""...that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you."
There can be nothing more important in life than walking in, through, and by the Spirit of Christ. This is evidenced by the words we speak, the things we do, and how we treat others, especially in the body of Christ.
I don't look for "A WORD" or "A VERSE" for the year. It's not some kind of spiritual new year's resolution that I feel I have to come up with. This verse just happens to be, by the providence of God, one that the Lord illuminated to me as I traveled through the New Testament. It has stuck with me over the last couple of weeks leading up to 2023 and is one I will continue to ponder, meditate on, study, and pray about in the coming weeks.
This verse speaks several things to me:
1. About the nature of man
2. About motives
3. About power
4. About conduct
1. The Nature of Man
The natural nature of man is total depravity before Christ. There is NOTHING good in man. But when we receive Christ, we are then called to become HOLY. Holiness comes to reside inside of us as God puts His HOLY Spirit in us. When we are saved, we are changed by the power of God. We become holy simply because Christ is in us. Holiness is not a movement, an outward expression such as dressing weird or wearing a Christian t-shirt, it's not even something WE can work at and accomplish for ourselves. It's something we allow HIM to do and be in us. As we step more and more out of the world, we step more and more into His holiness. Paul desired for Christ to be formed in the Galatians. Christ doesn't need forming or reforming, we do! What Christ forms in us is holiness.
Because Paul was holy, his motives were pure for ALL that he did. They were Christ-centered, God-honoring, and Kingdom-forming. There was no selfishness or self-centeredness in what he wrote or said. He was not trying to gain anything for himself. He was completely sincere and that sincerity was rooted in and grew out of the holiness in his heart and his total trust in God. He had no ulterior motives. He simply gave himself completely over to God in trust and love.
3. The Power
The power for his life and ministry was the grace of God. He did nothing, said nothing from His flesh-not his intelligence, not his position, not his education, not his assets or wealth, not even his past experiences and lessons he had learned. He lived in the here and now and everything he did was out of the grace that God provided him at that moment. He was totally reliant on the Holy Spirit's leading at every moment.
All of this is what formed his conduct toward those in the world and in the church. His conduct wasn't always pleasant or approved by others, but it was never fueled by hatefulness, selfishness, or insincerity. Paul was free to be who God had made him to be without reservation or fear of rejection.
So as I surrender to God to form holiness in me, then I can walk in godly sincerity toward others, not by the flesh, but through grace!
I am often challenged by people I meet who are exceptionally kind or caring. I envy their ability to put people at ease and communicate genuine concern and care with a sense of sweet abandon. Scripture tells us that the true mark of a Christian is the love they have for one another. Love loves. What else can it do? It has no other recourse, nor does it want to.
I feel that I love people but I have a hard time trusting them. My experiences in life make it difficult for me to truly trust anyone. For me, trusting people is like stepping off a cliff and hoping that I don't fall. It defies the laws of nature. I know this way of thinking is neither good nor right but I have enough knife holes in me to be mistaken for a piece of swiss cheese. But you know what? So did Paul. So did Christ! And yet, they continued to love with holiness and godly sincerity. Christ didn't entrust Himself to people because He understood what is in man (Jn. 2:24), and yet He still gave His life for them. He even washed the feet of Judas, knowing full well that he would betray Him. He still put Himself out there every day knowing full well that He would be betrayed, maligned, lied about, used, and hated. In his humanness, that must have been hard, but in His holiness, it was the only way to truly share His love, and the love of the Father, with the world. That really speaks to me.
My desire is to not only have godly sincerity as I deal with others but to be able to trust that they have godly sincerity too. I try to make room for people to be "peopley", to fail, to be different than I am, and to make mistakes because heaven knows I do all those things, but I catch myself isolating my emotions as a means of self-protection if someone tries to get a little too close. I don't think that serves me or the body of Christ well.
Now I think God is saying 2023 is my time to be free from the bondage of distrust and to step out and know that He will always hold me up, even when others fail me. It's gonna happen, you know. People will fail me. I will fail others. It's the human condition. But as I surrender my distrust of others to Him, as I choose to trust Him, He will develop holiness in me and free me to walk in godly sincerity, by His grace. I guess this is part of the dying-to-self process. And I'm so ready to be free of distrusting people needlessly.
One thing I have learned is that God can be trusted, ALWAYS! And when my security is totally in Him, I can be fearless, vulnerable, and sincere (while using wisdom) in my relationships with others AND I can afford to believe that they are that way too. Who knows? Some of them might surprise me and that would be really, really good.