From the Inside Out

You’re almost a year old now, and if I was being honest, I would have to admit that spiritually my life has been less than impressive for many months.  As I consider what is going on in my heart, I can’t help but conclude that the Lord is trying to teach me the same key lesson that He has been trying to get into my head for many years.  Since I have been a Christian, I have had a desire to serve the Lord in whatever way He would want.  That desire has led me to where I am today, but somehow I continue to realize that this desire is not enough.  Something is still majorly wrong…

So how do I summarize the problem?  I am the problem.  The things that I am doing for the Lord are fine and good, but He has far greater priorities than having me accomplish lots of external things for Him.  He is very interested in changing the kind of person that I am.  I want to share this with you because I think this is very important for all of God’s people to realize.  We need to understand what God wants to do in our lives or we will have wrong expectations and even fight against Him. 

As you read the Old Testament, you should quickly get the impression that there is something majorly wrong with humanity.  He is hateful, angry, revengeful, jealous, proud, etc., and on top of it all He hates the idea of submitting to the Word of God if it means he can’t pursue his own desires.  When God enters into a relationship with the people of Israel, He gives them His Word so that they can enjoy that relationship and a life of blessing.  The Old Testament is a tragic story that exposes the fact that God’s Law was able to define what the people should do, but it couldn’t overcome the corruption inside them.  The Old Testament ends with the anticipation of a future day when God would provide for this problem and do an internal work that would transform His people into the kind that He desires (Jer. 31:33, etc.). 

The New Testament puts the primary emphasis on the need for this internal transformation in our lives.  This helps us understand what Paul means when he says at one point “as to the righteousness which is in the Law- found blameless” (Phil. 3:6) but at another “but sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind” (Rom. 7:8).  In other words, there was a time when Paul looked at his religious life from a purely external perspective and concluded that he was righteous and blameless, but there was also a time when he realized that the same Law exposed what was truly going on in his heart.  He may have done incredible religious works, but his heart was filled with an unbelievable want for the things that belonged to others.  Regardless of what we are doing on the outside, God is not pleased until there is a transformation of the inside or a change in our character.  This also helps us to understand why Paul says, “without love I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13) and “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).  Notice that these characteristics start on the inside and are lived out in our relationships with others.  Paul recognized the need for his heart to be filled with love for others instead of coveting their possessions.  A true view of what was inside led Paul to conclude that it was time to put the pride aside and conclude that he was a “wretched man” in this “body of death” (Rom. 7:24).

Paul saw the fruit of his humanity in his coveting, but in another place he also includes things like strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, envying, immorality, etc. (Gal. 5:19-21).  Paul’s list could have been much longer.  As I look into my heart, I see frustration, impatience, a critical spirit, a lack of grace, a lack of forgiveness, a lack of care and compassion for others, selfishness, arrogance, fear, insecurity, and many more.  I see instability and inconsistency.  When we are willing to allow the Lord to deal with us at this level, there is no room for boasting about our impressive religious works.  I could be a great pastor, missionary, teacher, humanitarian, etc., but I may still be very far from who God wants me to be.  God is working to transform us from the inside out.  He wants to bring us to a place where all of those external things are filled with the character His Spirit is working in us. 

Our world goes to great lengths to try to remedy the reality of what is inside all of us, but the only hope for true change is found in a relationship with God.  The work of Jesus Christ and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives are the only means for this real internal change to take place.  Apart from this we can try to think positive, ignore the corruption inside, try to reform our external life, or sometimes people give up and decide to indulge in whatever their disgusting heart desires.  We try to do away with all moral standards so that there is no right or wrong and therefore no way to judge.  As we face the devastating consequences that come from these choices, we should be brought back to humility before God.  There is a God, and there is a standard for what is right and wrong.  He defines this standard, and it applies not only to the outside but also the inside.  We are to be loving, good, and selfless.  These things are not natural to man even though he would like to claim that they are.

As I look into my heart and face the sad reality that I am not as I should be, I am first grateful that there is forgiveness.  God sees all of us as we truly are, and even though He knows how bad things are inside, He still sacrificed Jesus so that we could find forgiveness and grace.  This has to be there for us every step of the way as we are changed.  Every day I must humbly face the truth and rest firmly in this incredible act of love.  Second, I am thankful that God is at work in me.  Paul says that God has begun a good work in all of His people (Phil. 1:6, 2:13).  Notice that the work starts on the inside.  If His good pleasure is to be accomplished through us in this world, He has to start at the heart level.  His Spirit is working to teach us, convict us, and instruct us day by day, and it is our responsibility to respond in humility and confidence in His power as we look to live out what He is doing in our lives. 

Once again, I am writing this to help you recognize what God wants to do in your life.  He may use you to do amazing things, but you should never forget that His desire is to transform you into a person whose character reflects the greatness of who He is.  There is no room for pride in our lives, but only a humble walk with God day after day as He exposes our hearts and seeks to change us from the inside out.  Above all I hope and pray that your life will consistently be filled with the fruit of the Spirit so that when people have been around you they get a glimpse of the greatness of God and Christ.  That is when the greatest things will be accomplished through you. 

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