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.