This week I was reading the book of Micah in the Old Testament. God used Micah to confront the sins of the people of Israel and Judah: “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil upon their beds! When the morning dawns they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.” And regarding idolatry and witchcraft: “…and I will cut off sorceries from your land, and you shall have no more soothsayers; and I will cut off images and your pillars from among you, and you shall bow down no more to the work of your hands.” And He reminded them what the Lord had required of them: “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Most of the writings of the prophets were to rebuke the people’s sin. God is a holy God and sin is of extreme importance to Him, as indicated in His Word.
Jesus said that if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out, or if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to go to heaven without an eye or a hand, then to go to hell with them. Here Jesus uses an extreme to make a point. What is more important to you than your eye or your hand? Yet, they are to be discarded, or removed, if they cause you to sin. Essentially He is saying that sin is of critical importance. Sin is a major theme throughout the New Testament, in the teachings of Jesus, the writings Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John, yet we don’t like to hear about sin. Sin is uncomfortable or even painful for us to deal with. There is guilt associated with it that gives rise to pain. Or our pride can get in the way of us admitting our sin.
Another way of saying this is that God requires holiness from us, and not just a “positional” holiness that comes from us accepting the covering of the sacrifice of Jesus, but we need to literally walk in holiness. I’ve heard the response to this kind of statement many times: “we can’t be perfect! Nobody was perfect except for Jesus…” Unfortunately, for many Christians, there is a misunderstanding of both sin and holiness.
One of the first things we need to understand is that the holiness that God desires is equal to walking in love. The scriptures say this: “..for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” And “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Jesus also said “All the law and all the prophets can be summed up in this one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the real requirement, that we love one another and love God “with all of our heart, mind and soul.”
The second truth that we need to understand is that sin is a symptom of a deeper issue. It’s comparable to fruit on a tree. If the fruit is missing, the issue is at the root of the tree. Like the parable that Jesus told, there may be a need to dig out around the root and refill it with better soil or manure. For Christians, the root cause of our sin is our misunderstanding of faith and hope. True living faith, combined with a living hope will produce a godly love in us, a spiritual love that fulfills the law and causes us to walk in holiness.
When the Israelites were given the law, they failed to attain the righteousness of the law because they didn’t pursue it with faith. Romans 9: 31&32: “but that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone…” In verse 30, immediately before these verses, it states: “that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith.” And again, this was, I believe, a literal righteousness. The Gentiles were walking in love and therefore fulfilling the law, and they were doing this because of their faith.
Let me summarize at this point. God requires of his people to walk in holiness and righteousness, or really to take on his divine nature which is one of true love and not selfishness (see 1 Corinthians 13). The means of attaining this is through faith, but we need to be careful that we understand the biblical faith that is required for this.
There is another important component that I need to point out, and that is that true faith will cause us to be spiritual. When we are born of the spirit, we then learn to walk in the spirit. The law is spiritual, as it explicitly states in Romans 7:14: “We know that the law is spiritual…”, so we must be spiritual to fulfill the law. It is also interesting to note that the scriptures also say that “God is Spirit” and “God is love”, so it stands to reason that we need to be spiritual to truly walk in love and fulfill the law. I also like what it says in Galatians 5: 16, “If you walk in the Spirit, you will not gratify the deeds of the flesh.”
But how do we become spiritual? I would like to talk about this more extensively in the future. In short, we need to fully and totally immerse ourselves in the reality of the promise that has come to us from Jesus as the Messiah. This world is cursed and we don’t belong here, but Jesus has made a way for us to become a part of a future world that will be established by the true and living God. We must place our hope and desire totally in this future promise, and separate our hopes and desires from this current cursed world. The scriptures advise us to consider ourselves dead to this world system, but alive to the new systems where Jesus has gone. Jesus also said that we should store up our treasures there with Him, in heaven, and wait for Jesus to return and establish this new system here, destroying the old system. If you truly do this, you will become spiritual and will learn to walk in love.
Being spiritual also means that our inner desires have changed. What we long for, what we covet, and what we are living for, all is now focused on spiritual, eternal, things rather than earthly, temporal, things. This is the real key to victory over sin in our lives. James 1:14 & 15 shows us that sin is really an outgrowth of our desires. “…but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” So as we put to death these earthly desires in our heart, and set our affections on things above that are spiritual and eternal, we will correct the root cause of the bad fruit of sin, and the result will be the good fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law (Galatians 5: 22&23). Verse 24 of Galatians 5 goes on to say “and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” In other words, they have dealt with the root cause of sin, and are now producing the good fruit of the spirit, rather than having the deadly symptoms of sin.