So many times I do something thinking it is Good, thinking it is really Spiritual and Holy and Pure, but it results in Death. It is Death because it is "me" doing it
For many years that was the way I pursued the ministry. I was very busy doing things for God, and of course I thought I was a good, spiritual person. But I am in the flesh whenever "I" am doing anything apart from Jesus. We are not qualified to judge what is truly good. When I have no confidence in the flesh I give up on the notion that I am fit to be a judge of such matters.
The ministry was my whole life – and I mean the ministry of pastoring, teaching, and so on. Even when I left Organized Religion the ministry was an idol to me. What could be more spiritual than ministry? What could be more "good" than being in the ministry? But over the process of years the Lord showed me how He judges things, not according to our standards of good and bad, but according to His standard of Life and Death.
That which Jesus originates in Himself and empowers me to do is living and produces fruit. That which I originate in myself and carry out in my own strength is Dead. The branch cannot bear fruit of itself. And people saved, sermons preached, and churches built apart from the Life of the Lord are simply dead activities carried out by dead branches.
Stop asking what is right or wrong, what is good or bad. Start asking, "Is this living or dead? How does the Spirit of Jesus respond to this? Do I sense life, or do I sense death?" That is the key. Now if we follow the Life of the Lord we will do the right thing every time. We will do the good thing every time. We will not have to wonder what the "right thing" is, and we will not have to worry about doing the "wrong thing".
Is it still difficult for you to grasp? Then imagine, if you will, a person who dies and stands before the Lord. They begin to recount all the good things they did in their life. Will this help them? Will God consult the Book of Good and Evil and count up all the works, and weigh them in the balance, in order to determine that person’s destiny? No. In the Book of Revelation we see that God does not judge the dead according to the Book of Good and Evil, but according to the Book of Life. See, the question is not Good or Bad, but Living or Dead? Now apply that to your spiritual life here on earth and I think it will help. If we begin to rely upon the Lord for discernment we will begin to see things as He sees them, and He will show us how to judge our actions not according to our limited understanding of right and wrong, but according to Life.
Jesus says that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Way is Christ – that is, we give up our own way and embrace Jesus as WAY. He is the Way, the Narrow Path. As we continue in the Way – as we abide in Him – we eventually come to the Truth. The Way leads to the Truth, and Jesus is the Truth.
The Truth is not a set of facts about Jesus. Jesus Himself is the Truth. The Truth is not a set of teachings or theological books. The Truth is a Person. That is why the Truth leads to Life. Truth must be living to us. Truth must become Personal. It must take on a Personality. Truth is personified into Jesus. The Way brings us to the Truth, and the Truth brings us to the Life. If Truth becomes merely a "thing", a database of knowledge, then it is a dead thing. The Way leads to the Truth, and the Truth leads to the Life. And this Life produces abundant fruit because it is so abundant.
The Vine is living. The Branches grow out of the Vine. So long as the Branches remain in the Vine, they are fruitful. It is so in the natural realm; it is so in the spiritual realm. How could it be otherwise? The same Life that flows through the Vine is flowing through the Branches. Again, how could it be otherwise? The Branch does not have to do anything to "generate" its own life; the Branch simply relies on the Vine for its sustenance. So how does the Branch produce fruit? Not through effort. Not through works. Not through hoping. Not even by prayer! "Lord, I pray that you would make me to produce fruit." The Lord will say, "I am the True Vine. Abide in Me and you will produce much fruit, and your fruit will remain."
So how do I abide in Christ? The Lord puts you into union with Christ from the moment you are born-again. "Of God are you in Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 1:30a). This oneness with Jesus is not the reward for having lived a good life for many years. When you became a disciple of Jesus and trusted Him for salvation, you entered into the Secret Place of the Most High and you now dwell under the shadow of the Almighty (see Psalm 91). Christ is your Fortress, your Refuge, your Secret Place. You are blessed with every spiritual blessing, you are chosen in Him, you are accepted in the Beloved (see Ephesians 1).
Now just stay where you are, there in Christ. You’ll make mistakes, especially in the beginning. You’ll continue to rely on the Self-Life until you learn how to rely upon the Christ-Life. You’ll learn. It takes time. You don’t have to start all over again every time you make a mistake, just pick up where you left off. You begin to understand after awhile that, "In me – that is, in my flesh – dwells no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). You lose confidence in yourself, and you begin to have more confidence in the Lord. You begin to trust in the Life of the Lord. "I don’t understand it, I don’t even like it, but this is how the Life is leading me, and I cannot disobey that Life, because every time I do it always results in Death." You learn this. Peter learned it. James and John learned it. Paul learned it. You will learn it also.
What does it look like when you begin to lose confidence in yourself, and you begin to rely more on the Life of the Lord? Well, first of all, you’re not going to be so proud as you were before. You’ll walk a little more softly, you’ll be a little more gentle, you won’t come off as being a know-it-all or a braggart. That’s a wonderful benefit of abiding in Christ. If I’m depending on Him for everything I certainly can’t boast of anything in myself!
What else? Well, if I’m losing confidence in myself and relying more on the Life of the Lord, how will that affect my prayer life? Do you think I’ll pray more or pray less? Well, the self-sufficient, those who are confident in the flesh, pray very little, if at all. Why pray? I can do it myself. I don’t need God. Only when things get out of control, beyond my ability, do I cry out to God. Prayer is a last resort for the carnal man, but for the spiritual man, prayer is a first resort. Prayer is like breathing. The spiritual man is praying all the time. Is he always on his knees, whispering? No. Prayer becomes an ongoing conversation with God, sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken. You don’t pray because it’s time for your daily devotions, or because you’re in some kind of deep trouble. You pray because your Life depends on it – your spiritual life. It wells up and overflows. That is communion and fellowship. It isn’t forced, it isn’t contrived. It’s spontaneous, natural, flowing, free. But it may not even be expressed outwardly. It’s an inward state. Nobody sees it. You’re there in the Secret Place of the Most High.L