are truly thankful in your heart for what Jesus did on the cross, it will show up in how you live your life.
I can easily recall several times in my life when my clothes were so filthy I couldn’t wear them inside. I was playing in the woods as a kid once, and i found a bucket of tar. I popped the lid off and had a lot of fun…until I got home! When I was 16, I got a job washing garbage trucks. Yes, they wash them each night like you wash your car. My clothes were so nasty, I had to ride on the back of the truck and change out of them in the garage. Also, when I was 20 years old, I visited a church in Garbage City, Cairo, Egypt. My clothes smelled so putrid that it made people sick to smell them.
Why am I telling you this? It’s because spiritually we wear clothes very similar to each of those situations. Isaiah 64:6 says, “We’re all sin-infected, sin contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags” (MSG). The Amplified Version calls them “polluted garments”. Our efforts to be good in order to get to Heaven look and smell like the clothes I was wearing on those days. Our efforts will never change our spiritual clothes. That’s something only God can do.
Zechariah had a vision of Joshua, the priest and leader of Israel. He was standing in Heaven before God and Satan was there to accuse him. Zechariah describes it this way in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4, “Joshua was standing there, wearing filthy clothes. The angel said to his heavenly attendants, ‘Take away the filthy clothes this man is wearing.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘I have taken away your sin and will give you new clothes to wear’” (GNT). Where our works create filthy rags, God’s work clothes us in righteousness.
Isaiah 61:10 says, “I am overwhelmed with joy in the LORD my God! For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding or a bride with her jewels” (NLT). It is God who dresses us. It is God who does the work of salvation. We simply need to present ourselves to Him, recognizing our clothes are filthy, and ask Him to change our spiritual clothes. God can take our putrid, sin stained clothes and exchange them for righteousness. Then we won’t have to ride in the back of the truck or hide in the garage. We will be able to approach His throne of grace with all boldness.
My son, who is almost four, is in a “Hold you, Dada” phase. When we get out of the car at the store, he stands on the door frame with both arms up, “Hold you, Dada.” When we get up to go to the other room, he just stands there, puts his arms up and says, “Hold you, Dada.” It’s often inconvenient because I’m in a hurry, plus he’s getting too heavy to lug around everywhere. Sometimes I hold him and others I respond in frustration. Even when I get frustrated with it, I remind myself these days are coming to an end and I’ll miss them.
We spend so much time in the early years of our kids lives trying to take them from dependent to independent. It seems our goal as parents is to have kids who operate independently of us so we can do other things. I find it interesting that God does just the opposite. His goal is to take us from being independent children and to turn us into dependent ones. He longs for us to not want to take step without Him holding us. His desire is that we would stand there with our arms raised to Him and say, “Hold you, Dada.”
As I was thinking about being dependent on God more, I was reminded of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6. We pass over part of verse 11 quickly without giving it much thought. It says, “Give us this day, our daily bread.” God doesn’t give us groceries for a week (which is how most of us shop). He wants us to be dependent on Him daily and to go to Him daily for our needs. He could provide a lifetime of bread for us with just one word, but He doesn’t. He longs for us to go to Him and to rely on Him.
God knows that if He were to supply more than our daily bread, we would start to forget who provided it and then begin to take credit for His work. It’s not a far stretch to take that further to our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace that you are saved and not of works lest any man should boast.” God knows that our independent nature wants to do things to earn His grace and salvation, but that’s not God’s plan. Our dependence on Him is what He’s after. He’s done the work. He’s paid the price. He’s just waiting for us to hold up our hands and say, “Hold you, Dada.”