Excerpt from The Reservoir

Mon­day

JESUS AND THE VIR­TU­OUS LIFE 

You shall be holy, for I am holy. — 1 Peter 1:16

For the next two months we will turn our atten­tion to holi­ness and virtue. We’ll look at what holi­ness is and why it’s worth pur­su­ing. We’ll look at sin and why it’s worth avoid­ing. And we’ll learn that while holi­ness is a gift to us from the Holy Spir­it, there are con­crete ways to offer our bod­ies as a liv­ing sac­ri­fice” (Romans 12:1) so that the holy fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kind­ness, gen­eros­i­ty, faith­ful­ness, gen­tle­ness, and self-con­trol (Gala­tians 5:22 – 23) over­flows in our lives. That will lead us into a study of Jesus’ Ser­mon on the Mount, which we find record­ed in Matthew. 

Today, though, let’s start with the sto­ry of Jesus’ temp­ta­tion in the wilder­ness. The end of Matthew 3 is includ­ed in the read­ing to remind us that before the temp­ta­tions of the dev­il came the affir­ma­tion of Father God: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” God affirms iden­ti­ty; Satan ques­tions it. Jesus’ respons­es to the devil’s three temp­ta­tions tell us much about the nature of sin and the impor­tance of purity. 

Read: Matthew 3:16 — 4:11

Reflect:

  1. Jesus fast­ed for forty days. Do you think that made him spir­i­tu­al­ly weak­er or stronger by the time the dev­il came to tempt him? Why? 
  2. In the first two temp­ta­tions, Satan asks Jesus to prove his divin­i­ty. Jesus had the pow­er to do so, so why didn’t he yield to these requests? 

TUES­DAY

WHAT IS TRUE HOLINESS

Holi­ness means the abil­i­ty to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. — Richard Foster

In the life of Jesus, we see how God desires holi­ness, puri­ty, and virtue in our lives. A holy life is one that is func­tion­al and healthy and whole. But holi­ness, or puri­ty of heart, is not mere­ly obe­di­ence to cer­tain rules. Jesus chas­tened the Phar­isees for out­ward­ly obey­ing God’s law while neglect­ing the word of God” (Matthew 15:6) — that is, the spir­it of the law. 

The Israelites defined holi­ness as a way to sep­a­rate the clean from the unclean. Lat­er, the Phar­isees in par­tic­u­lar refined the def­i­n­i­tions of holi­ness in terms of out­ward rit­u­als. Wash­ing prop­er­ly, not work­ing on the Sab­bath, eat­ing only cer­tain foods, avoid­ing the com­pa­ny of sin­ners — all these were the way to holi­ness. But Jesus open­ly chal­lenged this divi­sion between inward puri­ty and out­ward rit­u­al. It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a per­son, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles” (Matthew 15:11). Jesus turns our atten­tion away from rit­u­al puri­ty and points to the puri­ty of heart from which flows unshak­able obe­di­ence to God. 


  1. Why did Jesus crit­i­cize the Phar­isees for focus­ing on out­ward action rather than on the inner source of action?
  2. In some con­texts, holi­ness” can mean self-right­eous­ness or arro­gance. Does holi­ness’ con­note a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive qual­i­ty for you? How does the cul­ture per­ceive holiness?

WEDNES­DAY

SIN IS SLOP 

Do not let sin con­trol the way you live. — Romans 6:12 (NLT)

Holi­ness is some­thing God wish­es for us sim­ply because it is the best way to live. The com­mand­ments of God are not meant to turn our lives into a dull drudgery but to make them whole and full. God’s plan com­pletes and inte­grates our lives; sin dis­rupts and frag­ments our lives. While sin seems appeal­ing on the sur­face — the ful­fill­ment of all our desires — beneath the sur­face lurks poi­son that will ulti­mate­ly destroy us. 

Writer and philoso­pher Dal­las Willard taught that sin is slop.” Sin stains and ruins our souls. We are drawn to it and tempt­ed by its whis­pers of plea­sure only to find that it offers a short sea­son of delight and a long — some­times life­long — sea­son of pain. Because God knows this, he pre­scribes a way of liv­ing that helps us resist the seduc­tive and destruc­tive clutch­es of sin. Liv­ing a holy life is not lim­it­ed to super saints”; rather, it is healthy and func­tion­al for everyone. 

Read: James 1:12 – 21 

Reflect:

  1. If sin is destruc­tive, why is it so appealing? 
  2. Richard Fos­ter describes the holi­ness stream as cul­ti­vat­ing a life that func­tions as it should.” Have you ever asso­ci­at­ed holi­ness with a life that func­tions well? Does that asso­ci­a­tion make sense to you? 

THURS­DAY

HOLI­NESS IS GIV­EN BY THE HOLY SPIRIT 

When I sin, it is from me and is done on my own, but when I act right­eous­ly, it is whol­ly and com­plete­ly of God. — Charles Spurgeon

No amount of human rea­son­ing, no amount of stren­u­ous try­ing on our own will ever pro­duce the fruit of holi­ness. It may pro­duce the appear­ance of holi­ness, for a time, but not the fruit. Fruit on a tree grows from the life with­in the tree. The fruit of the Spir­it — an unforced incli­na­tion toward that which is good and right — comes from the life of the Spir­it with­in us. 

This truth is a great relief! It lifts the bur­den of mak­ing spir­i­tu­al growth hap­pen in our own strength. It guards us against the pride of think­ing our progress is due pri­mar­i­ly to our efforts. Under­stand that coop­er­a­tion with God is nec­es­sary for growth. But our coop­er­a­tion is like a seed (if it had a choice) part­ner­ing with the farmer by stay­ing in the ground. Nei­ther the one who plants nor the one who waters is any­thing, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthi­ans 3:7).

Read: John 16:13; 2 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans 2:13

Reflect:

  1. Paul, echo­ing Jesus, men­tions that the Spir­it sanc­ti­fies us (makes us more like Jesus) through the truth. How does hav­ing a truth revealed to our hearts — for instance, that God always desires the best for us — affect the way we live?
  2. Through­out Scrip­ture we’re told to ask. If any of you is lack­ing in wis­dom, ask God,” James says (James 1:5). Ask, and it will be giv­en you,” Jesus told his dis­ci­ples (Matthew 7:7). Take a few min­utes now to pray, aloud or silent­ly, to ask God for the Holy Spir­it to reveal truth to your heart. Keep your eyes open today for how God specif­i­cal­ly answers this prayer.

FRI­DAY

PROGRESS IS POSSIBLE 

We all, who with unveiled faces con­tem­plate the Lord’s glo­ry, are being trans­formed into his image with ever-increas­ing glo­ry, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spir­it. — 2 Corinthi­ans 3:18 (NIV)

There are days when we feel spir­i­tu­al­ly stuck, days when old habits return or mean words fly out of our mouths. It can be tempt­ing to think change is impos­si­ble. It’s good to remind our­selves of the truth — that while the com­ple­tion of our trans­for­ma­tion into the like­ness of Christ comes in the next life, it starts now. Gen­uine free­dom and change and growth are not only pos­si­ble but promised for those in Christ (Philip­pi­ans 1:6).

In Streams of Liv­ing Water, Richard Fos­ter says: 

The sal­va­tion that is in Jesus Christ is not lim­it­ed to the for­give­ness of sins; it is also able to break sin’s pow­er. We are cre­at­ed in Christ Jesus for good works, which God pre­pared before­hand to be our way of life” (Eph­esians 2:10). Sin no longer needs to reign in our mor­tal bod­ies. We can walk in new­ness of life.

As today’s read­ing sug­gests, we can yield our arms and legs and eyes and ears and brain to God as instru­ments of right­eous­ness.” We can be con­formed to the image of his Son,” Jesus. 

Read: Romans 6:12 – 14; 8:29

Reflect:

  1. What does it mean to present your mem­bers to sin”? And what does it mean, in day-to-day life, to present your mem­bers to God as instru­ments of righteousness”? 
  2. In what ways have you seen God gen­uine­ly change you, or some­one you know? Take a few min­utes to reflect. Offer a prayer thank­ing God for the work he has done and ask­ing him for grace for deep­er transformation. 

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Excerpt­ed from The Reser­voir: A 15-Month Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Devo­tion­al pub­lished by Renovaré.

Originally published September 2019