In my study of Scripture I occasionally come across a passage that captures my attention because it encapsulates a particular idea in a complete way. Examples that immediately come to mind are Psalms 1 where we find clear steps describing how to have success in all we do, or Titus 2:11-14 where we learn of the work that grace is accomplishing in our lives. Another passage that has been especially meaningful to me over the years is Paul’s comments to Timothy found in 1 Timothy 1:5:
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (NASB)
What I hear Paul saying is that, in the end, his entire ministry is driving toward one all-important goal, which is for us to fully experience God’s rich and abundant love. All of his teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) is intended bring us to that end. Even the ministry of apologetics that we do here at Reasons To Believe holds the experience of God’s love as its goal.
However, in this passage he also gives us some qualifications on our experience of God’s love that are essential for us to receive and display it in its fullness. As I have meditated on this passage, the picture I have in my mind is that God’s love is like a fountain springing forth from our lives as we enter into the salvation He has provided in Christ. But unless we reflect in our lives the three characteristics Paul mentions, there is a danger that the fountain of His love will be tainted. The challenge to me, then, is, by God’s grace, to develop a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.
My heart is pure if I am free from anger and bitterness because of a willingness to practice forgiveness toward those who offend me; and I am free from moral impurity as I flee from temptation by taking steps to rid myself of thoughts and actions that will defile my spirit. In today’s world we are bombarded from every direction with images and reading material that sullies our minds. In this area, I have had to take very deliberate and sometimes painful steps to guard my heart from moral failure.
I develop a clear conscience when I am willing to take responsibility for the sin in my life rather than blaming others. This involves asking forgiveness of those I have offended, and making restitution when necessary. For me, this has involved making a list and, with great resolve, returning to those I have trespassed against, asking their forgiveness, and paying for things I have stolen. My children testify that one of the most important ways I gained their respect while growing up was through my willingness to ask their forgiveness when I falsely accused or over-disciplined them. All the pain and humiliation has been well worth the benefits gained from taking these steps.
Finally, I have sincere faith when I realize that, in the end, when all has been said and done, that God is right, His words are true, and His ways are perfect. We lose nothing and gain everything when we take His word at face value and determine in our hearts that we will believe it and apply it in our lives. The word “sincere” comes from the Latin and literally means “without wax.” A statue carved by a true artist was one that did not need mistakes to be filled in or covered over with wax. Sincere faith is the faith of a sinner that is willing to walk in the light, not hiding his faults but confessing them and experiencing the justifying and cleansing grace of God.
The end of this process, for it is a process, is a deeper experience of God’s love because it “has been poured within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). While our reasons to believe may affirm our faith, it is the work of the Holy Spirit and our response to it that brings us into a vital relationship with the God of creation.